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OS X: How to type special characters, including Symbol or Dingbat fonts

Using Unicode in OS X can increase compatibility, but it may change the way you are accustomed to typing special characters.

Using Character Viewer

Most OS X applications support Unicode, a single, world-wide character set that works with many of the world's languages. The advantages of using Unicode include easy interchange of data with users of other operating systems, and not needing to know which font to use to display text in other languages correctly.

To type or search for specific Unicode characters, use the Character Viewer. Choose Edit > Special Characters to open the Character Viewer from any app that supports Unicode.

For more information, search for "Enter special characters and symbols" in OS X Help, or follow one of the links below.

Earlier versions of OS X

Mac OS X v10.4 through 10.6.8

Use the Help menu to search for "Typing special characters or symbols".

Mac OS X v10.2 through 10.3.9

Use the Character Palette feature:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. From the View menu, choose International.
  3. Click the Input Menu tab.
  4. Enable "Character Palette"
  5. Quit System Preferences.

The Character Palette menu now appears in the menu bar, to the right of Help. Choose Show Character Palette from the menu when you wish to add special characters while using Unicode.

Mac OS X v10.1.5 or earlier

When using Unicode in OS X v10.1.5 or earlier, you cannot type most of the characters in the Symbol or Zapf Dingbats fonts when using the keyboard layout of a Roman script. With Mac OS X v10.0 to 10.1.5, you need to use special keyboard layouts provided for those fonts: Symbol and Dingbats. These keyboard layouts work in either Unicode or non-Unicode applications.

To enable these keyboards:

  1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Choose International from the View menu.
  3. Click the Keyboard Menu tab.
  4. At the top of the list of keyboards, click the word "Keyboard" (Between "On" and "Script") to sort the list alphabetically by name.
  5. Scroll through the list of keyboards to find Symbol and/or Dingbats.
  6. Select the checkboxes next to the keyboards' names to enable them.

A new menu appears in the menu bar. This is known as the Keyboard Menu. It often looks like a little flag.

the input menu that looks like a flag

When you want to type characters in the Symbol or Zapf Dingbats fonts, select the appropriate keyboard, and you'll be able to type as in Mac OS 9. In addition, in Unicode applications, there are characters that are available on the Symbol keyboard that cannot be typed in non-Unicode applications. You can learn about these using the Key Caps utility, found in the Utilities folder within the Applications folder.

Unicode differs from other character sets in that every character is assigned a unique number, called a character code. Previously, the code assigned to a character might vary depending on the language or font in use, and it would also differ between operating systems. With Unicode, these numbers have a unique, unchanging value for all fonts, computers, and countries.

Last Modified: Jul 14, 2014
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  • Last Modified: Jul 14, 2014
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