Best Practices for Creating, Translating, and Storing Symbols in Revit

Revit projects involve several moving pieces and information to help us understand the story of our projects. Symbols play a key role in explaining the bigger picture of our designs. This guide, from my December From AutoCAD to Revit presentation, is intended to give you the best practices for creating Symbols, translating existing Symbols, and storing Symbols moving forward. Click any of the links below to jump through this guide:

Types of Symbols in Revit

Before you get started with creating Symbols in Revit, you should understand the different types of Symbols that are available to use. There are the obvious Symbols that you can find in the Annotate tab like Dimensions, Text, Tags, and Symbols. The bottom left image displays the different types of Symbols you would create in each section.

Some not-so-obvious Symbols in Revit include title blocks, callouts, grid heads, and symbolic lines. These items are still Symbols that are loaded into Revit to convey certain information. The bottom right image displays a title block.

Types of Symbols 1
ACAD2Revit Blog Types of Symbols 2

Types of Annotation Information

Creating Symbols in Revit require an understanding of the different types of Annotation info that go into the Symbol. In Annotation, there are essentially three types of information: Static Text, Parametric Text, and Graphic Information. Here are some examples of Annotation information being represented in Symbols:

Complex Nested Symbol
Level Line
ACAD2Revit Blog Annotation Information 1ACAD2Revit Blog Annotation Information 2
Static Text: NoneStatic Text: “SCALE.”
Parametric Text: Detail Number, Reference Sheet, Detail SheetParametric Text: Detail Number, View Name, Scale
Graphic: Arrow indicates viewing directionGraphic: Bubble, Line, Project/True North Arrow

In the “Nested Symbol” example on the upper left, there’s no static text here. All of the text that you see is all parametric, and that means that in the project, we have the power to manipulate that information on the fly. The Graphic information is the indicator for where the cut plane is and the direction it’s facing.

For the “Level Line” example on the upper right, the word “SCALE.” is static text, meaning that doesn’t generally change. There’s lots of parametric text that’s intelligently updated. The Graphic information in there also helps continuing that story that the Symbol is trying to convey.

How to Create Simple and Complex Symbols

There are essentially two types of Symbols that will apply to most of the Symbols you’d use in your projects. There are simple Symbols that are one-level, and complex Symbols that are multi-level and nested within a family. In these examples, I will take two sample families that come out of the box with Revit, and create them into something that helps convey more meaning.

How to Create Simple One-Level Symbols

  1. Create New > Annotation Symbol
  2. Browse the Annotation Template folder and Open the closest category to Symbol you want to create. In my example, I used a Door Tag.
    1. If no categories match, choose Generic Tag, and you can set the category later on
  3. Optional: If you are working from a Family, you can nest one Family within another. Best practice is to embed no more than 2 levels deep.
  4. In the Line Tool, select the Circumscribed Polygon
    1. In my example, I left it at 6 sides, made sure the top was flat, and measured it 6 millimeters tall
  5. Optional: Create a custom Separator subcategory to display different line weights
    1. Go to Manage > Object Styles > New Subcategory
    2. Change line weights based on preference
  6. Create Static Text 
    1. Create > Text
    2. Leave size at 3/32 and Centered
    3. Type “D” and re-position to center
  7. Create Label for Parametric effects
    1. Create> Label
    2. Choose Parameter from Doors category: Select Mark field
    3. Apply and re-position to center
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simple symbol demo
Example: Simple One-Level Symbol

How to Create Complex Multi-Level Nested Symbols

From my experience, the consensus of the out of the box Nested Annotation Symbols are that they are not the most preferred. To get the Symbols to work the way we need them to, we need to manipulate the out of the box templates. Watch the full breakdown of how I created the nested Symbol below:

Part 1: Creating Open Elevation Mark Body

  1. Create New > Annotation Symbol
  2. Browse the Annotation Template folder and Open Elevation Mark Body
  3. In the Create tab, select Line and create a circle at the intersection of the reference planes – I used ¼ inch dimensions for my example
  4. Insert Label in the center intersection of the reference planes
    1. Create > Label > Center Format
    2. Click the intersection of the reference planes
    3. Select Sheet Number Parameter

