How to Make ASCII Art Pictures with Keyboard Keys

I make ASCII art. I started in 1998 and I still take time to type out a picture now and then. Usually, the holidays inspire me to get creative with the keyboard. Making art is a nice change from using the keyboard to type out word and sentences.
How to Make ASCII Art Pictures with Keyboard Keys

Finding Notepad on a Windows Computer

Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Notepad

Click Start or the Windows graphic at the bottom left on your computer. This will pull up a list of programs. Select All Programs, so you can see everything. Then go to Accessories and find Notepad on that list. Open Notepad by clicking it.

Actually making ASCII art is simple and straight forward.

Start with an empty (clean, untouched) Notepad on your computer. In MS Windows this is a plain .txt (text) file. When you open this file you can tap your mouse on the empty space to set your keyboard cursor in the right place. Go down a few lines, use carriage returns. Then use the space bar to move the cursor out towards the middle of the page/ screen. This gives you a little working space above and to the side, so you don’t start typing on the first line, as if you were going to write. This time you’re going to make art and you want some space over and under your cursor. Consider this blank text file to be your canvas. Don’t be intimidated.

Look at your keyboard. Unless you have an old (faded and worn) keyboard (or use a language other than English) your keyboard should display everything you need right there. My own keyboard is a bit faded and worn for most of the letter characters – I’ve done a lot of touch typing. But, I know where things are. Still, it is easier to work with a keyboard that shows all the characters. If you want to start making ASCII art this could be a good reason to get a new keyboard, treat yourself.

Before you begin, have an idea of the picture you want to create.

I like to have a simple line drawing or clip art to work with. I often make my own doodle/ sketch if the idea has come from out of the blue, inspiration from my own mind. Having the drawing is a great help when it comes to actually creating a picture. I don’t see it as stealing art when I have a drawing from someone else. I am not copying it – but using a different medium to create my own vision, my own point of view of the original drawing. Trust me, my finished creation may not look much like the original once I’m done.

When you create art with the keyboard some things have to change in order to fit in with the text medium which you are using. For instance, you can’t put a line or a space exactly where you want one to appear. It has to be where the keyboard types it in. So you work with this and sometimes you can even make it work for you. Also, of course, you are working with the keyboard characters as they are. So you can’t make a J just a bit taller. You can’t make W thinner. You get the idea, or you soon will once you start working with all those characters.

Actually getting started is easy. You don’t need any extra supplies like paper or pens or guide books or whatever else you may imagine. A fresh coffee is nice, but that’s a personal touch.

Pick a place on your drawing/ sketch to start from. Look at the shape of the line.

The Shapes of Keyboard Characters

Does it have a curve?
) ( 6 9 C D c j S

Does it go straight up and down or does it lean?
| / \ l i L I : ; T t

Does it branch out?
Y V v U u W w K H X

Or is it a flat line?
_ – = +

Does it bend?
> < U N W R 7 2 ?

Maybe you want a circle?
O o () CD q p d b e

Do you need something high or low?
‘ , – ~ ` _

Do you want to make a dark space?
% & # @

As you type above and below your original work use the space bar and your mouse to move the cursor. You will need typed spaces in your work to line things up right.

When you begin typing in the next row of your picture start by moving the cursor to the spot that matches up with the work you have already done.

You can make an ASCII art picture in all sizes, from tiny to huge. But, start with something a bit smaller. Mainly, it’s just easier to work with something that isn’t sprawling across the whole screen. A small sized ASCII art picture is easier to see as a whole when you begin working on how all those keyboard characters will fit together to shape a whole, finished picture.

You Don’t Need an ASCII Art Generator

Don’t be afraid to make your own ASCII art. Of course it won’t look just as you imagine, or want, right away. Mine didn’t. There are still ideas I start working on and end up deleting because they just aren’t working out. If something still has hope, I keep it. The point is, don’t get discouraged too easily.

Don’t be lazy either. Software can convert an image into text, that doesn’t make it art. Computer generated images are not art. Computers are not that advanced yet. A human still needs to be part of the process. If you’re just using software to copy art created by someone else… why are you bothering? Make something of your own.

Lastly, don’t steal or claim art as your own. Try making something of your own and don’t decide it’s too hard before you have really tried.
You Don't Need an ASCII Art Generator

How to make your own ASCII art with your computer keyboard

I use Notepad with MS Windows. No extra features, nothing fancy. My favourite font with Notepad is FixedSys or Consolas. Change your Notepad settings by going to Format and then Font. Don’t use italics or bold. Later, if you save your ASCII art to an image file, you might see if it looks better using bold. Leave it off while you work on creating it. Set your font size to something you can work with. A little bigger helps but too big just doesn’t help at all.

Start with a stick figure. Pretty simple to make those basic shapes and then add details. Don’t try to start making some epic masterpiece on your first try, or your second, probably not your third either. Keep it simple while you figure things out.
Give yourself room to work. Start creating in the middle of the Notepad screen, not at the top or right at the side.

It can matter what part of the picture you start making. ASCII art relies on spacing, not just the space between characters but the space the letters hit on the page. Not everything meets up where you would like it to. Experiment, it’s the only way to really figure out how the letters, numbers and symbols work together. A stick figure is a good way to begin to understand this.

Start with the head. Go with a small head or try something bigger. Curved lines are harder to build. You will learn to layer things to make your curves. Don’t forget you can also skip a space, leave it empty, that can work better than adding more characters to fill in every space but make your picture look cluttered and complicated to work with.

You’re going to need to go back and forth, a lot. As you type in ASCII characters things move around and get out of place. The backspace key is the one you are likely to use more than any other on your keyboard. Pull characters (typewritten/ font characters) back into place with the backspace key. To move them the other direction, just use the space bar. Have patience! Moving things around can be a fiddly thing.

Add lines for the body, arms and legs. Feet can be a simple line too. Hands are easier to work on if your stick figure is bigger. Smaller pictures require more experimenting. You have less space to work with and only so many ASCII characters will fit in the space where you want them to.

Add a hat to your stick figure. Give it something individual, original and uniquely you. Or, try adding hair.
Get creative, try different characters to create the face for your stick figure. Can you change the look with just a small change to the face?

What will your stick figure wear? Try shoes instead of the simple flat feet.

You Don't Need an ASCII Art Generator

Save what you have along the way. Just copy and paste your work as is and leave one as a reference and the other as a working copy. It helps to look back and see what worked before you made more changes. You might go back to what you had before, with a modification or two.
Don’t forget you have capital and small letters to work with. Every character you can see on your keyboard is available. A few are great for just that spot you needed a little something for.

Work on bigger and fancier images when you get the general feel for it. Consider using line art, my favourite, or get into shading and other more complicated methods.

Last tip – Don’t work in the dark. It’s really hard to see the keyboard that way.
When you’re done, or happy enough with what you’ve made, add your artist initials or your full name as a signature and artist credit.

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

How to Create ASCII Art (Text Pictures) with Your KeyboardWhether 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.)

How to Create ASCII Art (Text Pictures) with Your KeyboardOnce 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 judgment. 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.

How to Create ASCII Art (Text Pictures) with Your KeyboardExperiment 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.
How to Create ASCII Art (Text Pictures) with Your KeyboardOnce 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.