Shapecatcher Helps You Find and Name Unicode Characters

Have you ever wanted to use a character or symbol in a document or program, but not known what it’s called or how to find it? You could trawl through a list or chart, trying to recognize it among hundreds or thousands of others. Or you could point your web browser to Shapecatcher.com.

Few single-purpose web apps are as elegant and useful as Shapecatcher. It takes your hand — or mouse — drawn approximation of the character in question, then spits out a list of possible matches. It’ll save you time, make this one little aspect of your life so much easier, and wow you with its ability to recognize the crudest of drawings.

How it Works

Shapecatcher couldn’t be simpler to use. Draw your character or symbol in the drawbox, click Recognize, and wait for a few seconds while it crunches the data. You don’t have to be exact; in fact, I managed to get some pretty terrible efforts to list my desired character within the first few results. You get the glyph representing each matching symbol, plus names, Unicode hexadecimal values, and categories.

Baby Chick drawing

It doesn’t take an artist to get characters identified — or even the more outlandish pictographs.

Suggestions are scored; rating each as good or bad refines the algorithm, allowing more accurate recognition in future. If your character doesn’t show up, it may be that you didn’t draw it well enough. Or it might just not be in the database. Shapecatcher unfortunately doesn’t include Chinese, Japanese, or Korean glyphs — apparently because developer Benjamin Milde hasn’t found a good free font that supports them.

All characters are rendered in a freely-available Unicode font, which limits the number and quality of some renderings. But you wouldn’t know it from looking. The size and breadth of the database, all things considered, is staggering. I found hundreds of characters that I didn’t know existed, just by drawing random shapes and objects.

Only the first of these — a reversed tilde — was known to me before.

Dig a Little Deeper

Maybe you need more information about your character, or the name doesn’t match up to anything your computer or programming language recognizes. Shapecatcher’s got you covered…to an extent. Each character has its own information page, listing alternative names, Unicode decimal values, HTML entities, and various bits and pieces of other things that might be useful.

Braille dots

If only I knew Braille, I would now know how to type this five-dot pattern in just about any situation where Unicode fonts are at hand.

You won’t be able to see a list of common fonts that support the character, however, which could be an issue for some coders and designers. Searching by name isn’t an option, either, for those rare occasions when you know the name but not the appearance or Unicode/HTML values of a character.

The fonts in use on the website are all listed and available for download on a separate page, which also has information on the display of Unicode characters on modern computers.

Easy and Reliable

Single-purpose web tools like Shapecatcher are, to me, what the Internet is all about — talented people sharing their knowledge, expertise, and skills to either teach or help others creatively solve problems. Shapecatcher is an indispensable tool for anybody who works with Unicode characters. Keep it close at hand.


Summary

A handy tool for identifying Unicode characters — in terms of name, hexadecimal code, and HTML entity — when you can't remember their name but know roughly how they look.

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