ASCII Art Academy

ASCII Art Academy - Articles and Tutorials

   Go to: Galleries, Downloads or Roy Tools

Where does text art come from? How did it develop and where was it used in the past and the present? What are the different styles that are used by text artists on modern computers? Find answers to those questions and more in the following articles.

What is the ASCII Art Academy?
I created the ASCII Art Academy to bring articles, tutorials and other text art related resources together into one place. The purpose of this ASCII academy is completely educational.

It is for people who want to learn more about the origin and use of this unique art form and artists who want to learn how to create this kind of art to carry forward the legacy of decades, if not centuries of other text artists before them. You can also find many good examples of the various types of text art in the art galleries on this website. Tools for the creation of ANSI and ASCII text art are available for free download here.

What is ASCII Art?
ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange and is a text format standard for computers. ASCII art is text art that was created on computers who use this ASCII standard. The text art created on the IBM PC, which use text characters beyond the ASCII standard are also called ASCII, even though it is technically incorrect. The IBM PC become the most widely used computer in the world and people called things ASCII, even if they were not. There is no sense to debate about it, because it won't change what already happened.


7-Bit ASCII?


The difference between 7-bit and 8-bit ASCII is pretty simple,
assuming that you have a keyboard with the latin alphabet. 7-bit only uses characters that you can find on the keyboard. 8-bit uses additional characters that you cannot find on your keyboard, but which exist in "text mode" of the old MS DOS operating system. MS DOS hat 256 characters for text mode. Some of them are control chracters and not visible, such as Carriage Return, Line Feed (Line Break), the Tab character or the Escape character. The standard US-ASCII characters are the first 128 chracters of the character set, where 97 of them are usable for text and ASCII art.

Here is the US-ASCII Character Set, starting with the ASCII character 32 (space/blank) and ending with the ASCII character #126 (tilde: ~). The space character is represented by the white block at the beginning.

         █ ! " # $ % & ' ( ) * + , - . / 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 : ; < = > ?
         @ A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z [ \ ] ^ _
         ` a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z { | } ~

The characters 0 to 31 and 127, which are also part of the US-ASCII character set (which can be represented in 7 bits) are invisible and not suitable for text art. The exception might be the line break (carriage return [character 13]) and line feed (character 10) characters, which are of course used within a text document.


8-Bit ASCII/High ASCII/Block ASCII


8-bit ASCII art uses primarily characters after the 128 chracters of the
US-ASCII character set. If you are from a non-English speaking country, some of those characters might be on your keyboard, such as the german characters ä, ö, ö, Ä, Ö, Ü and ß, but that are not the special extended characters relevant for what we call "Block" or "High" ASCII Art.

Those upper or "higher" characters are suitable for basic graphical elements, such as box borders, corners. They are unique to the IBM PC and MS DOS and are not compatible with other operating systems, such as UNIX, Linux or MAC OS.

Here are some examples of those graphical characters. It is not a complete list, but includes the most popular and the ones most frequently used by artists.

         ░ ▒ ▓ █ ▀ ▄ ▌ ▐ ■ ▪ ┌ ┐ └ ┘ ─ │ ├ ┥ ┴ ┯ ╞ ╟ ╚ ╔ ╩ ╦ ╠ ═ ╬

You cannot find those characters on your keyboard and could only generate them via programming code or by pressing the ALT-Key and then type the character code (a number between 128 and 255) on your numeric keypad, while keeping the ALT-Key pressed.

Artists utilize special editors created for the sole purpose of creating text art using those special characters, tools like TheDraw or ACiDDraw for MS DOS or Pablodraw for Windows.


ANSI


The Name "ANSI" is derived from the MS.DOS system driver "ANSI.SYS",
which implemented the ANSI Standard X3.64-1979 "Additional Controls for Use with the American National Standard Code for Information Interchange" for MS DOS by Microsoft on IBM Personal Computers.

The standard defines a set of control sequences to manipulate the appearance of the text on the screen, to bolden text, making it itallic or blinking and to add some colors to your text.

Although ANSI as artform was primarily exercised on IBM PC's running MS DOS or compatible operating systems, it's not entirely limited to that.

There are 16 pre-defined foreground colors, where 8 of them could also be used as background color.

For a comprehensive technical documentation of ANSI.SYS, check out my ANSI.SYS Documentation.


The use of ANSI control sequences (called Escape sequences, because they all started with the ESC character) required special editing software, because unlike the 8-Bit upper characters, is there no easy way to generate those sequences by hand. In order for MS DOS to process and interpret those control sequences properly, a special driver had to be loaded, which came with the MS DOS operating system by default.

The file for this driver was named "ANSI.SYS". This is where ANSI got it's name from, which can be confusing sometimes, because "ANSI" also stands for the American National Standards Institute, the organization who defined the US-ASCII standard.

