How to Insert Symbols and Special Characters in Excel (Quick and Easy)

Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.

Most spreadsheets are full of numbers. Some of them include text.

But if you want to customize what’s in your spreadsheet and open up some neat possibilities, you can also include symbols and special characters.

The two are almost exactly the same, but Excel treats them slightly differently. We’ll take a look at that first.

Then we’ll go over a few different ways you can add those characters to your spreadsheet.

Open up a new workbook and let’s get started!

*This tutorial is for Excel 2019/Microsoft 365 (for Windows). Got a different version? No problem, you can still follow the exact same steps.

Using the Symbol menu

The simplest way to insert symbols and special characters into your spreadsheet is with Excel’s built-in Symbol menu.

Even though it’s the “Symbols” menu, you can use it to insert both symbols and special characters.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

To open the menu, click the Insert tab in the Ribbon, then click Symbol:

insert-symbol

You’ll see the Symbol menu:

symbol menu

From here, you can scroll through hundreds of symbols. To insert one, click on it, then click Insert.

Finding what you want in this massive list of symbols can be quite difficult. To help, Excel divides the symbols into sections, which you can browse with the Subset drop-down:

subset-dropdown

There are figures from Latin script, other languages, superscripts, subscripts, currency symbols, arrows, mathematical symbols, enclosed alphanumerics, geometric shapes, and a lot more.

To open up even more symbols, use the drop-down menu in the top-left corner to change the font from “(normal text)” to Wingdings, Wingdings 2, or Webdings.

There are tons of great symbols in those fonts. (If you’re looking for a check mark, a commonly used symbol, select Wingdings and scroll down to the bottom.)

wingdings-check

You can select the Special Characters tab to see a smaller list of commonly used options, including the em- and en-dashes; copyright, trademark, and registered symbols; and proofreading marks.

There are also more technical things like non-breaking spaces, left-to-right embedding, em-space, and en-space.

special-characters

Pro tip: take notes on symbols

If you scroll through the list of symbols, you’ll see that any one you click on has a corresponding character code. This code is displayed in the bottom-right corner:

symbol-character-code

You’ll also see that you can get the character code in Unicode, ASCII (decimal), and ASCII (hex).

When you find the symbol you want, take note of the character code and the format. You can use this information to quickly get the symbol in the future.

Next time you open the Symbol menu, select the correct type of encoding, then enter the number in the Character code box.

Alt codes for symbols and special characters

If you have a numeric keypad, you can use Alt codes to get symbols and special characters.

For ASCII characters, hold the Alt key, then type the code. For example, Alt + 171 will insert the “one-half” symbol.

alt-code

Note that you’ll need to use the numbers from your numeric keypad for ASCII codes.

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

If you don’t have a number pad, you can use the on-screen keyboard (for full directions on how to get that fired up, see our article on deactivating scroll lock).

The difficulty here isn’t typing in the code, but in finding it in the first place. You can always look in the Symbol menu and scroll through until you find it, then use the code with Alt.

But it’s easier to find a better list. This site contains all the available ASCII symbols.

ascii-codes-table

The easy way: copy and paste

ASCII characters are pretty limited, though, and sometimes you’ll need a wider variety of symbols. Or you won’t want to look up ASCII codes.

There’s a much better solution: copy and paste.

All you need to do is find a list of symbols (we recommend the Wikipedia list of Unicode characters), copy the symbol you want, and paste it into Excel.

unicode-arrows

You’ll get the best results if you use Ctrl + Shift + V to match the formatting of your spreadsheet.

Don’t forget that you can copy and paste symbols that you’ve already inserted into your spreadsheet, too!

Kasper Langmann, Co-founder of Spreadsheeto

Pro tip: use Ctrl + F to search

There are hundreds of symbols on the Wikipedia page linked above. But you can use Ctrl + F to search for the symbol you’re looking for.

It’s much easier than scrolling through.

Get any symbol you need into Excel

Between the Symbol menu, Alt codes, and copy-and-paste, you can get any symbol you want into your Excel spreadsheet (as long as your typeface supports that particular symbol).

You don’t have to settle for an X instead of a check mark anymore. Just find the symbol, use one of the methods above, and get it into your spreadsheet!