How to Type Unicode Characters on a Mac

How to Enter Unicode Characters on a Mac

Looking to enter a Unicode character — any Unicode character? Find here how to type Unicode characters on a Mac using UTF-16 input and a special Mac hex Unicode keyboard.

First, Just How Many Are There?

Unicode began as 16 bits of encoded character. That makes for 65,536 spots, and immediately the question was raised: is that enough?

The Unicode 88 proposal for what was to become Unicode had a clear answer in 1988:

The answer to this is Yes.

Unicode 88

In 2020, Unicode 13 counted some 143,859 characters (depending on the definition of “character”) — and you can type all of them on your Mac using 16 bits:

How to Type Unicode Characters on a Mac

Time needed: 3 minutes.

To type any UTF-16 Unicode character directly using its code on a Mac using macOS:

  1. Enable Unicode Hex Input. (See below.)

  2. Switch to Unicode Hex Input.

    Easiest: Use the input menu in the menu bar.
    Alternative: Use the FN key to bring up the input sources menu. (Enable in Keyboard system preferences.)

    Switch to Unicode Hey Input to Type all Unicode characters directly on a Mac

  3. Press and hold the Option key.

  4. Type the UTF-16 code corresponding to the character you want to enter, all the while holding the Option key

    Example: Type D 8 3 D D E A 0 for a cable car 🚠.
    Note: Because the cable car is in the supplemental code pages, it requires 8 (instead of 4) characters to type, and after the first 4 a character may appear that indicates accessing extended characters.

  5. Release the Option key.

Looking for umlauts? Type umlaut characters using Unicode or a prefix on your Mac.

Enable Unicode Hex Input on macOS

To turn on the Unicode hex keyboard on your Mac:

  1. Open the Apple logo menu ().
  2. Select System Preferences… from the menu.
  3. Go to the Keyboard category.
  4. Now open the Input Sources tab.
  5. Click +.
  6. Select Others.
  7. Pick Unicode Hex Input.
  8. Click Add.
    Tip: Check Show input menu in menu bar for a fast way to switch between input sources.
    Enable Unicode Hey Input on a Mac

Use the Mac Character Viewer to Enter Unicode Characters

You can, of course, also use the character viewer built into macOS to insert Unicode characters anywhere.

Use the viewer’s Search field to find characters by name, code point (U+1F6A0, for instance) or UTF-8 encoding (e.g., F09F 9AA0). Character Viewer will, alas not, find by or display the UTF-16 encoding for characters.

Find and enter Mac Unicode characters with the Character Viewer

How to Type Unicode Characters on a Mac: FAQ

Do I use big- or little-endian encoding?

To enter Unicode characters in macOS, use UTF-16BE or big-endian.

Can I use UTF-8 or UTF-32?

No, text entry using Unicode Hex Input accepts only UTF-16 codes.

How do I find the UTF-16 encoding for my character?

It is easiest to use a site such as Codepoints or Compart to search for characters, emoji and more by name, then see the UTF-16 encoding to use immediately.

You can also browse the Unicode Code Charts, of course, but will have to convert the code point to UTF-16 for all supplemental characters.

How can I get a Unicode Keyboard for Mac?

The Unicode Hex Input source lets you enter Unicode characters by code, and the Character Viewer lets you enter Unicode characters by search as well as visually.

To get a keyboard that lets you enter Unicode characters for any (supported) language and script directly, do add its input source:

  1. Select System Preferences… from the Apple logo menu.
  2. Open the Keyboard category.
  3. Go to the Input Sources tab.
  4. Click + beneath the list of current input sources.
  5. Highlight the keyboard layout you want to add.
    Finding your keyboard: You can search by script, language and sometimes country.
    Example: For Burmese Unicode keyboard, you can search for Myanmar or Burmese, for instance.
  6. Click Add.

More than a keyboard: You can also change the language on your Mac altogether.

(How to type Unicode characters on a Mac tested with macOS Big Sur 11.2; updated July 2021)

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