Compose for typography

Often, us artist-types need advanced typography when making artwork, laying out text, and fun things like that. How do you usually do it? For me, it’s either been launching a stupidly hard to find (and annoying to use) character picker or searching for some character on the Internet and copy/pasting it in. (Once in a while, I’ll make a really simple HTML page which has contains not much more than » or — or © — then open it up in Firefox and copy the resulting character).

Well, friends, there’s a better way! In discovering the compose key (thanks to many awesome volunteers) a couple weeks ago, I’ve been happily typing not just German characters, but some advanced typographical ones, too! It’s great for applications like Inkscape, which ordinarily seems to lack support for typing these sorts of things.

A quick primer (hit the compose key, then…):

  • or = ®
  • oc = ©
  • < < = «
  • TM (shift-tm) = ™
  • - - - = —
  • 12 = ½
  • ^2 = ²
  • c= = €
  • c/ = ¢
  • Y= = ¥
  • xx = ×
  • ?? = ¿
  • !! = ¡
  • <” = “
  • >” = ”
  • <´ = ‘
  • >´ = ’
  • -: = ÷
  • .< = ‹
  • .> = ›

These are just a few. In general, think of what the symbol looks like when combined with something else, and that’s probably what you need to type, after hitting the compose key.

To set this up in GNOME, open up keyboard preferences and go to the “layout options” tab and select “compose key position”. (I have mine set up for the “menu key”.)

(Update: Remapping keys in GNOME 3.2+ has since been moved to System SettingsRegion and LanguageLayoutsOptions…Compose key position → [select the key(s) you want for compose key])

(Update 2: Remapping keys in GNOME 3.6+ has since been moved to System SettingsKeyboardShortcutsTypingCompose key → [click and hold, and select the key you want for compose key from the dropdown])

In KDE, go to the keyboard layout in the KDE control center, click on the “Xkb options” tab, enable the “Enable Xkb options” option, then scroll through the list until you see the second “Compose Key Position” (the one with options under it in the tree). Enable it and the the key you wish to use.

For vanilla X, you can edit Xorg.conf and follow a mini-howto.

Anyway, when you use the compose key, you can instantly start typing various characters all over the place… not just in Inkscape (where it’s quite useful), but in Firefox, XChat, in IM conversations, etc.

14 thoughts on “Compose for typography

  1. jegHegy

    Thank you! I had no idea about this feature. Unfortunately, it behaves oddly on my notebook’s hungarian layout (don’t have a desktop handy to test). It works with Super, but then I lose my WM’s bindings to switch desktops with Super+. With Right-Ctrl and Caps Lock, some combinations work, some I really need don’t, and I need my Context Menu button. I might test this further and file a bug sometime, as it’s really a pain in the ass to use character palettes.

  2. skoob

    Word Press does a few typographical replacements as well. For instance, I’m assuming you typed two or three hyphens to the left of the equals sign in the fifth example, but WP displays an em dash. Same thing with the quotation marks.

    WP also substitutes three periods with an ellipsis…

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  4. Greg K Nicholson

    Want some en-dash? Yeah, you do: –.

    But! Is there an easy way to produce an ellipsis? The obvious way produces “˙.”

    (…and once more I’m thankful that my vision’s as good as it is: that captcha’s horrendous. (Also, lovers of schadenfreude will find it *hilarious* that the link to the alternative audio challenge *isn’t keyboard-accessible*.))

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