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How to Use the Windows XP/Vista/7 Character Map

On a previous page we discussed fonts. Here we will consider an accessory called "Character Map" that has come with Windows since its early days but which is not as well-known as it should be. It provides a way to use the various font files to make available a large selection of foreign letters and special symbols of many kinds.


To open "Character Map", go to All Programs-Accesories-System Tools-Character Map. Or, in Windows Vista/7, you can enter "char" (without quotes) in the Start Search bar and choose "Character Map" from the program list.

Many fonts come with a set of special characters and these can be viewed and selected for copying and pasting into a document. The selection of characters is a function of which font is chosen and includes many types of symbols including foreign ones. The "Verdana" font selection is shown below with the "copyright" symbol selected.

To select a character for copying, click the desired character in the grid display. An enlarged insert displaying the chosen character will appear. Then click the "Select" button. The character will then be shown in the "Characters to copy" box. Clicking the "Copy" button will place the character in the clipboard. More than one character can be placed in the "Characters to copy" box so combinations of characters can be made.

Character map with Verdana font

To illustrate the variety, the characters displayed after scrolling down Verdana is shown next. A Cyrillic character has been chosen using the "Select" button. To put the selected character into the Clipboard where it can then be pasted into a document, the "Copy" button should be pressed.

Using character map to copy a Cyrillic character 

As another example, the Times New Roman font includes Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic characters among others. The figure below illustrates an Arabic letter. By using the "Select" button on a succession of characters, more than one can be pasted at one time. Whole words can therefore be inserted.

Using Character Map to copy an Arabic character

Certain symbols can also be entered directly through the numeric pad if you know the number code for the character you want. The number codes are available from Character Map. If the character can be accessed on the numeric pad, the number combination will appear in the lower right corner of the Character Map display. Note that in the first example given above where the Copyright symbol has been selected the notation "Keystroke: Alt+0169" appears. The codes are also listed at various places such as this reference. If you use some character repeatedly, this is the quicker way. Make sure the Num Lock is on , hold down the "Alt" key and on the numeric pad type the number code, e.g., 0162 (this happens to be the "cent" sign for certain fonts). Release the "Alt" key and the character appears in your document. This method is discussed in more detail on another page.

Microsoft Office and special characters

I do not want to venture very far into the jungle that is Microsoft Office but I will point out that several components of the various versions of Office have options for inserting symbols by using the menu entry Insert- Symbol. Whether you use these methods or the Character Map will depend on the circumstances.

Characters and codes

The relationship between characters and the codes used to represent them has become much more complicated than it was in the old days of teletype machines and the simple 128 symbols of basic ASCII. As more and more symbols were added the coding went through several stages and versions. One result of the changing systems was that there is not even consistency between the older Windows operating systems and XP. Today the coding has changed to accommodate the additional symbols of non-Western alphabets and other additions and is known as Unicode. For detailed information see the Unicode home page.

I have more discussion on how characters are encoded on this page.

Private characters

Windows comes with an accessory that provides for creating your own characters to be used with the Character Map and that is discussed next.



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