I saw my friend press a key sequence and have a really cool emoji window pop up on her MacBook Air with every possible emoji. Nice! How can I access the same on my own Macbook?
You’ve bumped into one of the coolest hidden features on modern Macs, actually, an app that mostly lives in stealth mode in MacOS. In some contexts it goes by the name “Emoji & Symbols” and in other contexts it’s “Character Viewer”, but you can’t find either if you search using Spotlight and it’s not in Applications or Applications > Utilities. Mysterious, right? Not only that, but if you want to create your own keyboard shortcut, you have to manually type in the name for it to work.
The good news is that if you have a MacBook with the globe icon and ‘fn’ characters on the lower left key on the keyboard, you can assign it as a shortcut for launching this elusive Emoji & Symbol viewer utility. To be fair, it’s not extraordinarily sophisticated, but I use it quite a bit because I am constantly adding emoji to my content, even here on my Web site! 😉
ASSIGN A KEYBOARD SHORTCUT FOR EMOJI & SYMBOLS
Let’s start with the two main ways that you can access the Emoji & Symbols window: The existing 🌐 key on your keyboard or by creating your own keyboard shortcut. Look on your keyboard. Is this your lower left key?
If so, you’re in luck. Go to Settings > Keyboard and you’ll see these options:
Notice the “Press 🌐 key to…” option. As you can see, one of the choices is “Show Emoji & Symbols”. With that set, a single push on that lower left key will bring up the viewer (and a second press will hide it). Easy.
Want to use that key for something else and/or just want a different keyboard shortcut? That’s a bit more complicated. Get to Settings > Keyboard and click on the “Keyboard Shortcuts…” button. Choose Applications > All Applications, then click on the tiny “+” just below the few shown. It will bring up a new window where you need to type in exactly “Emoji & Symbols” into the second box. Then click the third “Keyboard shortcut” box and press the key sequence you want to utilize:
I’ve set it to Control+Option+Space. Notice I selected “All Applications” in the top portion so it’s accessible regardless of what app I’m running. A click on “Done” and it’ll now show up:
Now I have both the Control+Command+Space option and the 🌐 key shortcut I can utilize. Helpful!
USING THE EMOJI & SYMBOL VIEWER
Now anytime you’re entering text, you can use your key or keyboard shortcut to bring up the Character Viewer. I always immediately go to Favorites, so it looks like this:
You can see which emoji I use a lot, from tacos to rats, musical notes to footballs and hearts! More importantly, notice down the left side there are a lot of categories of symbols that can be shown, much more than just emoji.
What few people realize is that you can customize the list too, and that there are lots of categories of characters and symbols that aren’t shown by default. Click on the tiny “•••” on the top left of the app window!
As you can see, choose “Customize List…” and you can choose which of the many symbol and character groups you want to have accessible.
CUSTOMIZE YOUR CHARACTER VIEWER CATEGORIES
It’s quite a list…
Keep scrolling down too and you’ll notice that some of the default categories are trimmed versions of larger categories:
What I really like is that I can also add some ancient language support, just in case I want to write a quick email in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Cuneiform, Lycian, or similar:
In fact, I’ll add Phoenician and click “Done“. Notice that the options on the side are now different and, well, I can now access the entire Phoenician alphabet:
And that’s it. Now you know how to access and use the Emoji & Symbols Character Viewer, including adding your own keyboard shortcut, and how to customize what’s shown so it works great for your purposes. Have fun! 🌴🔥🐾
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about MacOS since the first release and have hundreds of helpful tutorials here on the site. Please check out my Mac help library for lots more useful content while you’re here!