Advanced Symbols – Part 1: Raster and Vector Symbols, Composite Symbols

What is a symbol really?

One common way to look at symbols is to separate them into raster and vector symbols, where a raster symbol is a png image file on disk, while a vector symbol is built from regular CC3+ shapes. While there is truth in this, it is also an oversimplification.

If we look at things from the perspective of CC3+, there is no difference between these, it is just a symbol either way, and is treated exactly the same. And all of this becomes evident when we look at what a symbol really is.

If we go back in time, Campaign Cartographer didn’t have symbols at all (at least not as we know them today), it had parts. Put simply, a part is a CC drawing, which you can insert into another drawing. Being an actual drawing, it could contain everything a regular drawing could. It is from this concept of insertable parts that symbols arose. Just as with parts, a symbol is just an ordinary CC drawing that can contain (almost) all the features of a normal drawing. One of the main differences between symbols and parts is that one file can contain many symbols, allowing for the symbol catalogs we use today, while parts must be one file per part. (Also note that a symbol catalog file is just a standard map file with a different file extension, there is no difference in the file format at all.) You know the symbols that show up in the symbol catalog window if you click the Symbols in Map button? Those are the same symbols which would be available to other drawings if you loaded the current map up in the symbol catalog window while working on another map). Another big difference between symbols and parts is that when you use symbols, the symbol definition is stored exactly once in the drawing, and each placement of the symbol in the map just reference that definition, while when you insert a part, the entities in the part are simply being inserted into the drawing each time.

So, where am I going with this? Well, as you probably already know, in CC3+ you can use Draw –> Insert File to insert different things into your drawing, one of the possibilities being an image file in png format. Doing this simply inserts a picture entity into the drawing. A picture entity is one of the standard entities in CC3+, just like a line, a polygon or so on, the difference is obviously that it references an external image on disk. And this is exactly what a raster symbol is, it is a standard symbol that happen to include a picture entity. One interesting fact about how this is done is that you could insert images into your maps all the way back in CC2, so technically you could have raster symbols in CC2, even if it wasn’t officially added until CC3 (CC3 improved the functionality a lot though, such as support for transparency, the png format, variable resolution, varicolor and much more)

Now that we have dispelled the notion that raster symbols and vector symbols are different things, let us check out a few neat things that knowledge will allow us to accomplish.

Composite Symbols – Using more than one Image

If you look at any of the standard CD3 catalogs, you’ll see that there are some additional frills at the end of the catalog that allows you to customize the symbols further. But instead of manually inserting them into the map as multiple symbols, let us see how we can make a single composite symbol from these parts. This way, we can compose new favorite symbols ready for use.

Start by simply placing the relevant symbols in the map to compose our new building, just like you would place the symbols manually. I recommend placing the main building at scale 1.0 so it will match the size of the other buildings when we go to use our symbol later, but feel free to scale the frills and other parts you add. Make sure to take great care when placing the parts, so there are no gaps. You may wish to zoom in close, and you may even want to put a small amount of overlap and use commands like Send Behind to help arrange things. Note that you should avoid using varicolor symbols, there are some additional complexities here.

Next, use Explode on all the parts of the house. This is very important, because when we define it as a new symbol, we should avoid having symbols contained within symbols, we need to to be a clean stand-alone symbol. Once you do this, you’ll notice that some strange red lines appeared on your symbol. These are control points and are among other things responsible for the house automatically aligning to roads. We can leave the main control point line belonging to the house itself in place, but you should just erase the others.

Finally, use Symbols –> Define Symbol to define a new symbol based on our house parts. Make sure to select everything, including some polygons hidden beneath the actual raster image. Give the symbol a name and set the symbol origin to match the location of the symbol control point line we mentioned above, most probably bottom center. This will ensure that the new symbols behavs like the existing ones.

Currently, the new symbol only exists in the current map (enable Symbols in Map to see it) but if it is something you wish to use in the future, you should put in in a symbol catalog for easier access. Look at my article about Managing your Symbol Catalogs for some more information about this topic.

