How to type symbols and characters not found on a regular keyboard [Tip]

Most standard keyboards include only a few symbols on them. However, Windows actually supports a wider range of symbols than those included on the keyboard. As such, you can enter a larger number of symbols in your documents with specific codes.

For example, you can add any one of the card deck symbols to a document such as spades, diamonds, hearts and clubs. To enter diamonds, hold the left Alt key and press 4 on the right numeric keypad. Then you should have a diamond in your document as in the shot below.

alt codes

You can add many more symbols to your documents much the same. Each has an Alt code listed on this page. There you’ll find codes for fractions, mathematical, card symbols and more besides.

alt codes5

Windows also has a Character Map window which shows all the characters you can add to your documents. To open it, click the Start menu and enter character map in the search box. That opens the window below which includes a variety of symbols that you can add to your documents.

alt codes1

Click on the Advanced view check box to expand the window’s search options. Then enter search keywords into the text box to locate more specific symbols. Click the Search option to find symbols that match the keyword entered.

alt codes2

Click on a symbol in the window and the Select option. Then click Copy to copy the symbol. Open a document to add the symbol to, and press the Ctrl + V shortcut to paste it in.

alt codes3

Both the Character Map window and alt codes give you a much more expansive range of symbols than what’s included on the keyboard. The alt codes should work in Windows Vista, 7 and 8, and perhaps other versions, but not the Mac OS X which has alternative symbol codes.

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15 comments

  1. janet

    [@Mr.Dave]
    Perhaps I should mention that I sometimes came up with empty boxes too…. But as I said earlier, there are a lot of variables, and accidentally doing any one of them wrong would make it not work……

    Office 2000—wow! I am using Office 2003. That certainly might make a difference…

  2. Mr.Dave

    [@janet] Janet, thanks for your persistence! I tied again, using WordPad as you described. When I enter 2103 and hold Alt and press X, the 2103 gets replaced by an empty square box. Same (on my PC) for some of the other codes I tried. Some codes give odd looking (to me, at least!) characters. So Unicode works with WordPad, even as far back as the WordPad that came with Vista! I don’t think it works for me in Word or Excel or any other Office apps because I’m still using Office 2000, and apps like the Atlantis word processor and All My Notes don’t support it. Page Four word processor handles it same as WordPad, Firefox doesn’t work. I’ll bet Unicode wasn’t in use back then! Too bad it needs to built in each program, and each program has the option of handling it different. Would have been great if Microsoft built it into Windows so all apps could share it!

  3. janet

    [@Mr.Dave]

    If it is any consolation, I was having trouble too. It seemed like it didn’t work. After playing around with it for a long time, I found I could get them to work…. Here are some interesting findings:

    1. In switching back and forth between turning the number pad on and off, I think I sometimes ended up trying to get the symbol with the pad off, thinking it was on.

    2. I found they worked in some apps and not in others. Some apps do either Ascii OR Unicode, but not both! So you have to try both (different code and different process) for each app.

    3. I found it often worked using the upper row number keys as well as with the keypad e.g., in WORD.

    4. I think I sometimes unintentionally used the unicode directions with Ascii codes and vice-versa.

    5. I get different symbols for the same code number and insertion technique in different apps. For example, 2103+Alt+x gives me C. degree sign in Word, but it gives me a question mark in a square in WordPad! WordPad also gives me the same question mark in a square if I type the same code while holding down the Alt key, while “Windows Live Mail” gives me a spade…!

  4. Mr.Dave

    [@Janet] Thanks, Janet, but it simply doesn’t work on my home PC. Not sure if it’s Vista, or Zemana Antilogger, or some service I stopped years ago to save memory…. When I type the code on the number key pad, I see the numbers I type. When I hold down Alt and type X, nothing happens. No big deal, I’ve used computers for almost 40 years and never needed unicodes! But I do appreciate the help. I need to try this on my work PC.

  5. Janet

    Dave:
    To enter unicode characters:
    1. Type the code on the number pad (make sure it is turned on!)
    2. Press Alt and X together at the same time

    If you have a problem, SELECT the code before going on to step 2.

    The above is for UNICODE only.
    For ASCII: you hold down Alt WHILE typing the code.

  6. Mr.Dave

    [@xx] Thanks, xx. That page has thousands of symbols! Not sure how my document would know which font to use once I paste in a symbol, but it’s something to try out. Normally I would use the built-in Character Map program (as described above !) to select, copy and then past one or more symbols. Still trying to figure out how to insert a unicode character by entering the code directly, like U+2103, which is degrees Celsius from the site you referenced. I can remember a handful of often-used codes rather than open another source…

  7. Mr.Dave

    [@Mr.Dave] The phrase in my previous post, “a symbol like ?” originally had a summation symbol (Sigma) but it got changed to a question mark after I clicked the [Post Comment] button. It has a unicode of 2211. And yes, I used the numeric keypad on my keyboard when entering the unicode values.

  8. Mr.Dave

    [@xx] Thanks XX, but I’m still missing something. The steps in the Microsoft article didn’t work either. If I call up Character Map and look up the $ symbol, it shows “U+0024″ for the unicode value. I typed 0,0,2,4,Alt,X (hit Alt, release, then hit X) or 0,0,2,4,Alt-X (hold Alt and hit X) or either of these preceded by U or U+ but never got a $. Tried it in Firefox, Excel, Word, Atlantis word processor. I can select and copy a symbol like ? from the character table into these programs, but can’t seem to get there by entering codes. I’ll try on my work PC tomorrow, maybe I have a service turned off or some corrupted system file or applied a tweak 7 years ago called “dissallow unicodes”…. But thanks for the tips, they may help others!

  9. Mr.Dave

    I’ve been using Alt+keypad numbers for a long time to add characters like “±” (Alt+0177) to my documents (that’s a plus/minus symbol in case it doesn’t show here correctly!). But I still don’t understand the “U” codes shown in the bottom left corner. How do you enter them? Many of the symbols only have “U” codes, not Alt codes. For example U+0069 for the Copyright symbol shown in the picture above. Also, In MS Office and maybe others, you can type (+C to get Copyright, or (+R to get the “Registered” symbol.