How to Type Symbols and Characters on Windows and Mac

Learn the keyboard shortcuts for special characters

Special Characters in Windows and Mac

Ever wondered how to type the trademark (™) symbol? What about other keyboard symbols or letters with accents on them? Sure, you could buy an international keyboard to use with your computer or mobile device, or you could use the features built-in to your operating system for typing symbols with the keyboard you have. No special software required.

How to Create Keyboard Special Characters in Windows

Windows has many alt-key shortcuts programmed into it you can use to type symbols and accented letters, no matter the application you're using. There are two ways you can do it; for the first, you'll need a keyboard with a full number pad on it, while for the second method, you'll use the Windows character map.

Use the Number Pad to Create Keyboard Symbols

Using the number pad on a Windows computer lets you use the ANSI code for special characters and symbols

Press Alt+[the number code for the symbol or accented letter]. For example, Alt+1 inserts ☺, while Alt+0153 inserts the trademark ™. 

Here's a quick list of some of the more common accented letters and symbols. For more, refer to the ANSI character set page.

Number Pad Code Combination  Symbol or Special Character
Alt+1
Alt+3
Alt+0169 ©
Alt+0153
Alt+0174 ®
Alt+0163 £
Alt+0128
Alt+0161 ¡
Alt+0191 ¿
Alt+0192 À
Alt+0224 à
Alt+0194 Â
Alt+0226 â
Alt+0202 Ê
Alt+0234 ê
Alt+0201 É
Alt+0233 é
Alt+0199 Ç
Alt+0231 ç
Alt+0209 Ñ
Alt+0241 ñ

Create Special Characters with the Character Map

The Character Map is installed in Windows and allows you to copy and paste symbols and accented letters into any application on your computer. 

To turn on the Character Map:

  1. In the search bar, type "character map."

    Character Map on Windows
  2. Select Character Map and the Character Map pop-up window should open.

    Character Map pop-up on Windows
  3. Scroll through the list until you find your desired symbol or accented letter.

  4. Select the symbol or accented letter, then Select. The character appears in the Characters to copy field.

    The Character Map also shows you the ANSI code you can use with your keyboard number pad, as outlined earlier.

  5. Select Copy, then paste the character where you need it.

How to Create Special Characters in macOS

There are three different ways to type symbols or accented letters in macOS. You can use the Option key, long press letters on the keyboard, or use the Character Viewer.

Create Special Characters on Mac With the Option Key

This method uses the Keyboard Viewer, available from macOS Maverick and higher.

  1. Click the Apple logo > System Preferences.

    System Preferences in MacOS
  2. Click Keyboard.

    Keyboard Options in MacOS
  3. In the Keyboard tab, select Show keyboard and emoji viewers. The Keyboard & Emoji Viewer icon now appears in the menu bar in the upper right. 

    Keyboard and Emoji Keyboard Option in MacOS
  4. Click the Keyboard & Emoji Viewer icon, then click Show Keyboard Viewer.

    Show Keyboard Viewer in MacOS
  5. A virtual keyboard appears on the screen. 

    Enabled Virtual Keyboard in MacOS
  6. Press Option to see all the symbols and accents available to you based on the country chosen in your System Preferences. The orange keys denote the accents you can place on top of letters.

    Virtual Keyboard with Symbols and Characters Visible on MacOS
  7. To type a symbol, press Option+the appropriate letter as denoted on the Keyboard Viewer. E.g. Option+G inserts ©.

To type an accented letter, press Option+one of the orange letters, then the letter. E.g. Option+C, then C inserts ç.

You can also press Option, then click the appropriate symbol or accented letter on the Keyboard Viewer with your mouse.

Create Mac Keyboard Symbols using the Long Press Method 

Another way to create special characters on a Mac is to press and hold letters on the keyboard to bring up a selection of the more popular accented letters and symbols. This method works in most cases where there is a text box or text editor, but not all word processors.

To use the long press method, press and hold the desired letter, then press the appropriate number to get the desired symbol or accented letter. For example, press and hold the letter E, then tap 3 to insert ê.

