I'm trying to make a subtle background out of a collection of symbols, arranged in randomly order in multiple roughly structured rows.
A bit like:
The Symbol Sprayer Tool is close to what I need, but it distributes only a single symbol in a circular area rather than along a line.
How can I create something like this?
In the end I couldn't find a mechanism to automatically distribute and repeat a pattern, but this article on The Noun Project's blog did give a really good runthrough of how to do it; manually, but reliably and relatively easily.
Summary of article
The most important thing to note, is that each shape on the edge of our square needs to have a duplicate icon exactly in the same position on the other side. This is super easy to do since our pattern is 300x300px, as all we need to do is open the transform window (Window > Transform), and type in +300 after the value in the X field. Adding 300 pixels will move our icon over to the right, while subtracting 300 pixels will move it to the left. The same can be said for the Y axis, only adding pixels will move the object down, and subtracting pixels will move it up. ...
With the selection tool, highlight all the elements of the pattern (including the square unfilled shape) and drag it into your swatches panel (Window > Swatches). In the dialogue window that pops up, select â€˜Pattern brushâ€.
AstuteGraphic's ColliderScribe Plugin might be able to help you. If you see on their page, the offset spacing function allows you to place irregular objects a certain distance from each other.
If you combine that with the seamless pattern tool you should be able to achieve the effect you describe