A design tool that aids in designing, evaluating, and comparing various implementations of optical symbolic substitution is presented. A hierarchical, modular approach to design similar to that used in digital electronics is supported to facilitate the design of large complex systems. This tool is composed of a schematic capture unit, a simulator unit, and an evaluation unit. Starting with the definition of certain basic or integrated optical elements performing well-defined functions, a schematic capture unit helps to design specific functions. The simulator tool helps to verify the design and the evaluation tool determines its complexity. The usefulness of this design tool is demonstrated with an example design of a simple four-function arithmetic logic unit. © 1996 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.