Part 2: Creating Open Elevation Mark Pointer

  1. Create New > Annotation Symbol
  2. Select and Copy Line from Part 1
  3. Go back into Pointer Symbol and click Modify > Paste > Aligned to Current View
  4. Create > Filled Region
  5. Create Tangent lines facing upward to make a triangular shape region boundary
  6. Create Symbolic Lines as a continuation of the pointer
  7. Delete Mark Body to prevent duplicate information
  8. Optional: Create Parametric Labels
    1. Create > Label > Center Format
    2. Click insertion point above the pointer
    3. Select Detail Number
  9. Save and Load the Pointer into Elevation Mark Body template from Part 1
  10. Align Pointer above the Mark Body
  11. Mirror and rotate across all sides  

ACAD2Revit Blog Nested Symbol Demo
Example: Complex Multi-Level Nested Symbol

How to Translate Existing Symbols into Revit

Whether its hand-drawn documents, DWGs, or scanned PDFs, many companies collect documents over the years with symbols that they would like to leverage. I’m going to show you how you can take those old symbols and leverage them in your projects moving forward.

First, you will have to start new Annotation Family. Then, select the template that most closely resembles your Annotation for your Annotation Family. Make sure you read the instruction text that comes into the template.

Next step is importing your original document into your reference style. Once imported, you will start recreating your Symbol by sketching over the top of it with the use of detail lines.  As I mentioned earlier in my steps for creating the two Symbols, you can utilize subcategories to have more line weight variations or visual settings. Then you will create a filled region for the actual triangle.

Finally, we’ll create our text and labels on the Symbol. Just like we did in my two earlier examples, you will Create > Label and choose the Detail Number parameter, and Create > Text and choose the right dimensions. Lastly, we can delete the original image in the background.

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This process applies for all of the circumstances for importing that I mentioned above. If you’re working from a CAD file, you’d want to do the same thing with your imports because, oftentimes, symbols aren’t exactly on axis or not the true dimension. When importing, always make sure you use the reference as a reference only and then sketching over it. I prefer this process for AutoCAD instead of exploding and manipulating it because the embedded AutoCAD information stays inside your family. Generally speaking, it’s not good to import a CAD file into something that could go into a large project.

How to Store and Keep Your Symbols in Revit

Once your Symbols are created, you want to have a process to store and keep them in a designated place. There are different methods for doing this like using Legends, Drafting Views, Groups, and Library Containers. Some designers use drafting views as their safe spot because it allows you to copy and paste in between projects. Using Groups and inputting them into Library Containers also works okay, but not as necessary anymore.

The method that I prefer to store and keep my Symbols is Legends. I like to use Legends is because they have a very, very strict rule: you can only use items that are in your project. This means you can’t represent something that’s not in the project, and this this is important because it helps truly enforce company standards. Putting your Symbols into a Legend confirms that this Symbol is in my project and that there should be no excuse for people not to be using it.

Now, you can follow along in the video to the right, as I explain how to create a Legend with your Symbols. First, you’re going to make your Legends in the Legend Views. Under the Annotate tab, click Symbol and select your Symbols you want to display from the Properties drop down on the left. Then just drag and drop your Symbols.

Next, you’ll give your Legend a title and text labels for your Symbols using the Properties bar on the left. Simply select your text size and place the appropriate labels by your Symbol.

The last thing that I do with my Legends is set up a grid that I typically customize for every company to make it truly unique to them. I basically set up lines to create a table of Symbols as a safety spot to hold all my Symbols. This is not typically a table that I would print on a sheet. This table is just a modular, easy to see, standard view that people can reference.

Finally, I create a group from this and name it “Standard Symbols.” If you want the ability to share and use this Standard Symbol as a requirement for other projects, you can save this as a Revit Family and copy it into your Library containers. By doing this, you can give everyone access and ability to pull for any projects moving forward.


What tips & tricks did you find most useful for creating your Symbols in Revit? Leave us a comment below!



Review all the other From AutoCAD to Revit topics in this series.

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