It wasn’t until I started blogging as a hobby and writing for this fantastic website that I noticed how useful the Windows Character Map actually is. How? Well, the lazy version of an ellipsis is three repeating periods, on a standard keyboard… The real ellipsis is keystroke Alt+0133. And what about dashes? Do you have any idea just how many different dashes exist? There’s a particular use for each of them, too.
When the Character Map becomes a staple of your work routine, you have two options: find some third-party application to more easily bring the characters to your fingertips, or memorize the Alt keystrokes for each character. Although I do know around 25 of those keystrokes off the top of my head, I’m going to show you three solutions to that first suggestion.
CatchChar [No Longer Available]
CatchChar turns the Character Map into a sort of extension to the Windows clipboard.
The above screenshot is what you’ll see upon first installing the application. CatchChar includes no mention of OS compatibility on its website, but it works well on Windows 8 Pro. You can safely assume that it should work on XP and everything in between.
The default hotkey to activate CatchChar is Alt+Shift+C. If this seems a little awkward to you, it can be easily changed in the application’s settings. The hotkey has to include the Alt+Shift modifiers though.
By default, the menu will include the above characters and options. Clicking on any character in the list will immediately insert it into the field you’ve selected before pressing the hotkey.
Configuring your menu keys is about as extensive as you can make it. You’re able to insert any character, organize them in the list, add separators, and even save or restore your menu lists.
CatchChar literally puts the Character Map at your fingertips. It’s my favorite application for this purpose.
While CatchChar is a great way to get the job done, BabelMap is probably the most extensive. You will definitely see some characters that you’ve never seen before when using this application.
BabelMap boasts over 110,000 characters in its database. You’re able to search through the list of characters by name or code and characters can be copied to the clipboard to be pasted within any application that supports Unicode characters. BabelMap supports the most recent Unicode Standard of 6.2. It works on any version of Windows from 2000 onward.
For an application of such a simple purpose, the options are huge.
Here are a few features of BabelMap:
- Browse the Unicode Character Grid by plane, block, or page (182 characters)
- Find a character by its hexidecimal value
- Search for characters by full or partial name
- Forward and backward search compatibility
- Select characters to add to a buffer with drag-and-drop editing
- Magnify any character in the grid by right-clicking it
BabelMap is really more than an extension of the Character Map, it’s a complete character and symbol toolbox. I’ve even spent time just glancing through the list of Unicode characters for enjoyment. Who knew there was a character that represented every major traffic sign?
CharMapEx functions as a bit of a dumbed-down version of BabelMap. CharMapEx support starts at Windows 98 and works fine on my Windows 8 machine.
Like BabelMap, it shows the entire Unicode map in blocks and pages. It includes characters from the BMP (Basic Multilingual Plane), so if one of your big reasons for needing a Character Map replacement is for that then this is probably your best solution.
ChapMapEx will allow you to open multiple maps within the same window and organize them in a multi-pane view. This is great if you’re searching for two or more different kinds of symbols simultaneously. It’s much easier and more efficient than opening two instances of the same application.
Right-clicking on a character will allow you to add it to the clipboard or determine which font offers support for that particular symbol. You’re able to change the application font, among several other viewing options. You can alternate between GetGlyphIndices and cmap, as well as DrawText and Uniscribe (for rendering).
These three applications offer a lot in the realm of preference. For functionality, CatchChar is great. For extensiveness, try BabelMap. For just raw simplicity, CharMapEx is best. Nonetheless, each gets the job done and all of them are worth being appreciated.
What are some of the symbols you rush to your Character Map for? Which of these three do you find most useful? Drop me a line in the comments and let me know.