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Updated on March 22, 2013

What is ASCII Art?

Text Art has been around long before computers. It predates even typewriters.

ASCII Art is a form of text art. It is named so for the 95 printable characters defined by ASCII.

ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, it is a character encoding based on the English alphabet. ASCII codes represent text in computers, communications equipment, and other devices that work with text.

Most examples of ASCII art require a fixed-width font (non-proportional fonts, like on a traditional typewriter) such as Courier for presentation.


The ASCII character set

! " # $ % & ' ( ) * + , - . / 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 : ; & l t ; = > ?

@ 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 { | } ~

Fixed width fonts versus proportionally spaced fonts

Fixed width font: Every character, symbol, and space occupies the exact same width.

Proportionally spaced font: A character's width is defined by the amount of width needed to display that particular character.

Why are there proportionally spaced fonts?

The letter 'i' is, by its very nature, a narrow letter. It doesn't require much width. The letter 'm', on the other hand, is rather wide. One could write three 'i's' in the room it takes to display only one letter 'm'. When you create a font that is proportionally spaced, it has a tendency to be much more pleasing to the eye.

Why are there fixed width fonts?

There are two reasons.

1. The typewriter. When the typewriter was invented it was, at the time, a fairly advanced piece of mechanical engineering. By pressing keys, a metal arm with an embossed letter would stamp an ink ribbon and produce the image of that letter on a piece of paper. Then the roller assembly that held that piece of paper would move to the left just a bit so the next letter that was typed wouldn't go over top of the last. Instead it would be positioned just to the right of the previous letter. Since there was no way for it to know which letter was last typed, they had to decide on one fixed amount of space each letter would have. As a result, they had to design the letters in sucFonts with gridlinesh a way that they wouldn't look silly all having the same amount of width. The letter 'm' gets squished and the letter 'i' has elongated serifs to make it appear wider.

2. What turned out to be a limitation of the typewriter actually turned out to be a useful tool in the computer age. Early computers did not display graphics. The screen was a grid of characters. The evenly spaced grid also employed a fixed width font. Programmers found this useful because they could plot the exact point on the screen where they wanted their character to appear. Fixed width fonts were employed for this scenario. You can still see this today; just open a DOS window on a Windows PC. A fixed width font will still be displayed. You can change the font used in a DOS window, but it only allows you select from fonts that are fixed width. When the Macintosh introduced the world to the graphical user interface, or GUI, it was no longer necessary to use fixed width fonts. And so was born the explosion of desktop publishing and WYSIWYG.


...of ASCII Art?

What do you think...

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    • AstroGremlin profile image

      AstroGremlin 5 years ago

      Good old ASCI art. Ah, the days of the orange screen, when DOS crashed every day or two, and stock trades were conducted in seconds.

    • robertzimmerman2 profile image

      Robert Zimmerman 5 years ago from SE Florida, USA

      I was doing that back when DOS was the major OS, brings back memories.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image

      Laura Brown 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Good ASCII art post. But it lacks actual ASCII art. You should try making some and then add it to your post.

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 6 years ago

      Can't wait to play with this stuff!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      Very Useful Lens.

    • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

      C A Chancellor 6 years ago from US/TN

      This brings back memories! I remember when ASCII art was so cool... and I remember doing typewriter art in typing class, too. It was neat as long as you didn't miss any steps in the pattern. :-)

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 6 years ago

      We had a lot of fun with ASCII art in programming back in the 60's. Had to do something constructive with that giant ASCII printer and those punch cards. Blessings.

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

      Oooh. Ahhh! I loved the collection of Ascii art. So clever! And thanks for explaining about fixwd width fonts.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      I remember playing ASCII art on computer screens back in the eighties. Everyone always loved to make those little fishies and make them move across the screen. That was BIG fin back then.

    • jodijoyous profile image

      jodijoyous 6 years ago from New York

      Delightful! And doubly delightful for nostalgia (remembering the old Star Trek and Snoopy ASCII printouts when I was a kid)

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      I think it's as artistic and creative as any other kind of visual art - and I enjoy it just as much! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      How cool is that? Way! Thanks for the lens.

    • serenity4me lm profile image

      serenity4me lm 6 years ago

      very nice!

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 7 years ago from Yorkshire, England


    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 7 years ago

      I love it!!

    • Gripandflip profile image

      Gripandflip 7 years ago

      It's amazing what art can be made with.

    • jodijoyous profile image

      jodijoyous 7 years ago from New York

      Oh my, how nostalgic. Reminds me of those giant "pictures" of the USS Enterprise that people used to print out. I suppose I'm dating myself!

    • Tagsforkids profile image

      Tagsforkids 7 years ago

      Ah, reminds me of my old dot matrix printer chugging away! Printers have come a long way since then! :)

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Some nice links to ASCII art - it does take me back to the early days of the computer too. You have some great lenses, especially the HTML stuff. I'm a fan!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 8 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Ascii art makes me think back to my early days in the computer room. I can remember computer card decks that you could print out and produce artwork. Very cumbersome, but quite fun at the time!

    • profile image

      Bobby_Billiards 10 years ago

      ASCII art is pretty cool. I used to make a 9mm pistol. It takes some talent with some of the pictures I have seen before.