How To Use Your ALT Key To Type Special Characters

While working as a radar engineer I wrote many software programs. Sometimes I had to manipulate "special characters". These are the characters that your computer can display, but you won't find on your PC's keyboard. Each of these characters has an associated American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) code assigned to it.

Here's one handy website that lists these ASCII codes:

Did you know you can call these characters up, at will, using your ALT key?

Just hold down the ALT key, and then enter the ASCII code for the character. One limitation, though, is you must use the number-pad area of your keyboard to enter the ASCII code. Unfortunately this technique won't work with the number row at the top of your QWERTY keys…

One character I find myself frequently using is the degree symbol: °. The code is ALT 248. Try it now in your browser's search bar by holding down the ALT key and then entering 248. Presto, that little ° magically shows up.

There is a set of basic characters mapped to numbers from 1 to 255. And then there are a few more "hidden" if you include four digits. Some of them are listed at: Useful Shortcuts as well as

For example, here are a few other characters you might also want to get at this way:

  • … = ALT 0133 
  • — = ALT 0151
  • © = ALT 0169
  • ™ = ALT 0153
  • ¢ = ALT 0162
  • ½ = ALT 171

What if your keyboard doesn't have a separate number-pad?

Check to see if you've got a "Fn" key - often it's blue. Then look at (typically) your UIOJKLNM keys. Do they also have little numbers on them? If so, hold down the ALT key with the Fn key and then use those little number keys to enter your code.

And how about i-devices?

Some of these characters show up by doing a long key tap. Then slide your finger up to the character you want and it'll get dropped in place. For instance, the number "0" key maps the degree ° symbol. The "." key maps the ellipsis … The "-" key maps the em-dash — . I haven't found mappings for the other symbols I've listed above. If you know them, please comment below.

And Now For a Nifty Trick to Apply To Your Desktop

Would you like to have a streamlined desktop of shortcuts with icons only, but no text? Something that looks like this:
text free icons
Text-free icons

Rename each shortcut by entering ALT 255 instead of a typical text string. If you're renaming more than one icon this way, Windows may prompt you that "There is already a file with the same name in this location." If so, just enter extra ALT 255 characters until Windows no longer gives you that prompt.

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