top of page

What Exactly Is ASCII Art?

There didn't used to be pixels. Not the way you think of them today. In the 1980s, all of us nerds started bulletin board services. We created images in the ASCII format. It was maddening and fun at the same time. It took hours none of us can ever get back. I was surprised to discover that ASCII and its cousin ANSI art are still around. There's an underground movement of ASCII artists who are still creating art using text and the computer's ability to decipher text into image. Here's an example of the famous art classic painting called "American Gothic" by Grant Wood converted into Ascii art. This is using a program called "ASCII Generator 2." (It can be downloaded from the website here:

Here's the information from the About section:

ASCII Generator 2, ASCII Generator dotNET, "Ascgen" Copyright (C) 2005-11 Jonathan Mathews. All rights reserved.

Ascgen 2 comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY; for details see 'gpl.txt'. This is free software, and you are welcome to redistribute it under certain conditions; see 'gpl.txt' for details.

Ascii art goes way back before the nerds like me were creating it in the 80s, though. Here's some info from wikipedia:

ASCII art is a graphic design technique that uses computers for presentation and consists of pictures pieced together from the 95 printable (from a total of 128) characters defined by the ASCII Standard from 1963 and ASCII compliant character sets with proprietary extended characters (beyond the 128 characters of standard 7-bit ASCII). The term is also loosely used to refer to text-based visual art in general. ASCII art can be created with any text editor, and is often used with free-form languages. Most examples of ASCII art require a fixed-width font (non-proportional fonts, as on a traditional typewriter) such as Courier for presentation.

Among the oldest known examples of ASCII art are the creations by computer-art pioneer Kenneth Knowlton from around 1966, who was working for Bell Labs at the time.[1] "Studies in Perception I" by Knowlton and Leon Harmon from 1966 shows some examples of their early ASCII art.[2]

ASCII art was invented, in large part, because early printers often lacked graphics ability and thus, characters were used in place of graphic marks. Also, to mark divisions between different print jobs from different users, bulk printers often used ASCII art to print large banner pages, making the division easier to spot so that the results could be more easily separated by a computer operator or clerk.[3] ASCII art was also used in early e-mail when images could not be embedded.

In other words, emoticons came from ASCII art. There were no smiley faces like there are now.

Here are some more references if you're interested:

ASCII art in the EU:

A bunch of ASCII art:

Christopher Johnson's ASCII art collection:

28 years of ASCII art he collected.

The ASCII art group on Google:


A Windows-based ansi/ascii editor with unlimited multi-user capabilities.

Python code for ASCII art:

ASCII, stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. It's a 7-bit character code where every single bit represents a unique character. On this webpage you will find 8 bits, 256 characters, ASCII table according to Windows-1252 (code page 1252) which is a superset of ISO 8859-1 in terms of printable characters. In the range 128 to 159 (hex 80 to 9F), ISO/IEC 8859-1 has invisible control characters, while Windows-1252 has writable characters. Windows-1252 is probably the most-used 8-bit character encoding in the world.


Side note:

Lenny faces are some of the most memorable parts of ASCII:

( ͡° ᴥ ͡°) ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) (◑‿◐) ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (͡• ͜໒ ͡• ) ( ͡ ͡° ͜つ ͡͡° ) ( ཀ ʖ̯ ཀ) (͡• ͜໒ ͡• )

You can see most of them here:

7 views0 comments
bottom of page