How to Access Symbols From the Computer Keyboard

By Michael Arcand

You've probably seen them and wondered where they come from or what special font was being used. They are symbols that come from the computer and resemble many different (and common) things, such as the suits from a deck of playing cards (♥ ♦ ♣ ♠). They are actually part of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) and have been around since the beginnings of computer language for the personal computer. Let's take a look at how you can access these symbols.

Step 1

Open WordPad, Notepad, Microsoft Word or some other text editing software. ASCII codes on DOS-based operating systems are almost universal and should produce the same results in any text editor.

Step 2

Activate the numerical keypad on your keyboard by hitting the "Numbers Lock" key on the top of your keyboard. A little light should come on indicating that the numbers lock has been activated for the numerical keypad.

Step 3

While holding down the "Alt" key, type a number between 0 and 255 on the keyboard's numeric keypad. It is important to use the keypad and not the numbers above the letters, as these are actually represented as different input sources as far as the computer is concerned.

Step 4

Release the "Alt" key and you will see the symbol represented by the number that you entered. There are a total of 256 total available ASCII characters, represented by the numbers 0 through 255. Some of these are not actually symbols, but rather functions of the computer. For example, the ASCII number 11 represents the instruction to return the cursor to the "home" position and number 13 represents the instruction to carry out a carriage return, just as if you had hit the "Enter" key on your keyboard.

Step 5

Experiment with different uses of the ASCII codes in designing a new look for your text documents. Early DOS programmers would use these codes to give instruction to the computer as well as implement an early form of design for some of the earliest Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) available over the telephone lines. A reference is provided below to all of the code numbers and their equivalent symbols or functions.

Tips & Warnings

  • When reviewing any ASCII tables and using the above method of keyboard entry, be sure and use the numbers given under the "Dec" or decimal column. The other columns represent hexadecimal and octadecimal numerical systems used by computer programmers.