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Answers to frequently asked questions in the ASCII art discussion groups

*   news:alt.ascii-art

*   news:alt.ascii-art.animation

*   news:rec.arts.ascii

Author: Matthew Thomas

Version: 2.0

Last changed: 1998-May-10

NOTE: If you are new to Usenet, please read the messages in

news:news.announce.newusers before posting to any discussion groups.

This FAQ is regularly posted to news:alt.ascii-art and

news:alt.ascii-art.animation. It is also available at the following









1.  What is ASCII art?

2.  What isn't ASCII art?

3.  What goes on in the ASCII art discussion groups?

4.  How do I view ASCII art?

5.  How do I draw my own ASCII art?

6.  What should I know before posting ASCII art?

7.  Can I post to ask for some text drawn in ASCII?

8.  Can I post to ask for an ASCII art picture?

9.  How do I get an existing picture converted to ASCII art?

10. Can I post or use other people's ASCII art?

11. What should I know about signature files?

12. Where can I find more ASCII art?

1.  What is ASCII art?


    ASCII art is any kind of artwork -- pictures, charts, cartoons,

    whatever -- drawn with the characters in the ASCII character set.

    The ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange)

    character set is a set of 128 characters (0 to 127) which are

    standard on almost all types of computer. The only characters used

    in ASCII art are those with the values 32 to 126, which are shown

    below, and 13, which represents a carriage return (new line).

    The other characters in the ASCII character set (0-12, 13-31, and

    127) are control codes for representing things such as `end of file'

    and `backspace'; they should not be used in ASCII art.

    032 [space] 048 0   064 @   080 P   096 `   112 p

    033 !       049 1   065 A   081 Q   097 a   113 q

    034 "       050 2   066 B   082 R   098 b   114 r

    035 #       051 3   067 C   083 S   099 c   115 s

    036 $       052 4   068 D   084 T   100 d   116 t

    037 %       053 5   069 E   085 U   101 e   117 u

    038 &       054 6   070 F   086 V   102 f   118 v

    039 '       055 7   071 G   087 W   103 g   119 w

    040 (       056 8   072 H   088 X   104 h   120 x

    041 )       057 9   073 I   089 Y   105 i   121 y

    042 *       058 :   074 J   090 Z   106 j   122 z

    043 +       059 ;   075 K   091 [   107 k   123 {

    044 ,       060 <   076 L   092 \   108 l   124 |

    045 -       061 =   077 M   093 ]   109 m   125 }

    046 .       062 >   078 N   094 ^   110 n   126 ~

    047 /       063 ?   079 O   095 _   111 o


    These characters are almost completely standard, except for a few

    slight variations which you should keep in mind when drawing and

    viewing ASCII art:

    # (hash/pound): 

         a hash symbol on most computers, a pound (currency) symbol on

         some British ones 

    | (bar): 

         a vertical line in most fonts, but in some it is split in the


    ^ (caret): 

         differs in size depending on the font used 

    ~ (tilde): 

         appears in the middle of the line in some fonts, at the top in


    ' (apostrophe/single quote): 

         tilts southwest-northeast in some fonts, is vertical in others

         (this also applies to the comma (,)).

    Here's a small example of ASCII art using some of these variable

    characters: a snow-scene paperweight, drawn by Joan Stark. How good

    it looks will depend to some extent on which font and computer

    system you are using to view it.


            .-" +' "-.


          |:.*'/\-\. ':|




       jgs /          \


    People use ASCII art for a variety of reasons, some of which are:

    *   it is the most universal computer art form in the world --

        every computer system capable of displaying multi-line text can

        display ASCII art, without needing to have a graphics mode or

        support a particular graphics file format;

    *   an ASCII picture is also hundreds of times smaller in file size

        than its GIF or BMP equivalent, while still giving a good idea

        of what something looks like;

    *   it is easy to copy from one file to another;

    *   it's fun to do! 

2.  What isn't ASCII art?


    The following specialized artforms are not ASCII art and are not

    welcome in the ASCII art discussion groups.

    *   ANSI or `extended ASCII' art. Many computer systems have an

        extended character set of 256 or more characters, based on the

        ANSI or Unicode character sets and having the first 128

        characters identical to ASCII. These characters should not be

        used in ASCII art because many types of computer systems do not

        support them, and even those that do may not display them in a

        standard way (for example, the Windows ANSI character set is

        different from the Mac ANSI character set).

    *   HTML art. HTML, the language used in Web pages, can be used to

        add special effects such as colours, font size, and (ugh)

        blinking text to ascii art, and HTML can be read by some

        newsreaders. However, the key word here is `some'. To many

        newsreaders, HTML art will just appear as a jumble of <TAGS> and

        will be totally unrecognizable.


