How to Type Symbols and Special Characters in Windows

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You can use Windows to write in any language you want. You are also able to use any characters or symbols from all of these languages plus a lot of extra mathematical and other symbols. These may come handy from time to time when writing recipes or when you want to embellish your text with interesting symbols.

There are various ways to type symbols and special characters in Windows. Today, I will show you all of them and you can then choose which approach suits your needs best.

The Right Alt Way

This is the easiest way. You press and hold the Right Alt (also called AltGr) key on your keyboard and then press a key on your keyboard.

Examples:

keyboard-right-alt

Keyboard Right Alt

Here is an image of a keyboard with an overlay of all special characters that can be produced by the Right Alt way.

This will only work with fonts that support symbols and special characters. Your best bet is to use TrueType fonts.

The Left Alt Way

To use this approach, you have to have a numeric keypad on your keyboard. Also, you need to have the NumLock key enabled.

To produce characters, press and hold the Left Alt key and type the character’s code on your numeric keypad.

Examples:

Characters that can be safely used on websites are in the Alt+1 to Alt+255 range. The symbols then simply repeat in cycles of 256, i.e. Alt+257 is the same as Alt+1 and Alt+510 is the same as Alt+254.

Here is a list of the first 32 Left Alt codes:

First 32 Left Alt Codes

Code Char Code Char Code Char Code Char
Alt+0 NULL Alt+8 Alt+16 Alt+24
Alt+1 Alt+9 Alt+17 Alt+25
Alt+2 Alt+10 Alt+18 Alt+26
Alt+3 Alt+11 Alt+19 Alt+27
Alt+4 Alt+12 Alt+20 Alt+28
Alt+5 Alt+13 Alt+21 § Alt+29
Alt+6 Alt+14 Alt+22 Alt+30
Alt+7 Alt+15 Alt+23 Alt+31

For a complete list of all 256 Alt codes, click here.

The WordPad Way

WordPad is a native Windows rich text editor. You can find it in Start > All Programs > Accessories > WordPad.

If you type a hexadecimal character code in WordPad and then press Alt+X, the hexadecimal code will instantly change to its Unicode character. Press Alt+X again and the character will change back to its hexadecimal code again.

Examples:

There are thousands upon thousands of Unicode characters. You can search them all by their specific hexadecimal codes here.

The Unicode Way

This is the most advanced and possibly the most complicated approach to producing special characters.

First you need to check whether a registry key is enabled in your copy of Windows.

To do this, launch Command Prompt from Start > All Programs > Accessories.

In the Command Prompt window, type and enter the following command:

Tip

You can copy-paste commands to Command Prompt. However, when pasting them into the Command Prompt window instead of Ctrl+V use right-click and then select Paste from the drop-down menu.

If the key is not registered, Command Prompt will return with an error: The system was unable to find the specified registry key or value.

In this case you have to register the key using this next command:

After executing this command, Command Prompt will inform you that the operation was successfully completed.

registry-key-added-via-command-prompt

Registry key added via Command Prompt

Now you can use the Unicode way, too, to produce symbols and special characters.

All you have to do is press and hold Alt (the left Alt key), press the numeric + key, and then type the character’s hexadecimal code according to the Unicode tables.

Examples:

Conclusion

As we can see, there are all kinds of ways to enhance the number of characters and symbols available to Windows users.

The first approach, the Right Alt way, will produce different characters depending on what keyboard language and system locale is used in your computer. The information about the characters produced in this post are based on the United States – International keyboard and English (United States) system locale.

In the case of the Left Alt way, some characters will also differ from keyboard to keyboard.

To find out more about Windows keyboards and locales, and how to work with them in your computer, please read my post about the topic.

Only the Unicode approach guarantees that what you type is what all your readers will actually see on their computer screens.

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