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How to get emojis on your Mac

Are you missing emojis on your favorite Mac app, email, or messaging service? If you are used to emojis supplementing your witty banter, it can be tough to give them up! Fortunately, Macs have their own built-in emojis that you can tap into at any time. They’re waiting in the Character Viewer, and we’ll show you just how to get emojis on your Mac with this simple tool.

Accessing and using the Character Viewer

The Character Viewer is a small window of emojis that is built into the latest MacOS. The advantage of this little window (compared to emoji options within many individual apps) is that the same emoji options are available everywhere you want to use them on your Mac, including places you may have never tried them before. Accessing this Character Viewer is very simple. Place your cursor where you want the emoji (such as a messaging service), and then follow these steps.

Character Viewer SmallPress the Control, Command (⌘), and spacebar keys on your keyboard. You only need to hold them down for a moment. This should bring up the Character Viewer in the window in which you are working. The Viewer pop-up will stay connected to that program even if you navigate to another app and return. You can also move it between windows of the app or browser you are using.

Alternatively, you can usually find the Character Viewer by going to the Edit tab at the top left of the screen. The last option in the Edit drop-down menu will say “Emoji and Symbols,” and will open the Viewer when you click on. It’s not always as reliable as the key shortcut, but it’s a lot easier to see where you’re going for the first few times.

Now you will see a list of emojis you can use. At the bottom of the window are several icons that allow you to pick specific emoji categories like sports, light bulbs, and so on. Select the emoji that you want, and the Character Viewer will tell you how popular that emoji is, then paste it into the character field that you are currently using.

Character ViewerNote: If the Character window is too small for you, select the icon in the upper right corner of the window. This will expand it to a larger version that has text-based lists of the categories, allows you to search for specific emoji types, and lets you pick out favorite emoji. It’s a good way to search the limits of Mac emojis when you are first beginning to use the Character Viewer. An even larger version of the Character Viewer is available in System Preferences for more detailed customization.

You can take advantage of the expanded window to choose several favorite emojis, the ones that you tend to use frequently with social apps like Facebook or Instagram. Simply choose an emoji and select “Add to Favorites.” These will appear on a Favorites bar at the top of the window whenever you open it, even in its smaller version. This can help you save a whole lot of time after you find the emojis that you really look.

Macs with Touch Bars

MacBook Pro Touch Bar
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you have a newer MacBook that includes a Touch Bar, you have additional emoji options. The standard setup of the Touch Bar will offer an emoji icon when you are in text-friendly apps like Mail or Messages, etc. Touch the emoji, and it should pop up a mini version of the Character Viewer on the Touch Bar showing popular emoji.

Emoji Touch BarAs you choose emoji across your Mac apps, the Touch Bar will start to show your favorite options more frequently. This method is a little hit or miss, but when it works it can help you save a lot of time if you aren’t used to the keyboard shortcut.

Limitations of the Character Viewer

Character Viewer is particularly handy in situations where another emoji option isn’t available, or when you are switching between different apps/conversations and want the same emojis for everything. However, this does not make the Viewer entirely universal. There are still instances where you will not be able to use it, such as:

  • Older software, or apps that don’t support many Mac functions.
  • Text boxes that don’t support much formatting, such as search fields.
  • Browsers that aren’t compatible or have plugins that interfere with Character Viewer.

When in doubt, update your OS to the latest version, browser, and apps to see if this helps. Otherwise, you may need to find another emoji option for these cases.

And if you were curious about mobile options, there are ways to access an emoji keyboard on iOS as well.

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