ANSI Colors mapped to HTML color codes and ESC Sequence:

# Color Name HTML Hex R,G,B ESC # Color Name HTML Hex R,G,B ESC
00 Black #000000   0,   0,   0 [0;30m 01 Dark Blue #0000AA   0,   0, 170 [0;34m
02 Dark Green #00AA00   0, 170,   0 [0;32m 03 Dark Cyan #00AAAA   0, 170, 170 [0;36m
04 Dark Red #AA0000 170,   0,   0 [0;31m 05 Purple/Dark Magenta #AA00AA 170,   0, 170 [0;35m
06 Brown #AA5500 170, 85,   0 [0;33m 07 Gray #AAAAAA 170, 170, 170 [0;37m
08 Dark Gray #555555  85,  85,  85 [1;30m 09 Blue #5555FF  85,  85, 255 [1;34m
10 Green #55FF55  85, 255,  85 [1;32m 11 Cyan #55FFFF  85, 255, 255 [1;36m
12 Red #FF5555 255,  85,  85 [1;31m 13 Light Purple/Magenta #FF55FF 255,  85, 255 [1;35m
14 Yellow #FFFF55 255, 255,  85 [1;33m 15 White #FFFFFF 255, 255, 255 [1;37m

Note: The for the ESC sequence must be replaced with the ASCII character for "Escape" (Chr(27)).

 


Text Art History


Text art pre-dates the computer for a long time.
Joan's and RaD Man's article and video both talk about the pre-computer text art in greater detail. Although the articles below are focusing heavily on the PD (public domain) and "underground" ASCII and ANSI text art on the IBM PC, other computer systems were used to create text art as well, even before and during the IBM PC existed and became popular and the most commonly used universal computer in the world.

Good examples are the Petscii art on the Commodore 64 and earlier Commodores, Atascii art on the Atari personal computers and the oldskool line text art on the Commodore Amiga (my article about the styles of the underground text art scene talks in more detail about that).

  1. The History of ASCII (Text) Art by Joan G. Stark
  2. History of Text Art Video by RaD Man / ACiD
  3. Keyboard Text Art From Over Twenty Years Before ASCII written by Roy/SAC
  4. History of the PC Ascii Scene by Necromancer, March 6, 1998
  5. An Abbreviated History of the Underground Computer Art Scene by Napalm, 11/10/1998


Articles about ASCII Art (and ANSI Art)


  1. ASCII Art Primer by Roy/SAC
  2. The three ASCII Art Styles of the Underground Text Art Scene by Roy/SAC
  3. ASCII Art - Defined by the Encyclopedia of New Media
  4. ASCII Art FAQ by the Ascii-Art Information Agency
  5. File_ID.DIZ FAQ by Richard Holler
  6. What is ANSI Animation or ANSImation? by Roy/SAC
  7. ASCIImation = ASCII Art plus Animation 101 by Roy/SAC
  8. Tools of the Trade - Introduction to ANSI Editors by Roy/SAC


  1. ASCII Characters Table Codepages 437, CP2152 and CP 850
  2. ASCII Art Related Videos, including Jason Scott's BBS-The Documentary and more
  3. Tools Downloads - ASCII/ANSI Editors, Viewers, Converters and more for download at RoySAC.com
  4. How to Package a Scene Release? by Roy/SAC

The following posts and articles are related, but not about ANSI or ASCII text art. They are being part of the same culture and scene and maybe also of interest to you. The subjects included are the demoscene overall and the pixel art created on the Commodore Amiga and MS DOS PC, before there were any special graphic tools like Adobe Photoshop available.

  1. Demo or Die! by Dave Green - about Demo Coders and the Demoscene
  2. The History of the Demoscene - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in January 2008
  3. Introduction to the World of Demos - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in July 2007
  4. Legendary Commodore AMIGA Pixel Art Logos - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in December 2008
  5. Scene Pixel Art Font Sets Collection - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in December 2008
  6. Perspective Projection on the Computer - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in October 2007
  7. Dream Design 16-32 Colors Pixel Art (Amiga 500) - Blog post written by Roy/SAC in August 2006
  8. Paradigm Logo Hand-Drawing Tutorial by Tomi Holmberg of ACiD Productions


7Bit ASCII Tutorials


You want to become a text artist?
Here are a number of tutorials by fellow artists that provide tips and guidance for beginners in the art of crafting pictures made of text characters and people who want to learn the principles used by artists to get the unique and some times amazing effects by using nothing but ASCII or other text characters. 7Bit? 8Bit? ANSI? What the heck?

  1. ASCII Art Tutorial by Julio Sepia aka Solid
  2. ASCII Art Tutorial by Maija Haavisto aka DiamonDie
  3. Rowan Crawford's ASCII Art Tutorial
  4. Normand Veilleux's ASCII Art Tutorial
  5. Targon's ASCII Art Tutorial
  6. Susie Oviatt's ASCII Art Tutorial
  7. Daniel Au's ASCII Art Tutorial
  8. Cain 7Bit ASCII Newskool Logo Tutorial

I am looking for content for this section. If you know about block ASCII tutorials, which I can publish here, contact me.



