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How To Type Math Symbols On Mac

4 min read

When it comes to writing and editing documents, most Mac-based text editors have progressed steadily over the years, making it much easier to embed tables, images, and even interactive apps right in-between paragraphs. 

But as STEM students and technical professionals know, things are far from being that user friendly when you need to include mathematical notation, equations, and formulas. 

The good news is there are a few ways that make typing math symbols on Mac more seamless. So here’s a brief guide on how to create math notation without spending hours trying to make math software work.

What Are Math Symbols?

Broadly, math symbols are figures or combinations of figures that are used in math formulas. The most basic symbols are digits (0, 1, 2…) and Latin letters. Then there are characters that are easily accessible on all standard keyboards like % (Shift + 5), "+" (Shift + "=") and "=".

Some more complex but still frequently used math symbols often get substituted with an approximation, such as “x” for multiplication, “/“ for division, or “^” for squaring. This could be fine for day-to-day communication, but wouldn’t work in academia or when trying to type mathematics with elaborate equations.

Proper math writers support two kinds of math notations: Unicode characters (accessible to any computer) and LaTeX math symbols (which have their own syntax). Let’s explore how to output both of them using a math keyboard.

How to type math symbols with Keyboard Viewer

As mentioned above, you probably already know some frequently used keyboard shortcuts for mathematical notation (e.g. the percent sign, the plus sign, the equals sign). However, there are probably quite a few accessible combinations that you’ve never thought were there. The good news is you can visually find what those are by using the Keyboard Viewer. 

To learn all available keyboard shortcuts to help you type mathematics: 

  1. Launch System Preferences
  2. Open the Keyboard menu
  3. Navigate to Input Sources
  4. Check “Show Input menu in menu bar”

Keyboard Viewer

Now click Show Keyboard Viewer from the menu bar for an interactive keyboard to appear on your screen. Try holding down each modifier key (Fn, Control, Option, ⌘) and also their various combinations to see how the character layout on your keyboard will change to reveal hidden math symbols that you can use in the future. 

How to type all Unicode math symbols

Since Unicode is a universal standard for encoding any kind of characters across most languages, it has a full library of math symbols accessible directly on your Mac. Because there are more than 100,000 various Unicode characters, it’s not possible to fit them all as keyboard shortcuts — you have to use Character Viewer instead, which works in any text editor, whether native to Mac or online. 

To enable a Unicode math typer in any text editor, follow the same process that we’ve covered for the Keyboard Viewer, but instead of Keyboard Viewer, click Show Emoji & Symbols from the menu bar. 

Unicode math symbols

When you open Character Viewer, feel free to browse through all the tabs (especially Math Symbols) or use the search box to find the math notation you were looking for. To use any of the math symbols you find, simply make sure your text editor is active and then double click on the character to paste it in. To save yourself some time, feel free to Add to Favorites the math symbols you like the most. Check the notepad++ alternatives for Mac.

How to use online math keyboards

Knowing all available shortcuts for math symbols and having the rest saved as favorites in your Character Viewer should get you 50% of the way there when it comes to writing mathematical notation. 

But Unicode characters come short when you need a professional multilevel equation typer. You can, however, find some basic ones online: 

  1. Go to wiris.com/mathtype

  2. Use the interactive equation typer to create equations of any complexity. You can even switch into the drawing view and write your equation by hand, which would then be translated into typed math symbols.

  3. Export or copy your equation to Microsoft Word or Google Docs when done

online math keyboard

How to convert math notation to LaTeX

When what you need in your math software is maximum flexibility, you need to use LaTeX math symbols. LaTeX is essentially a framework for turning plain text into properly formatted mathematical notation. 

For example, here’s a LaTex equation: E &= \frac{mc^2}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}

Looks complicated, right? Even though you can technically type it in any text editor, knowing the proper LaTeX structure isn’t easy. That’s why you need an app that can reliably translate handwritten math symbols and equations into LaTeX syntax. 

MathKey is the easiest way to convert your handwriting into LaTeX math symbols. Without any confusing interface, just write out your equations by hand using your trackpad, mouse, or tablet and see them instantly turned into usable LaTeX, MathML, or even a high-quality image. Then use the result in any text editor of your choice (the whole iWork suite from Numbers to Pages supports LaTeX notation). You can even draw out your math symbols with your iPhone or iPad and transfer them to MathKey right away. 


How to make advanced calculations on Mac

Once you learn how math typers and equation typers work, you’d likely need to know how to actually calculate these advanced equations in math software and ideally build graphs and other visualizations. 

PocketCAS is an intuitive but highly advanced math solver for Mac. Like a TI-89 calculator, this app will easily take you through all the math levels you need, from simple algebra to research-grade calculus. 

Calculate integrals, solve linear equations, and run factorizations right on your Mac and without any need to be connected to the internet. Even more, you can visualize datasets and relationships between them in either 2D or 3D views. And if you don’t know how to type any math symbols, PocketCAS features its own math keyboard to help you out. 

PocketCAS, a math app

As you can see, there are more than a few ways to type mathematics, from using keyboard shortcuts with Keyboard Viewer to pasting math symbols with Character Viewer to finding a math keyboard online to handwriting your equations with MathKey to solving maths of any complexity with PocketCAS. 

Best of all, both MathKey and PocketCAS apps are available to you absolutely free for seven days through a trial of Setapp, a platform with more than 200 niche Mac apps for any occasion, from making GIFs (Gifox) to archiving files (Archiver). Try them all today at no cost and see how much more useful your Mac can be!

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