Long Press Method for accented letters in MacOS

Access Special Symbols With the Character Viewer

Like the Character Map in Windows. macOS has a Character Viewer, which is mainly used for emojis, but can also be used for accented letters and other special characters. 

To turn on the Character Viewer:

  1. Click the Apple logo.

  2. Click System Preferences > Keyboard.

  3. In the Keyboard tab, select Show keyboard and emoji viewers. The Character Viewer icon now appears in the menu bar in the upper right. 

Need a Smiley Face Keyboard?

On the macOS, you can make your Character Viewer display only emoji, essentially giving you a smiley face keyboard. It just takes a few adjustments.

  1. Place your cursor where you want to type the character.

  2. Press Cmdd+Control+Space. A modified Character Viewer opens, with only emojis displayed.

    Emoji-only Character Viewer in MacOS
  3. Choose the emoji to insert and double-click it. Your emoji is inserted into your text.

Insert Letter Accents on Mac

The Character Viewer is where you go to insert character accents on letters, too. You'll need to make a few tweaks to find the letters you want, but once you've done it a time or two, it will be easier.

  1. Place your cursor where you want to type the accented letter.

  2. Click the Character Viewer icon in the menu bar. 

  3. Click Show Emojis & Symbols. The Character Viewer opens to the emojis menu.

  4. Click Latin in the left menu.

    Accented Letter list in Character Viewer in MacOS
  5. Choose the accented letter to insert and double-click it. Your accented letter is inserted into your text.

You can also use this method to insert symbols or emojis as well. Simply choose the appropriate list on the left of the Character Viewer.

How to Create Special Characters on Mobile Devices

It's a little easier to type symbols and accented letters on mobile devices, as most operating systems have them built in to the keyboards by default. 

On Android and iOS Devices

Just tap and hold any letter on your keyboard and a pop-up window appears with all the related symbols or accented letters you can choose from. Then, slide your finger over to the desired character and release. 

Long Press for Accented Characters on Android Mobile Device
Android Device.
Long Press for Accented Characters on iPhone or iPad
iOS device.

On International Keyboards on Mobile Devices

Most mobile devices today let you install a variety of languages on your device, which is used initially for display purposes. But it's also useful for enabling different language keyboards when doing any text entry on your device.

To install an international (or non-native) keyboard on your mobile device:

  1. Tap Settings on your device.

  2. Tap Language & input (on Android devices) or Keyboards (on iOS). The exact wording and location of this settings option will depend on your device.

    Non-native Keyboard Installation on iOS Mobile Device
    iOS.
  3. Select the language keyboard you'd like to install, such as French, Russian, Dutch, Emoji, etc, and the keyboard will be downloaded and installed on your device. It can then be used with any app.

How to Use Non-Native Keyboards to Type Special Characters

Once you've installed a non-native keyboard on your mobile device, then you can use it to type special characters and accents.

  1. Open the app you'd like to insert the accented letters in.

  2. On the keyboard, tap the globe icon on the keyboard, to the left of the space bar (both Android and iOS).

    Non-native Keyboard Switch on Android Mobile Device
    Android.

    Some Android users can also tap and hold the space bar to choose a different language keyboard.

  3. Choose the language keyboard to use. The desired non-native keyboard is displayed.

  4. Type your text. 

Using Third-Party Mobile Keyboards

Another way to type symbols and accented letters on your mobile device is to use a third-party keyboard. The steps users had to use in the past when operating systems made it difficult to support multiple languages in text without affecting the device's display language. 

You can still use a third-party keyboard if you wish, however since there can be privacy and security concerns with these apps, as well as compatibility issues, it's not recommended you use them today.

Here are a few mobile keyboards that are highly rated in their respective app stores:

Bonus Methods for Microsoft Office and Google Docs

You can also use your keyboard to type special characters and accented letters in Microsoft Office on both Windows and macOS. Or using this slightly different procedure for Google Docs:

  1. Open a document in Google Docs.

  2. In the menu bar, select Insert > Special characters and the Special characters pop-up will appear.

    Special Characters Menu in Google Docs
  3. Find the symbol or accented letter to insert. You can scroll to find it or search for it using the search box.

    Special Characters Menu in Google Docs
  4. Select the desired character to insert it.

  5. Close the pop-up window.