Special Characters on Your Computer

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I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making an...

Intro: Special Characters on Your Computer

This Instructable will show two ways to get special characters into your computer generated documents and e-mails. While many already know how to do this, I have encountered people with many hours of Windows computer experience who were surprised and delighted to know this is possible. It was a new revelation to them. 

There are no special materials or tools needed, other than your computer. I will demonstrate from my Windows 7 laptop. The process is the same on other operating systems, although some screens may have a slightly different appearance. I am not familiar with Apple products and how they do this.

Step 1: The Character Map

Windows has the Character Map. It is one way to get special characters. It works fairly well if you need only one or two special characters per document. But, if you need more than that, it not the best way. I will illustrate its use for those who choose to use it.

(First graphic) The easy way to find the Character Map on Windows 7 OS is to click on the Start button and begin typing "character map" in the box marked "Search programs and files." In the graphic you can see it also appears in the list of recently used programs because I did open it for preparing this Instructable. 

(Second graphic) Click on "Character Map" in the list of returns, and Windows will take you to the Character Map.

(Third graphic) This is the Character Map. Use the pull down menu at the top of the dialog box to select the font you wish to use. Here it is Times New Roman. Scroll down the available characters to find the character you need. Click on it. The letter displays in enlarged size in a box. Some characters are similar. To double check that your selection is the desired character, look at the bottom line in the dialog box for the name of the character. This one is the Cyrillic Capital Letter De from the Russian alphabet. Click on Select and then on Copy. You may place more than one character in the window before clicking on the Copy button, if you need that. Go to your document and paste the computer's clipboard into the document. The Character Map contains alphabets and symbols for quite a number of languages.

Step 2: I Will Show You a More Excellent Way.

The Character Map is good, but it would be easier and faster to have your computer's keyboard configured for the language in which you wish to write, especially if you need more than a very few special characters. If you are writing in English, and would like to type on a Dvorak keyboard because you like its efficiencies, you may reconfigure your standard keyboard to use the Dvorak layout, too. 

What follows is what I have had to explain to several people who wanted to send e-mail or compose documents in German. Like Spanish, the German alphabet uses some special characters. They are called umlauts, or letters that undergo a change of sound in the way they are pronounced. The are ä, ö, and ü and they occur quite frequently. (There are ways around using the proper umlaut characters. Ä can be represented by ae, ö by oe, and ü by ue, but it is far more impressive to be able to use the actual umlaut characters. Some people also type a letter printed on paper with a regular English keyboard. Then they use a pen to add the two dots above the letters that are actually umlauts. The character ß is also a part of the German keyboard I use, even though that character has been replaced by a double "s" since the new Rechtschreibung [correct writing] rules of 1996.)

Go to the Start button and click on the Control Panel button.

Step 3: The Control Panel

This is the Control Panel display in Windows 7. All items are arranged in alphabetical order. Find "Region and Languages." Click on it to open it.

Step 4: Keyboards and Lanuages

When the dialog box opens, click on the Keyboards and Languages tab to make it active. Then click on the Change keyboards... button.

Step 5: Currently Available Keyboards

The dialog box lists the keyboards active on this computer. For a long time I have had a German keyboard as an additional keyboard configuration for sending e-mail to friends in Germany.

Click on the Add button to see a full list of available keyboards. The list is extensive. Notice that US English is my default keyboard. It is always the active keyboard when I start my computer.

Step 6: Many Choices

This is only a part of the list of all available keyboards. In the graphic you can see I selected one of the available German keyboards and clicked on the box to add a checkmark. When finished selecting keyboards you wish to add, click on OK. This dialog box will close. Click on Apply and OK in the remaining dialog box. You have now made an additional keyboard configuration or two available on your computer.

The Dvorak keyboard option is listed under the various English keyboard configurations.

Step 7: Switching From One to Another

To switch back and forth between keyboard configurations you have available for your computer, you will notice the letters EN for English in the lower right corner of the computer screen near the time and date display. Click on it and other available keyboards are listed in the pop-up box. Click on the keyboard you wish to use, if it is different from the one you are using. Or, you can also hold down the left side Alt key and press the left side Shift key. Then release both keys. I always use the Alt + Shift method. The right side Alt and Shift keys do not work when executing this command.

Step 8: Dealing With Changes

Not only do alternate keyboards add new characters, but they sometimes rearrange the order of other characters. For example, on the German keyboard I use, the "z" and the "y" switch places. The parentheses marks also move left one key so that "(" is found where the * would normally be. I have learned where to find the umlaut characters, but I cannot always remember where to find the quotations marks, or various other punctuation marks. When I need those, I often just use the Alt and Shift keys to go back to the English keyboard for a few moments. Then I switch back to the alternate keyboard again. With a little practice you will learn the location of the special characters you use most often on your alternate keyboard.  

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    36 Discussions

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    donquixote99

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Neat. Didn't know Windows had a Character Map. I've used the table you get under Insert/symbols in Microsoft Word the same way.