8Bit ASCII Tutorials


You want to become a text artist?
Here are a number of tutorials by fellow artists that provide tips and guidance for beginners in the art of crafting pictures made of text characters and people who want to learn the principles used by artists to get the unique and some times amazing effects by using nothing but ASCII or other text characters. 7Bit? 8Bit? ANSI? What the heck?

  1. Block ASCII Eye Tutorial by Enzo/Blocktronics
  2. Block ASCII Art Tips & Tricks: Width Restrictions & Challenges, Cutting Down on It by Roy/SAC 08/2009
  3. (Unfinished) Block ASCII Art Tutorial by Roy/SAC

I am looking for content for this section. If you know about block ASCII tutorials, which I can publish here, contact me.



ANSI Tutorials


You want to become a text artist?
Here are a number of tutorials by fellow artists that provide tips and guidance for beginners in the art of crafting pictures made of text characters and people who want to learn the principles used by artists to get the unique and some times amazing effects by using nothing but ASCII or other text characters. 7Bit? 8Bit? ANSI? What the heck?

  1. ANSI.SYS Documentation and Reference
  2. ANSI Tips by Lord Soth/iCE
  3. Shading ANSI Tutorial by Halaster
  4. ANSI Art Tutorial by Halaster - Vamp Logo
  5. Shading ASCII in ANSI by Nootropic
  6. ANSI Art Tutorial by Armageddon Donut - Toon
  7. ANSI Art Tutorial by Dangermouse - Endor Logo
  8. Fluph ANSI Tutorial by The Knight/Fuel
  9. How to Draw Like Zerovision ANSI Tutorial
  10. Zerovision ANSI Font Tutorial
  11. Female Character Drawing ANSI Tutorial by Enzo/BT
  12. Strangerz in dha Dark Steps by PoSeidon OSF/INSANE
  13. ANSI Blondie Drawing Steps by Reanimator/iCE

I am looking for content for this section. If you know about block ASCII tutorials, which I can publish here, contact me.


Image to Text Converters (Pictures/Videos to ANSI/ASCII)

Using tools like Image to Text converters is against the ethics of any serious text artist, but they became pretty popular (and also more sophisticated) after ANSI and ASCII art almost faded away into the darkness of forgotten history.

This popularity today is also the reason, why I mention them here, because regardless if I like it or not, they have their place in ANSI and ASCII art history. Even though the converter tools became more sophisticated and can produce good to excellent results today, is their use among serious text artists against the ethics and rules as it was during the prime of computer text art.

You can use the converters for fun and the sake of it, but never try to sell off any piece of text art as your own creation, if you used a converter even for only some parts of your image, or state where you used a converter and how you improved on the results or altered them. It will diminish the respect that you will get from fellow artists, but it is honest and honesty is still of high value. The piece of art created this way, is may be able to stand on its own merits, but if this is will be the case is hard to tell before seeing the actual results.

The available converters online or off-line vary in sophistication, options for tweaking the results and what you can do with them.

If you would like to find out more about each of those tools, check out my reviews of Text to Image Converters at my blog. The desktop tools are also available for download at my tools download page.

Note: All links in this section are either links to external web sites or to program files to download.

Online Image to Text Converters


  1. Photo2Text.com - produces the best results of the online tools that I have seen so far
  2. ASCII.MasterVB.Net - produces good results, but often too large, without the ability to control this
  3. GlassGiant.com/ASCII - produces acceptable results and has almost no settings to tweak the results
  4. ASCII-O-Matic - easy to use tool to convert images to ASCII or colored text (not ANSI)

Desktop Image to Text Converters (Windows)


  1. MagicSoft Img2ASCII-ANSI - good ANSI results, poor ASCII results, simple and straight forward
  2. ASCII Generator dotNet V0.96, also see the projects SourceForge.net web site. ASCII Generator dotNet is the best image to text converter that I have seen so far.
  3. The cross-platform and open source VLC VideoLan Media Player is capable of converting video images to colored ASCII art in real-time. Read this post to find out how to enable the unique video to ASCII art conversion feature in VLC.

Text to "ASCII" Converters


There is a whole different set of tools out there that let you write your own text in pre-designed ASCII art styled fonts. The most popular of those tools to create and populate those fonts is probably the open source project "FIGlet".

  1. FIGlet.org, the original Text to ASCII converter tool
  2. FigFont Standard - The The FIGfont Version 2 FIGfont and FIGdriver Standard Documentation
  3. JavE - free JAVA bases ASCII tool with FigLet support (almost 200 fonts included in download package)
  4. ASCII.MasterVB.Net also has a Text to ASCII converter tool and about 60 fonts to choose from
  5. Network-Science.de/ASCII, I nice and easy to use tool to create email signatures. Some of the options are geared towards this specifically.