Between September 2005 and July 2011 I was a regular contributor to MacFormat in the UK.
Whereas I’m posting the published articles for my MacWarehouse writing with the MacFormat ones I’ve decided to post the text as submitted, including any comments that I included for design. I am, however, allowing myself a few small edits for clarity.
The particular one is my ninth column, written in May 2006. This is presented purely as a historical record as much, if not all, of the information contained in it may well have changed in the meantime.
A Shortcut to Special Characters
Tucked away at the bottom of the Edit menu is an option called “Special Characters…”. Selecting this brings up a character palette which allows you pick and choose a number of graphical characters without struggling to remember exactly which key combination you need to enter to be able to type them. This is a bit like the old OS 9 Keyboard desk accessory except the organization is much better. Instead of simply seeing a picture of the keyboard and having to try a number of different modifier keys to find out what characters they give the Character Palette is organized into groups such as Currency Symbols, Digits and even Braille Patterns.
You can add characters into a list of frequently used ones which you can access via the Favorites tab and at the bottom of the window are two disclosure triangles that allow you to see related characters and how the character looks in the various fonts that contain it. Not every font contains every character so if you are planning on sending a document that contains one of the special characters to someone else be sure that they have the same font installed as otherwise they may not see the character at all or even get an entirely different character. There is even a search box at the bottom that will allow you to search for characters by name.
If you look at the Edit menu in Text Edit you will see that there is a keyboard shortcut for “Special Characters…”, Apple-Alt-T, however if you open up Mail and have a look at the Edit menu there isn’t one. It would be really useful if we could have a keyboard shortcut that brought up the Character Palette in any program that supports it and not just those that already have one. We can do this by going to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane in System Preferences.
Underneath the list of current keyboard shortcuts click on the + sign and create a shortcut for All Applications. In the Menu Title box you will need to type “Special Characters…” without the quotes. One thing to watch out for is that the three dots are not separate characters, they are a single character called an ellipsis so you will need to type Alt; or simply insert it from the Punctuation section of the Character Palette.
Finally you need to assign a combination of keys that will activate your shortcut. Your first instinct will be to use AppleAltT since this is what is already used by some applications. However, if you look through the menus of Mail you will see that this combination is already defined for “Move Again” in the Message menu, it would be good if Apple’s various development teams all agreed on the same shortcuts. Therefore I suggest that you use Shift-Apple-Alt-T instead. This will override the Apple-Alt-T that is already defined in other applications so you will have a shortcut that you can use everywhere.
Quit any applications that are already running as the new keyboard shortcut will only be recognised by applications that are launched after it has been defined.
You will now be able to easily call up the Character Palette from any application that supports it by typing Shift-Apple-Alt-T.