Mac OS X: Use the Keyboard Viewer to Identify Special Character Keystrokes

If your computer work entails frequent use of special characters, the OS X built-in Keyboard Viewer can make your life easier. This small window shows a live view of the characters available on the keyboard given the currently selected language and any modifier keys pressed (shift, option, etc.). An optional pulldown menu provides viewing the mapping for webding and wingding fonts, as well.

To access the Keyboard Viewer, it must first be enabled in the Input Menu (which must also be enabled) through the system preferences. Open the System Preferences (Apple Menu -> System Preferences…) and select International from the top level. In this configuration window, select the Input Menu tab. The resulting window should resemble this:

In this window, check the boxes next to Keyboard Viewer (near the top of the scrolling area) and Show input menu in menu bar (at the bottom of the window). If it wasn’t there already, a flag will appear in your menu bar corresponding to the language you have currently selected.

Clicking this flag icon will open the Input Menu which will now include the Keyboard Viewer. Clicking this option will open a small window showing a graphical representation of your keyboard like the one below:

As you press keys on the keyboard, the corresponding key in the Keyboard Viewer darkens and any changes to the other keys will be reflected. In the image above, the option key was pressed and the characters that would be typed using the other keys while option is held down are shown. Pressing shift in addition to option reveals another set of special characters.

The Font mapping: pulldown menu at the bottom of the Keyboard Viewer can be changed to webdings or the wingdings variants to reveal the character to keyboard mappings for those fonts.

If you use Greek symbols in your work, you may find it convenient to check the box next to Greek keyboard palette in the Input Menu window of the International System Preferences window shown above. You’ll then have a Greek flag option in your Input Menu which will allow you to switch over to Γρεεκ characters. The Keyboard Viewer will reflect this change and allow you to type Greek characters directly into any application.


About Quinn McHenry

Quinn was one of the original co-founders of Tech-Recipes. He is currently crafting iOS applications as a senior developer at Small Planet Digital in Brooklyn, New York.
View more articles by Quinn McHenry

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7 Responses to “Mac OS X: Use the Keyboard Viewer to Identify Special Character Keystrokes”

  1. June 23, 2009 at 12:58 pm, Vince Benedetti said:

    How can I edit the font mapping pulldown menu in keyboard viewer in order to decide which fonts appear there.


  2. November 20, 2009 at 2:03 am, Anonymous said:

    Doesn’t work! Just stumbled you and said how great this page was. Maybe others will give you the same input. Used to own a printout of the special keystrokes for special characters, such as the British pound. I’ve memorized a lot of them, but can never remember this one. Strange.


  3. April 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm, Jason Wood said:

    This feature was removed in Snow Leopard… buggers!


  4. October 08, 2011 at 10:25 am, Gail said:

    It is there in Snow Leopard. Go to the System Preferences (Apple Menu -> System Preferences) and select “Language & Text” from the top row. Select the “Input Sources” menu tab. Then follow the instructions above.


  5. January 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm, Nan said:

    How can I view other fonts in the Keyboard Viewer? I need to see the equivalent keys I need to use for Ballot Boxes and other shapes. The keyboard with option key hit shows only one equivalent set of symbols.

    I have Zapf dingbats. Webdings and wingdings. I know they offer the icons I want to use. But I’ve gone thru every letter in the alphabet to try to find the icon I want. What a pain!


  6. April 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm, dan said:

    the keyboard 7, u, j, m, ; and ‘ work sometimes. when i use keyboard viewer they work always or with an external keyboard they work always and when i remove the battery and push the cable lightly with my finger, they work briefly.

    what’s the solution?


  7. February 01, 2013 at 7:56 pm, Ruth said:

    The keyboard viewer doesn’t have a Font Mapping pulldown menu at the bottom. It doesn’t have anything at the bottom. So I still don’t see how to use webdings or wingdings. Thanks for your help.


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