So, what is the main advantage of doing it this way rather than just load up your favorite image editor, combine the parts there, save it as a single image, and then import that as a symbol? Well, the main advantage lies in using the map on multiple computers, this being sharing the map with other people (for example through the community atlas), using it on another computer you own, or simply using it on the same computer after you’ve done a full reinstall of Windows and all software. Our composite symbol reference the default image files on disk, so this symbol will work for everyone having CD3 installed (or whatever addon you pulled your parts from). If you make a custom image, you need to distribute it along with the map, and if you are using the map on multiple computers, you need to make sure to put the map in the same location inside the CC3+ data directory on each of them. And of course, while you are fully allowed to make a composite image using official ProFantasy artwork for your own use, you are not allowed to redistribute it. This means that the image made using the image editor will only be for your personal use, but distributing a symbol composed like we did above would be acceptable, because that won’t be distributing official artwork, the recipient using the symbol would be using the artwork they legally installed with their own copy of CD3 (Of course, CD3 ownership is required).

Composite Symbols – Using Vector Parts

Another thing you can do is add vector elements to your raster symbols. For this example, I’ll show how to draw a simple fence around a house. I’ll use a slightly different technique to do this instead of defining the symbol again.

Start by picking an appropriate house symbol from the symbol catalog. Just click on it, you don’t have to place it in the map. If you remember how symbols work, you’ll remember that this copies the symbol definition to your current map.

Then, go to Symbols –> Symbol Manager. Find the symbol you just added in the list, select it, and hit Rename, then give it a new name, for example by adding the word Fenced to the existing name. We’ll do this because the name is the unique identifier CC3+ uses to determine if the symbol is already available in our map or not. If we leave it at the original name, then every time we tried to insert the original unmodified symbol, we would get our modified one instead.

Next, with the symbol still selected in the Symbol Manager window, hit the Edit button. CC3+ will prompt you to define two corners for the edit window, I recommend making it as large as possible (keep in mind you can only define the window inside the existing drawing window). The symbol will fill the entire window, so I recommend zooming out just a little bit to give us some room to draw the fence, while still being zoomed far enough in to see details.

To draw the fence itself, I am just going to use circles for the fence posts, and rectangles for the planks. You can of course go as detailed as you want, but remember that while house symbols do have enough resolution to support really close zooms, normally, when viewed as part of the city they will never be shown as close up as we see it here anyway, so adding too much detail generally is more work than it is worth.

For my drawing, I first drew four very long, narrow polygons, forming a rectangle around the house. I used a medium brown solid color (but you could also use a raster fill here, but remember that a raster fill only works if the fill is defined in the map, so this limits the use of the symbol somewhat) with a thin black outline. Then, I drew a single circle in a lighter brown at one of the corners, and then just copied it around the fence. If you want the posts to line up perfectly with each other, using Ortho is the best bet. To make it a bit more organic, you could also place the posts first by eye, and then draw the planks between the individual lines instead of just having four long planks. That is a bit more work though, because drawing straight rectangles are very easy using the Box tool, but if you want them at an angle, you either have to rotate them afterwards, or draw using the polygon tool which is tricky if you want consistent plank width. On the other hand, using the polygon tool allows you to actually vary the width of the plank along the length, which may make it look even better. In the end, pick the option you think work best.

When done, just close the edit window and answer Yes to the prompt about saving your changes to the symbol.

You now have a nice fenced house that still behaves and works as a regular CD3 house. As we mentioned with the other symbol above, it is only available in the current map, so you should consider moving it to a proper symbol catalog. Also, as with the symbol above, this symbol simply references CD3 assets on disk, so you can safely distribute maps with this new symbol in them, they will work fine as long as the recipient have CD3 installed. And as with the symbol above, distributing the symbol itself, for example in a custom symbol catalog, is also fine from a legal standpoint, since you are not redistributing any of ProFantasy’s assets (as long as you don’t go ahead and bundle the actual .png’s with it obviously), and anyone with CD3 can use it.

One Response to “Advanced Symbols – Part 1: Raster and Vector Symbols, Composite Symbols”

  1. Thank you so much, Remy! This one is going straight into my browser bookmarks – the folder I’ve called “Remy’s Remedies”. I know its not a remedy, but all your great works are in there 🙂