Long before there were so many wonderful fonts to choose from, programmers were somewhat limited to creating fancy letters with the ASCII extended character set. Without getting too technical, that character set provides a way to display fancy letters with things like umlauts, tildes, and accent graves along with a variety of symbols and shapes.
As font became somewhat easier to create, the choices for fancy lettering became virtually limitless. Add into the mix scanned images from old illuminated manuscripts and vintage fancy letters collections and it became quite easy to create stunning works. There's already a tutorial here on Help for Web Beginners that shows how to use drop caps on web pages but now I'm going to explain how to access the extended character set and make use of the hundreds of fancy letters and symbols on your own websites, blogs, social sites and forums.
Brief History of ASCII & Displaying Information on Computers
We've come a long way from the days when in order to communicate with a computer we had to resort to machine code which was basically a series of ones and zeros. Something was either on or off.
As the technology continued to adapt, it was clear that standards were going to be needed to ensure that there was one common language spoken by all computers and if a programmer wanted the symbol Ω used it would show up the same way on every computer. Enter the American Standard Code for Information Interchange or ASCII. Since the early 1960s ASCII has been the gold standard. There were a few bumps along the way as several computer manufacturers edited the code to match their way of thinking, but for the most part, everyone's following the same standard now.
HTML & Using The ASCII Codes
There are two ways of incorporating the ASCII character codes in your web pages, blog posts and forum posts - using the HTML name and using the table number of the character.
A number of the more commonly used extended characters can be accessed using their name. While not every character has a name, it is convenient to use the names instead of having to remember the numbers. The way this is done is to type an ampersand, the name and then a semicolon. Examples include & (&), Δ (Δ) and ½ (½).
HTML & ASCII Table Number
Using the ASCII table number to generate the extended characters are done much the same way. Using the same three characters as examples...& (&), Δ (Δ) and ½ (½)
When using the ASCII number, you can also use your keyboard to generate the letters and symbols but this is where some of the different computer manufacturers still insist on doing things their way instead of how everyone else is doing it. You would generally use the numeric keypad (i.e. numlock must be on) and hold down the ALT key whilst entering the ASCII number. You might try it and see how it goes but do keep in mind, your results may vary.
The Greek Alphabet
It seems somehow fitting to start with the codes for the original fancy letters of the Greek alphabet.
|Upper Case Letter||HTML Name||ASCII #||Lower Case Letter||HTML Name||ASCII #|
|Α Alpha||Α||913||α alpha||α||945|
|Β Beta||Β||914||β beta||β||946|
|Γ Gamma||Γ||915||γ gamma||γ||947|
|Δ Delta||Δ||916||δ delta||δ||948|
|Ε Epsilon||Ε||917||ε epsilon||ε||949|
|Ζ Zeta||Ζ||918||ζ zeta||ζ||950|
|Η Eta||Η||919||η eta||η||951|
|Θ Theta||Θ||920||θ theta||θ||952|
|Ι Iota||Ι||921||ι iota||ι||953|
|Κ Kappa||Κ||922||κ kappa||κ||954|
|Λ Lambda||Λ||923||λ lambda||λ||955|
|Μ Mu||Μ||924||μ mu||μ||956|
|Ν Nu||Ν||9245||ν nu||ν||957|
|Ξ Xi||Ξ||926||ξ xi||ξ||958|
|Ο Omicron||Ο||927||ο omicron||ο||959|
|Π Pi||Π||928||π pi||π||960|
|Ρ Rho||Ρ||929||ρ rho||ρ||961|
|Σ Sigma||Σ||931||σ sigma||σ||963|
|Τ Tau||Τ||932||τ tau||τ||964|
|Υ Upsilon||Υ||933||υ upsilon||υ||965|
|Φ Phi||Φ||934||φ phi||φ||966|
|Χ Chi||Χ||935||χ chi||χ||967|
|Ψ Psi||Ψ||936||ψ psi||ψ||968|
|Ω Omega||Ω||937||ω omega||ω||969|
Additional Greek Characters
|Letter||HTML Name||ASCII #|
|ς small letter final sigma||ς||962|
|ϑ small letter theta||ϑ||977|
|ϒ upsilon with hook||ϒ||978|
|ϖ pi symbol||ϖ||982|
Fancy Letters & Special Characters
This is the first in a series of articles which provide the codes for the available extended special characters and fancy letters. We will be adding the codes for more letter-related symbols, mathematical & monetary symbols as well as a number of extra shapes and designs that are popping up so frequently on many of the web's social sites and forums.
The second article in this series will teach you how to add script letters to webpages without needing to embed fonts. There's only one style available but considering how easy it makes adding some panache to a webpage, it's quite useful.