Typing Special (Unicode) Characters in Snow Leopard

[You can find the hex code for common symbols here if you already set up your Unicode Keyboard layout. ]

Wondering how to make special characters, such as the Command (⌘) Symbol in OS X Snow Leopard?  Maybe you want to add the Euro (€) symbol? It’s not as hard as you may think.  They are Unicode characters, and there are a few simple steps to make them easy to type on screen.

System Preferences Window

System Preferences Window

First, open System Preferences.  I like to use LaunchBar, so I type ^Tab, press”sy”, and hit enter.  For those of you who like the mouse (gasp!):  System Preferences is in your dock by default, or it’s found in your Applications folder.

Once there, click the flag icon “Language & Text”.  Next, click “Input Sources”:

Input Sources Tab

Input Sources Tab

Scroll down until you find Unicode Hex Input, and check the box.  I also like to have the option shown in my menu bar by the clock, so I leave the “Show Input menu in menu bar” box ticked:

Unicode Hex and US Layouts Checked

Unicode Hex and US Layouts Checked

In the same window, click the “Keyboard Shortcuts” button.  In the next window, click “Keyboard & Text Input”:

Keyboard & Text Input

Keyboard & Text Input

Here is where you decide how to switch between your normal keyboard and the Unicode Hex keyboard layout. The options are called “Select the previous input source” and “Select next source in Input menu”.  To change the option, click where the keys are to the right of the name of the shortcut, select all of the keys in the box, and then input your new keystrokes.  I chose to hold down Control, Option, Command, and Space Bar (daunting I know.)

Holding down your shortcut gives you this window where you can arrow key through your options:

On-screen Input Selector

On-screen Input Selector

The key difference between Unicode and US is the function of the option key.  In Unicode layout, you hold down the option key and enter the Hex code for the symbol you’d like to type on screen.  For example, holding down option and pressing 2 in a US keyboard layout gives you the trademark symbol, ™.  Whereas in the Unicode Hex layout, you need to hold down option and type four keystokes to make a symbol.  ⌘ is Option and then 2318.

To find the Unicode “code” for your symbol, open the Character Viewer by pressing option-command-T (⌥⌘T) or by clicking the flag near your clock in the menu bar, and then clicking on Show Character Viewer:

Input Menu

Input Menu

Looking at the Character Viewer (⌥⌘T), you can attempt to find your symbol with the search field at the bottom.  Clicking on a symbol will tell you which four keys to type while holding down option (and being in the U+ keyboard layout):

HexCode Location

HexCode Location

I chose the Euro as an example, and you can see in order to type the symbol, I hold down option and press 20ac (caps not necessary, although it is shown that way): €.

The keyboard viewer also helps identify the keymap of a new language layout. Although there isn’t a noticeable change between US and Unicode, you may see quite a change picking something like Canadian French or Dvorak.

Hex Keyboard Layout

Hex Keyboard Layout

Good luck and happy character typing!

PS– To type the apple () symbol, in a US keyboard layout, hold down Option+Shift, and press k. No special keyboard required!

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Quick Reference Unicode (Special) Character Shortcuts OS X | Lowfokus on 11.01.09 at 18:03

[...] you don’t have Unicode Hex Keyboard setup in OS X, please see here how to do so. You will learn how to find a symbol your are looking for, or you can use the chart [...]