    Here are more details on using ASCII codes to get symbols (the business of typing ALT#### to get a symbol....):

    To display special characters in web messages:

    1. Make sure NumLock is on.
    2. Holding down ALT-key, type code for character from table.
    3. Use numeric keypad.
    4. Include leading zero.

    ('non-keyboard' characters start around 0131; non-English @ 0191 on....)




    English Language Characters
    033 -- !
    034 -- "
    035 -- #
    036 -- $
    037 -- %
    038 -- &
    039 -- '
    040 -- (
    041 -- )
    042 -- *
    043 -- +
    044 -- ,
    045 -- -
    046 -- .
    047 -- /
    048 -- 0
    049 -- 1
    050 -- 2
    051 -- 3
    052 -- 4
    053 -- 5
    054 -- 6
    055 -- 7
    056 -- 8
    057 -- 9
    058 -- :
    059 -- ;
    060 -- <
    061 -- =
    062 -- >
    063 -- ?
    064 -- @
    065 -- A
    066 -- B
    067 -- C
    068 -- D
    069 -- E
    070 -- F
    071 -- G
    072 -- H
    073 -- I
    074 -- J
    075 -- K
    076 -- L
    077 -- M
    078 -- N
    079 -- O
    080 -- P
    081 -- Q
    082 -- R
    083 -- S
    084 -- T
    085 -- U
    086 -- V
    087 -- W
    088 -- X
    089 -- Y
    090 -- Z
    091 -- [
    092 -- \
    093 -- ]
    094 -- ^
    095 -- _
    096 -- `
    097 -- a
    098 -- b
    099 -- c
    0100 -- d
    0101 -- e
    0102 -- f
    0103 -- g
    0104 -- h
    0105 -- i
    0106 -- j
    0107 -- k
    0108 -- l
    0109 -- m
    0110 -- n
    0111 -- o
    0112 -- p
    0113 -- q
    0114 -- r
    0115 -- s
    0116 -- t
    0117 -- u
    0118 -- v
    0119 -- w
    0120 -- x
    0121 -- y
    0122 -- z
    0123 -- {
    0124 -- |
    0125 -- }
    0126 -- ~
    0130 -- ‚
    0131 -- ƒ
    0132 -- „
    0133 -- …
    0134 -- †
    0135 -- ‡
    0136 -- ˆ
    0137 -- ‰
    0138 -- Š
    0139 -- ‹
    0140 -- Œ
    0142 -- Ž
    0145 -- '
    0146 -- '
    0147 -- "
    0148 -- "
    0149 -- o
    0150 -- -
    0151 -- -
    0152 -- ˜
    0153 -- ™
    0154 -- š
    0155 -- ›
    0156 -- œ
    0158 -- ž
    0159 -- Ÿ
    0161 -- ¡
    0162 -- ¢
    0163 -- £
    0164 -- ¤
    0165 -- ¥
    0166 -- ¦
    0167 -- §
    0168 -- ¨
    0169 -- ©
    0170 -- ª
    0171 -- «
    0172 --
    0173 -- ­
    0174 -- ®
    0175 -- ¯
    0176 -- °
    0177 -- ±
    0178 -- ²
    0179 -- ³
    0180 -- ´
    0181 -- µ
    0182 --
    0183 -- ·
    0184 -- ¸
    0185 -- ¹
    0186 -- º
    0187 -- »
    0188 -- ¼
    0189 -- ½
    0190 -- ¾


    Non-English Language Characters

    0191 -- ¿
    0192 -- À
    0193 -- Á
    0194 -- Â
    0195 -- Ã
    0196 -- Ä
    0197 -- Å
    0198 -- Æ
    0199 -- Ç
    0200 -- È
    0201 -- É
    0202 -- Ê
    0203 -- Ë
    0204 -- Ì
    0205 -- Í
    0206 -- Î
    0207 -- Ï
    0208 -- Ð
    0209 -- Ñ
    0210 -- Ò
    0211 -- Ó
    0212 -- Ô
    0213 -- Õ
    0214 -- Ö
    0215 -- ×
    0216 -- Ø
    0217 -- Ù
    0218 -- Ú
    0219 -- Û
    0220 -- Ü
    0221 -- Ý
    0222 -- Þ
    0223 -- ß
    0224 -- à
    0225 -- á
    0226 -- â
    0227 -- ã
    0228 -- ä
    0229 -- å
    0230 -- æ
    0231 -- ç
    0232 -- è
    0233 -- é
    0234 -- ê
    0235 -- ë
    0236 -- ì
    0237 -- í
    0238 -- î
    0239 -- ï
    0240 -- ð
    0241 -- ñ
    0242 -- ò
    0243 -- ó
    0244 -- ô
    0245 -- õ
    0246 -- ö
    0247 -- ÷
    0248 -- ø
    0249 -- ù
    0250 -- ú
    0251 -- û
    0252 -- ü
    0253 -- ý
    0254 -- þ
    0255 -- ÿ

    "ASCII", btw, stands for "American Standard Code for Information Interchange," a term rich in computer history trivia. Google it if interested....

