How to Create ASCII Art (Text Pictures) with Your Keyboard

Whether you know it as ASCII art or didn’t know a proper name for all that text art made with standard keyboard characters, you can do it yourself. It really is much simpler than you may expect.

I’ve been creating ASCII line art since 1997. After a few years I left it behind, there were so few places I could still use it once email became HTML instead of plan text. Now ASCII art seems to be making a come back for cell phones and other new technological gadgets which can send simple graphics, in text.

Start with an idea of what you would like to create. Get an image in your mind and then draw a rough sketch, look for a clip art image online or any other way you can get a visible image in front of you. When you are starting and still learning it is important to keep the image clean and simple. Stick to something with only a few lines and not many round shapes. (Circles are one of the more complicated shapes to create and will take some practice.)

Once you have your image where you can see it, open a text editor. I still use the plain, old text editor that came with Linux. You can use Notepad in Windows, it is simple – you will already have a fixed width font ready to use. If you use a graphic editor or anything other than a basic text editor you will need to make sure the font is fixed width. This means all the characters (letters, numbers and symbols) are the same standard space apart from each other. From W to I they take up the same amount of space. Other fonts will give you a very different result and are harder to work with when it comes to displaying text art. (At the very least they will always lean to the far left).

I like to be set up with my text editor taking up about half the screen and my inspiration image/ picture on the other side (unless it’s a print image and then I prop it up in front of me on my desk).

The first thing I do is make some empty working space on the text editor. Just use the enter key to go down a few lines. Start working on a level that is comfortable for you to view – not too high or low on your screen.

No one can tell you exactly what characters to use. That is all up to your own judgement. Base your choices on what will fit/ suit the image you are creating from. Look at the direction the lines go and then find a keyboard character that will work. Take your time, change your mind a few times, try different numbers and letters as well as the basic shapes with / \ | > ( ) < and the small dots from punctuation characters ‘ . –

Use the space bar to move to a new spot you want to type in. You need to create the blank spaces in order for them to appear. This is a time when the mouse is second fiddle. The enter or carriage return will take you to a new line. Backspace erases anything you want to change. This may seem obvious but we have grown comfortable using the mouse – it does take getting used to just working with the keyboard.
As you work notice how different characters set on different levels. Some are higher and some lower. Use this to your advantage. _ , – ‘ `

When you want to make eyes there are a lot of options @ o 9 a e b q p d c g 6. Try them all. Each gives a different personality to the image. A combination of q p (for instance) can create eyes and a nose or snout.

Take a look at letters like Y T and W. Those will give you some basic shapes too. When you create smaller ASCII text pictures the shape of letters and numbers matter and can give you exactly what you need in a small space. Y makes a nice nose for a cat’s face.

For making a box I like to use .——. to join it to the sides at the top and then .____. to join it to the sides at the bottom.

For shading/ making a dark area # works well. Some people get more complicated and create greyscale ASCII art. This takes some practice, some familiarity with the keyboard characters and how they combine to create a finished image. Don’t try something too complicated for your early work.

Experiment and learn as you work. Look at the ASCII art done by others and see how they used different letters, numbers and characters to create the shapes they wanted. Think of it as a puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle, where you are fitting the pieces together to create the complete image.

If you have a print image you can hold it up to your screen and match your text to the shapes by comparing how they fit under the paper it’s printed on. I never did this myself. It seems to take away some of the creativity and ingenuity for me. But, if that gives you the will to keep trying, go ahead and do it.

Leave a couple of lines above and below your finished ASCII text art. I also like to keep my work a few spaces over from the left hand side of the screen edge.
Once you are fairly happy with your creation save the text file on your computer. Give it a name and add it to your hard drive. If you have software to capture your file as a graphic image file you can do that too. I just use a screen capture that lets me pick the size I want to save instead of the whole screen. It is much easier to share and post text/ ASCII art in an image file.

Don’t forget to add your artist initials to your finished work. ASCII art is usually shared freely, often adapted by other artists (diddled as we used to call it in the ASCII art newsgroup) but the initials should be kept with the art as respect to the original creator of the art. Plus, when you find something you really like you have a chance to find more of it when you know who made it.

Passwords in ASCII Art

I haven’t thought about ASCII art text images being used for passwords in a long time. I remembered the idea when I read a post written by hackers who were trying to create software which would crack ASCII art passwords based on repeated characters.

ASCII art as a password is pretty unique still. Don’t worry too much about hackers cracking your password. Just make your ASCII art a bit more complicated, using more variety in the characters you choose and include numbers and letters too.  Of course, the ASCII has to be one line too.

Think of it as a good reason to work on creating new one line ASCII art.

