How to Enable and Use the OS X Character Viewer on Your Mac

The OS X keyboard offers a number of common characters for the particular language you have chosen, with additional characters available via modifier keys such as Shift, Command and Option. You should know that there are only a handful of characters that can be assigned to these keys, and these are just a handful of the vast number of characters that you can use when composing documents.

Some programs have their own input methods for accessing these additional characters, but if the program you’re using doesn’t support this, you can use the built-in OS X browser to find and use any of them, including and not limited to math symbols, Greek and Latin symbols, Chinese characters, emoticons, and even Braille.

All these characters are available in the system’s Character Viewer palette. This is disabled by default in the system, but it can be activated by the following method:

1. Open System Preferences from the Apple menu.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-System-Preferences

2. Click on the “Keyboard” section, as shown below:

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Keyboard-System-Preferences

3. In the “Keyboard” tab, enable the option next to “Show Keyboard & Character Views In Menu Bar.”

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Show-In-Menu-Bar

You’ll now see a small input menu show up next to the date and time in the system menu:

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Icon-Menu-Bar

The input menu is a black-and-white icon, but if you select more than one country’s layout to include in the list, then the input menu will change to show the flag of the currently selected layout, a feature that some people may prefer to just the basic input icon.

Select the icon from the menu, and choose the Character viewer option.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Menu-bar

You’ll see the character viewer menu appear, and it’s divided into various categories which you can use. By default, Apple only shows a few common categories, but you can enable others by clicking on the gear menu at the top of the window and choosing “Customize List…” In the list you can check various additional categories to include in the character viewer window.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Customize-List

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Additional-Categories

When you find a symbol you like,

  • You can either double-click it to insert it into your document.
  • Or, you can drag it from the window to the desired location where you would like to┬áinsert it.

Tip: If you’ve found a character that you will be using again and again, select the icon and click on “Add To Favourites” to add it to the favorites menu of Character Viewer for easy access.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Favorites

Also, a group of the most recently accessed symbols will be kept in the Recently Used section so you can find them there.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Recently-Used

You can also easily search for icons in the Character Viewer. For example, if you search for “Tongue,” you’ll get all the letters that make up the word tongue (t,o,n,g,u,e) as well as all symbols/emoticons/characters that include or represent tongues.

Enable-Character-Viewer-OSX-Tongue

Do remember though that the search is not the best out there. You might find yourself in many instances where you can’t find what you’re looking for, but most of the time the search will be close enough.

Tips, comments and queries are appreciated in the comments below.