Symbols and Special Characters in Mac OS X

Last week we posted an informative piece on symbols and special characters in Windows. Since our Mac users may also have the need to correctly address Françoise or Hélène, here are a few techniques for accessing these glyphs in OS X Lion.

To make these symbols and special characters easily available, and to have a quick reference for learning the keyboard shortcuts for commonly used ones, use the Character Viewer and the Keyboard Viewer:

1. Open System Preferences, and go into the KEYBOARD section.

2. Under the KEYBOARD tab, check the box labeled SHOW KEYBOARD & CHARACTER VIEWERS IN MENU BAR.

Clicking this symbol  in the menu bar will now give you quick access to both of these tools.

The Keyboard Viewer

Showing the Keyboard Viewer opens an onscreen map of your computer’s keyboard. It responds in real time to any keys you press on your actual keyboard, with keys turning darker for as long as they are pressed. Pressing the modifier keys Shift, Option, or Shift-Option will make the keyboard display any symbols or special characters that can be accessed with those keys.

Keys in orange will create the initial symbol, then wait for you to press a letter to pair the symbol. For example, Option-I then pressing E will result in ê.

This is a terrific way to learn any of the many symbols or special characters that can be accessed by keyboard shortcut.

The Character Viewer

Showing the character viewer will allow you to browse or search for any available symbols or special characters.

Characters are organized by category in the left column. Or you can search for characters by entering keywords, like “arrow”, or unicode values, such as 2318 for ⌘.

To insert a character, simply double click the character you want and it will appear at the cursor in whatever program is currently active.

Jason Merrill, Mac & iOS Consultant