ANSI Art isn’t Really Dead

It’s surprising that ANSI art isn’t far more popular than it is. Instead, only a small group of old gamers, artists and musicians seem to know about it at all. Many people confuse ANSI art with ASCII art when they see it. ANSI art uses all of the keyboard characters including those you can’t see on the computer keyboard itself. You can access these extra keyboard characters with the right extra codes and the alt keys.

I don’t make ANSI art myself. I like the puzzle of dealing with plain text. But I do admire all the colour of ANSI art.

It used to aggravate me when people would post text art and claim it was ASCII art when anyone could plainly see there were all kinds of keyboard characters in there, above and beyond the limits of ASCII characters. Now, I’ve become a little more understanding and I see how there is confusion about ANSI art versus ASCII art.

So let me make it clear. ANSI art uses everything you can get out of your keyboard. ASCII art only uses the standard keyboard characters – if you can’t type it without hitting more than just the shift key, it is not ASCII art.

I hope that helps to clear the whole ANSI/ ASCII thing up.

Get to Know ANSI Art

ANSI art is a computer art form that was used on BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) in the 1980’s. Like ASCII art, but it is constructed from a larger set of 256 letters, numbers, and symbols. ANSI art (extended ASCII) also contains special ANSI escape sequences that colour text with the 16 foreground and 8 background colours offered by ANSI.SYS.

Some ANSI artists create animations, commonly referred to as ANSImations. ANSI art and text files which incorporate ANSI codes carry the .ANS file extension. ANSI art was used for games like MUDs (multi user dungeons), computer hackers, crackers and demoscene (which was about sound music, ANSI art, creativity and competition). ANSI artists released their finished artwork in files which they call packs.

ANSI art is considerably more flexible than ASCII art. The particular character set it uses contains symbols intended for drawing, such as box-drawing, shading, mathematical symbols, card suits, characters used in languages other than standard English, and block characters that dither foreground and background colour. With clever use of the shading characters, ANSI artists could mix two colours and create more shades from them.

The popularity of ANSI art encouraged the creation ANSI editors, some are still maintained today. The decline of BBSes and DOS made it difficult to view ANSI animations. So ANSI art has lost popularity and become retro, geeky or old fashioned and out dated.

Try Creating Your Own ANSI Art

ANSI art is pretty exceptional. Do you feel inspired to give it a try?

There are still a few software programs which will help you create graphics/ images/ pictures with ANSI art. Explore the links I’ve added here, read the reviews and suggestions from the ANSI artists and then pick which ever software gives you the best tutorial on how to get started and where to go from there.

ANSI Art Links

You Can Have Designer Tweets with Twitter Text Art

Unicode Twitter Text Art to Create and then Post on Twitter

I began noticing Twitter text art in 2010. I thought it was nice… but most of it was patterns and designs and I wasn’t too interested. A few months later I found there were people making pictures as well. That was more interesting. As an ASCII text artist I like seeing how text can be used to create new art. So I researched this new art and found artists, more art and some information about how it all works.

It’s different from ASCII art. It doesn’t use the standard ASCII art characters, it includes ANSI art characters. Plus using Twitter makes the artists work within the 140 character limit and the spacing has to fit with how Twitter works too. You don’t have limitless width or height.

How to make #TwitterArt By tw1tt3rart


Twitter Art Links

TwitClipArt: Twitter Drawings Library
Twitclipart is an art library of symbols to use on Twitter to describe emotions, events, games and more.
Twitterartist’s Blog
Twitter artist’s blog.
NEWMOTICONS
Twitter artist’s blog.
Small Twitter arts of text symbols – fsymbols
Small text art pictures that fit into Twitter. Sometimes referred to as Twitter art, or ASCII art.
Idibidiart
Create and post Twitter text art.
Zdnet Downloads | Keyboard Pro
Keyboard Pro helps you create unique texts in seconds! Also has a pay version.

Twitter Artists on Twitter

These are people who post almost nothing on Twitter – except Twitter text art. You can pick one of these Twitter artists and spend an afternoon finding more and more art and artists linking to and from their accounts on Twitter.This list is just a starting point – in no way is it all inclusive.
Twitter
140Artist
Twitter
JM Thellan
Twitter
Andrea Pacione
Twitter
tw1tt3rart
Twitter
twart1st
Twitter
newmoticons
Twitter
naoshim140
Twitter
8vl
Twitter
TwitComicStrip
Twitter
TwitClipArt
Twitter
christlu

Digital Character Art

WRT: Writer Response Theory

WRT is a blogging collective dedicated to the discussion and exploration of digital character art – any art involving electrons and making use of letters, alphanumerics, or other characters in an interesting way. Our primary focus is on active and interactive works, in which users input text and receive textual responses as output.

They have a category just for ASCII art.

Heister’s Digital Art