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    jedikalimero

    5 years ago on Step 8

    I have a Spanish keyboard. The good about this is I have access to all Spanish, French, Portuguese and many other languages characters and also to the English ones. But recently I moved to England and I started to miss one character I needed to use a lot but was absent from my Spanish keyboard: the symbol for Sterling Pounds (£).
    There is a program by Microsoft called Keyboard Layout Creator (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/goglobal/bb964665.aspx) that allows you to take a keyboard layout and modify it to create a new one so I used this program and added the starling pounds symbol to the combination Alt Gr + L (it makes sense since it already has the Euro symbol in Alt Gr + E).

    In the same way you can add all those umlaut letters to your UK/US keyboard (maybe Alt Gr + U for ü, Alt Gr + S for ß, etc). You could even set this keyboard as your primary keyboard since it would still have all the characters you normally use in English and the German ones without interference between them.

    And the best of all is you are not patching the system or taking valuable resources since all you are doing is adding one keyboard layout to the list of standard layouts.

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    Phil Bjedikalimero

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for the information. One of the great things about the Instructables site is that someone's submission may not have all of the answers or information, but it opens a discussion where others share their knowledge.

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    Bill WW

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Another, easier, way to add special characters, like foreign letters when using MS Word:

    If you click on "Insert Symbol", you will be taken to a character map, you choose the character, it will be inserted into your document. After you have used "Inset Symbol" a few times, the characters you use most often will be shown first. Then it becomes really simple.

    The problem I have with character maps is they show every symbol known to Microsoft, which is thousands. So most of the work is finding the right characters the first time.

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    rwindig

    5 years ago on Step 8

    Or, for umlaut characters you just type "u, "a, "o, etc. Works in most places.

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    mettaurlover

    5 years ago on Introduction

    I tend to find it easier to use the Alt codes if they're enabled on the computer I'm using, since it's both easier to memorize and faster than switching between keyboards to enter the occasional special character.

    2 replies
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    Phil Bmettaurlover

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I did not write this for the person who uses an occasional character, but for the person who wants to compose a document in another language in which he or she is fluent enough to write and needs special characters regularly and often.

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    mettaurloverPhil B

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Well, it's still easier to simply memorize the alt codes for the language you want than it is to learn an entirely new keyboard layout, and by occasional I mean the special characters found in most languages with a fairly similar alphabet, which are still comprised mostly of the characters on a QWERTY keyboard.

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    LeumasYrrep

    5 years ago on Introduction

    For OS X users you can insert special characters using: Edit -> Special Characters
    Sometimes the keyboard shortcut: Option Command T (Alt Clover T) works. This shortcut works for Chrome but when I open Pages it does not so the keyboard shortcut appears to be selective in its functionality.

    If you are using iOS you have to enable additional keyboard languages. Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> International Keyboards. When you go to type you can switch between keyboards using the globe that appears on the keyboard. I used this to get the Greek alphabet for typing equations.

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    alaskanbychoicePhil B

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I type it here just as I explained. Hold the ALT key at the same time type 9966 to get ε, ALT+ 6659 =♥

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    Phil Balaskanbychoice

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    OK. Thanks. It seems a user could memorize certain combinations he used very frequently, but it would be quite a task to memorize the number combinations for more than a few special characters.

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    Phil Balaskanbychoice

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Many icon characters, like hearts and so on, are available in a word processor by selecting Webdings or Wingdings fonts.

    I tried to put 5 stars for your instructable, but it only posted 4.5 I have windows xp, so the instructions didn't work for me :0(, but I still enjoyed reading your post. BTW, is there a button for British spelling rather that USA?

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    bpfhporcupinemamma

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    On all versions of windows from Windows 95 through XP :

    - Click on the start button
    - Click on the "Run" field
    - Enter charmap.exe
    - Click OK.

    (Note: on 95,98, Me & 2000 the character map was an optional tool, installed by default but you  could untick it during the windows install procedure)

    On Vista & 7, click on the orb, and enter charmap.exe in the search files or folders and wait for the system to display it in the list

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    Phil Bporcupinemamma

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction


    The star rating system lags your input. If you rate something at 5 stars it registers 4.09 stars. A bunch of people need to post 5 stars before the displayed rating begins to approach an actual 5 stars.

    It is possible to set up alternate keyboards on Windows XP. You still go through the Control Panel, as well as Region and Languages. I have done it, but do not remember the exact screens. I think once you get to Region and Languages the process is pretty much the same.

    As concerns British spellings, you probably need to specify the British Isles as your home when you initially set up the computer. Then its spell check will load the proper dictionary.

    As regards setting up an alternate keyboard in Windows XP, I just checked and the process is similar. Go to Start > Control Panel > Regional and Language Options. In the dialog box click on the middle tab, which is Languages, then click on the Details button. In the dialog box that appears next click on Add and select the extra keyboard you would like to add. Click on all needed OK and Apply buttons as you exit. It is very similar, even if some of the names of the levels are slightly different.

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    TechGadgets

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Try ALT + 255 to get a character looking like a space, which can be often used where a space can't (eg to create 'empty' input field :p)

    Good instructable btw. I have a german keyboard, so äöü (ae,oe,ue) are no problem, but this will come handy for greek letters like alpha (α).
    Thanks