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How to find and insert special characters in macOS



Unicode is a massive, sprawling effort that combines a number into each unique character in a language, every character set, every math symbol and much more. And almost everything is available in MacOS but not always easy to find.

It is a semi-hidden way to access special symbol sets in Unicode, and a somewhat unclear way to search for specific symbols on all MacOS including Unicode characters.

First, open the Keyboard Selection panel and make sure "Show keyboard and emoji viewers in the menu bar" are highlighted. Now, in the menu bar, click on the small palette that has a command () key and select Show emoji and symbols . The character viewer displayed shows emoji by default, and with an input marker in any app or form that lets you enter text, you can double-click emoji to insert or drag it into a document.

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The character viewer allows you to add sets to be selected from.

But it's not the semi-hidden part. Click on the gear icon at the top left and select Customize List and expand the section Symbols . You can now check the boxes next to some common Unicode sets that you might want to use in documents or emails. This can be useful for dingbats (typographic frills and pre-emoji symbols), universal characters (such as for plastics and recycling), or currency symbols.

Now the unclear part is even better. You may mark a search field in the top right of the character viewer. It is not immediately obvious what you can search for. The descriptor lets you match the characters you type, but also against any part of a Unicode device name.

For example, type "recycling" and you will see all the recycling symbols; write "heart" and the viewer agrees with all emoji hearts, dingbat hearts and hearts in playing card symbols. (You can also find all variations of h, e, a, r and t over the written form of different languages.)

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Search for heart and character viewer matches all Items like "heart" are part of the name.

This can be especially useful if you are trying to find something a little unclear or elegant, like a ½ mark (search for "half"), and do not want to scroll through the endless Unicode set.

Note: If you send files or emails to other people who do not use a Mac or iOS, some of the symbols may not be displayed depending on the configuration of their system: they need a font installed containing the special characters or they may look which user interface and the type of people call "tofu:" an unfilled upright rectangle indicating that no characters in the font are available to display the symbol.

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