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How to get emojis on your Mac

Love them or hate them, those addictive little pictures are everywhere. And now they're on your computer too.

Taylor Martin/CNET

Years ago, I was convinced emojis were a fad. That like many tech trends, it would come and go and we would soon forget about the miniature emotion depictions.

Fast forward to today and those tiny images have permeated just about every form of digital text. Emojis are included in the vast majority of my text messages and IMs. They can be found in emails, social posts, Snapchats and even in some YouTube videos. They are a fact of life.

However, if you have ever felt the urge to tag a burrito on the end of a message and realized it's not nearly as simple on the computer as your phone, you're not alone. No longer do you need to search the web for a directory of emojis, copy, paste and send. If you're using a Mac, there are a few simple ways to work tiny-picture magic.

Input menu and hotkey support

Emojis have actually been available in OS X for quite some time, but it's buried rather deep for quick and frequent access.

To get to the menu, go to System Preferences > Keyboard. Open the Input Sources tab and click the checkbox beside Show Input menu in menu bar. Click the Input menu icon in the menu bar and select Show Emoji & Symbols. Within this menu, you can search for and select the exact image that sums up your mood.

Taylor Martin/CNET

To enter an emoji, place your cursor where you want it, open the Input menu, find the image you want to insert and then double-click. It will appear where you cursor is.

If you're emoting more than a few times per day, this method requires too many steps and takes entirely too long. Fortunately, there is a better way.

Apple has included a hotkey to bring up the Input menu. Just press Control + Command + Space from anywhere to show the Input menu. By default, this hotkey shows a condensed menu that automatically places the cursor in the search bar, so you can immediately begin typing to search. And when you narrow down the results enough to select the correct emoji, clicking it once will insert it and close the menu.


If the hotkey still sounds like too much work or you're used to using Slack, there's yet another option. It's called Macmoji and it adds Slack-like emoji input to your Mac.

Taylor Martin/CNET

To install Macmoji on your Mac, head over to the Macmoji GitHub repo, then:

  1. Download the ZIP by clicking on the Clone or download button on the right and clicking Download ZIP.
  2. Once the ZIP has downloaded, extract its contents.
  3. Open System Preferences > Keyboard > Text.
  4. Open the file containing the extracted contents of the ZIP file and drag the emoji substitutions.plist file into the text substitutions field.

To use Macmoji, you need to wrap the name of the emoji in colons, such as :smile: or :muscle:. When you hit the space bar, the substitution will replace the code with the image.

Macmoji works in any app or text field where Apple's autocorrection is present, such as Messages, Mail, Tweetbot and many other native apps. Macmoji, unfortunately, does not work in Chrome.

The downside is that you need to know the name or code for each individual picture. Even worse, there isn't a universal naming system for emojis. What Apple calls the "Grinning face," Macmoji simply calls "smile." So you may need to look up specific codes for Macmoji in the text substitutions menu. From there, you can also change the shortcodes to something you'll remember better or find more appropriate.

And if you want to change skin tones, the developer, Ryan McLeod, says you can tag a skin tone code such as :skin-tone-[1-5]: on to the code and the two will combine. I tried combination I could think of, however, and could not get skin toned emojis to work.