Unless you communicate in some cryptic hieroglyphic script, odds are that most characters you type are the standard alphanumeric ones available on your keyboard. Every now and then, however, you may find yourself in need of some less common symbols (like €, ó, á, ₩, ü, ฿) or even emojis like this ambivalent squid: ?. Windows comes preloaded with quite a few different ways to type special characters, symbols and emojis, though, so that won’t actually be too difficult.
1. Character Picker
The most straightforward way to type a special character in Windows is the built-in picker. It contains a massive selection of emojis, symbols, and kaomoji (emoji made with Japanese characters) and is much faster than Googling a symbol to copy and paste.
- Press Win + . or Win + ; – they both take you to the same menu.
- If you need an emoji, you can search for it by typing.
- If you need a kaomoji or symbol, you can click over to them and browse.
- When you find the symbol you want, just click to insert.
Every category keeps track of your most-used characters, so if you have one that you insert frequently, just go to the far left on the bottom of the picker and select the clock symbol.
2. Character Map
The Character Map has a bit of an old-school aesthetic to it and doesn’t include emojis/kaomojis, but it’s more powerful than the new picker for special characters. It allows you to switch between multiple character sets and languages, lets you select multiple characters, and is searchable. It’s a little less convenient but may be worth it if you can’t find what you need in the new picker or need multiple symbols.
- Search for “Character Map” or “charmap” in the Windows search bar. (Alternatively, hit Win + R, type in “charmap”, and click OK.)
- Browse for the symbol you’re looking for. You can check the “Advanced view” box to get filters and search options.
- Click the character you want.
- Either click “Select” or double-click to add the character to a list of characters to copy.
- Every time you add another character to the list, the whole list is sent to your clipboard, so when you’ve selected all you want to, just use Ctrl + V to insert the characters where you want them.
3. Touch keyboard
If you need to type accented letters or a few common symbols, your on-screen keyboard could be a good way to access them. There are a few ways to launch it, but the easiest way is probably just adding it to your taskbar. Right-click on your taskbar and select “Show touch keyboard button.”
To type an accented letter, just long-press the letter you want and then mouse over the correct accent.
To type symbols, use the &123 button on the bottom left. If you want to see more symbols, press the button with the omega symbol on it.
For emojis, hit the smiley face button on the main keyboard.
4. Alt Key Codes
Power users with numeric keypads and a good memory may prefer using the Alt + [number code] trick. This only works if you have a keyboard with a separate number pad, not just numbers along the top row. Some laptops also have a hidden number lock you can use, but the process for activating it varies by model.
- Press and hold Alt.
- Type in the code that corresponds to the symbol you want.
- Release Alt.
For example, Alt + 1 is a smiley face: ☺, Alt + 228 is a sigma: Σ, and Alt + 0128 is the euro: €.
There are a lot of codes out there, so you’ll have to look them up at least a few times before you memorize the ones you use most frequently. Alt-Codes has a pretty comprehensive library, but I prefer AltCodeUnicode since it has a text description of each symbol, making it much more searchable.
If you have a number pad and tend to often type the same symbols, this can be a fairly quick way. If you have to stop and look up codes all the time, though, looking up the symbol some other way will probably end up being faster.
There are plenty of other workarounds to type special characters on Windows 10, though they’re a bit beyond the scope of this article. You could install the keyboard from another language and use it if you need accented letters a lot. Creating an AutoHotKey script for your frequently-used characters is an option as well. You could also set the program you’re using to write to automatically replace certain letter combinations with the symbol you want.
This all depends on how often you need to use the characters, though. If you’re only typing it once (and maybe copy-pasting it a few more times within the same document), you may as well just look it up using Win + . or “charmap.” If you type the special characters in Windows 10 all the time, though, you may want to look into a more complex solution.
If for whatever reason the special characters aren’t working when you’re using the above methods, here are a few possible fixes for you.
1. Check your keyboard language
It’s very easy to change your default keyboard language. If you have more than one language enabled on your keyboard, you can switch between languages simply by pressing Alt + Shift. With that in mind, press Alt + Shift, and make sure that your keyboard language in Windows corresponds with the language on your physical keyboard.
If you’re not sure if your physical keyboard has a US or UK layout, then a simple look at the 3 key should answer your question. If it’s a “£” sign then it’s UK, if it’s a “#”, then it’s US.
2. Turn off NumLock
Ahhh NumLock, the key that for most people gets in the way more than it’s actually used. If your special character Alt codes aren’t working, then make sure NumLock is switched off on your keyboard. Press the NumLock button and make sure the LED associated with it is off.
3. Reinstall keyboard drivers
Another solution is to reinstall your keyboard drivers. Go to Device Manger (you can type it into the Start menu search), click the Keyboard dropdown, then right-click your keyboard and click “Uninstall device”.
Next, unplug your keyboard, plug it back in and it should reinstall, hopefully with all the buttons working as they should.
That should cover you for typing special characters and symbols into Windows. For more help with Windows, see how to fix a webcam or camera not working, and how to sort out Windows 10 update problems.
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