Creating New Symbols Without Starting From Scratch

Existing symbols can provide a great starting point for refining and creating new symbols. When a symbol is originally created, it is assigned as a "master" symbol which can be placed unlimited times on your map.

Symbol Graphics Make Great Templates


The first step to editing an existing symbol is to place the symbol on your drawing canvas and detach it from its symbol master. Detaching it from its master is an essential step.

Key Concept: Master Symbols

Symbols are created from graphic objects, groups of objects, text, and images. When a symbol is originally created it is assigned the status of "master" and stored in a Symbol Library. Each time you place a symbol on your map with the Symbol Stamp tool, an "instance" of its master is placed. The master supplies all the common properties, such as what it looks like, to all the instances of the symbol. If a master is changed, all the instances of that master (across all documents) will change as well.

Detach From Master


After placing a symbol, right-click and choose "Detach From Master" from the context menu. Alternatively, choose Edit > Symbols > Detach From Master from the main menu. This reverts the symbol to a standard graphical object that can be edited and turned into a new symbol.



Many symbols are comprised of groups of objects. As necessary, right-click and choose "Ungroup" from the context menu to edit the graphic elements. Alternatively, choose Graphic > Ungroup from the main menu. Some complex graphics can be further "broken apart" into their graphical elements. Choose Graphic > Combine > Break Apart from the main menu. In this example the restroom graphic is a complex object, the middle graphic is detached and ungrouped, then re-colored. In the bottom graphic, the complex object of the restroom graphic is broken apart and each graphical element is individually re-colored.

Edit Graphics


Graphic objects from the original symbol are ready to be edited. Select and change styles or drag-and-drop a color directly from the Colors palette. In this example, we’ve detached the bottom symbol from its master, ungrouped, then dragged a 50% transparent magenta color to the graphic. Graphics can also be combined as desired to make cut-outs and interesting shapes.

Naming and Organizing New Symbols

When you are satisfied with the graphics for your new symbol, group the graphics as necessary and choose Edit > Create Symbol from the main menu to create it as a symbol. Name it and include a description as desired. Keep your new symbols organized into collections and categories in your Library as appropriate.

Detach From Master Automatically

As previously discussed, when symbols are created, they are assigned as "master symbols" which are stored in a Symbol Library and later placed on your map using the Symbol Stamp tool. Ortelius provides the flexibility to create symbol-like objects accessible from the Symbols palette that are automatically detached from their symbol master when placed on your map. The advantage this enables is to place graphics for immediate editing after placement, such as map legends and sign elements.

Using Symbol Elements


Many symbols are comprised of parts, such as a shield combined with text. For the convenience of creating new symbols, many sign elements are included in Ortelius’ Default Library. When placed, sign elements are automatically detached from their master and ready for editing. Restyle these elements to form the basis for new custom symbols.

When your symbol’s design is complete, group the objects before creating your new symbol.

2 replies
    • mapdiva
      mapdiva says:

      Hi, The current Ortelius Standard Edition does not support geo-referencing. We are developing the Professional Edition with geo-referencing and would anticipate this capability. Thanks

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