        If you want to create HTML art, do so by all means, but put it

        on a Web page and post the page address (URL) to the appropriate

        discussion group. Advice on how to do this can be found at


    *   ASCII art animated using JavaScript. This relies not only on the

        newsreader being able to display HTML, but also being able to

        run JavaScript. As with HTML art, put it on a Web page and post

        the address to news:alt.ascii-art.animation.

3.  What goes on in the ASCII art discussion groups?


    In the ASCII art discussion groups people discuss ASCII art, post 

    ASCII pictures, post improved versions or variations of pictures

    other people have drawn, and generally have fun.

    Types of messages which we usually enjoy seeing include: 

    *   look, here's an ASCII picture I drew ... 

    *   REQ: xyz (ie, has anyone got any ASCII pictures of xyz?) 

    *   suggestions on, or improvements of, other people's ASCII


    *   hey-guys-love-your-work-type messages! 

    Types of messages which we usually *don't* enjoy seeing include: 

    *   messages with the subject `ASCII art' (try to be a bit more

        informative, please) 

    *   make money fast!!! ... (yawn, yawn, snore) 

    *   heres the adress of my web site, come see it pleez (why should


    *   don't read this, this is a test (that's what news:alt.test,

        news:misc.test, and many other `test' newsgroups are for).

    There are three ASCII art discussion groups. news:alt.ascii-art is

    the main group, where most of the discussion takes place.


    news:rec.arts.ascii is identical in purpose to news:alt.ascii-art,

    but it is a moderated group -- all messages pass through an 

    intermediary (the moderator) who checks them for appropriateness

    before sending them to the group itself. The advantage of this is

    that there isn't any unwanted advertising in the group; however,

    the frequency of postings to news:rec.arts.ascii is very low at the

    time of writing (it was resurrected in November 1997 after the

    previous moderator, Bob Allison (`Scarecrow') retired in December


    If your news server isn't set up to allow direct posting to

    news:rec.arts.ascii, e-mail your message to the moderator, Don

    Bertino <>.

    news:alt.ascii-art.animation is specifically for discussion and

    postings of animated ASCII art [see Question 12].

4.  How do I view ASCII art?


    If a picture you see posted to one of the ASCII art discussion

    groups looks a complete mess to you, don't panic. There are several

    reasons why it may look weird.

    *   If *none* of the pictures in the group look like what the

        sender describes them as, then  you're probably using a

        proportional font. To view (and draw) ASCII art, you must use a

        fixed-width font -- one where all characters are the same width

        (like on an ordinary typewriter). If you're not sure if your

        font is fixed-width or not, check the following two lines and

        see if they're the same length.



        If they aren't, find the option in your newsreader which lets

        you specify which font to use. If you just have a choice

        between proportional and fixed width, choose fixed width. If

        you have a choice of which font to use, try different ones

        until you find a fixed-width one (using the `i's and `m's above

        as a guide). Popular fixed width fonts include Courier, Monaco,

        Fixedsys; anything with `fixed', `terminal', or `Courier' in

        its name will probably be fixed-width. 

        Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) supply newsreaders to

        their customers which, strange as it seems, don't allow them to

        use a fixed-width font. If this applies to you, there's not

        much you can do except to ask them for a newsreader which does;

        or switch ISPs. 

    *   If there are a lot of almost-blank lines in the picture, then

        the message is probably suffering from `wrapping'. This

        wrapping may be being done by your newsreader; see if it has an

        option called `wrap long lines' or similar, and make sure it is

        turned off. If this doesn't work, then the wrapping was

        probably done by the news program of the person who sent the

        picture, in which case there's not much you can do -- everybody

        else will be seeing the same thing. 

    *   If there are a lot of < and > symbols in the  picture, with

        words like HTML, FONT COLOR, B, I, and so on inside them, then

        the picture has been sent in HTML format [see Question 2], and

        your newsreader does not understand HTML (most newsreaders


    *   If you still can't work out what the picture is supposed to be,

        try using a smaller font (if you can) and moving a couple of

        metres away. If it still looks unrecognizable, then it's

        probably a problem with the news program used by the person 

        who sent the message -- or maybe it's just a really bad


5.  How do I draw my own ASCII art?


    You don't need a special program to draw ASCII art with. It can be

    drawn using any text editor, such as SimpleText or BBEdit in MacOS,

    Notepad in Windows, nedit, vi, or pico in Unix, BEd or AZ in

    AmigaOS, edit in DOS, or any of the various Emacs editors. You can

    use a word processor to draw ASCII art, but remember: (1) use a

    fixed-width font [see Question 4]; and (2) using any special

    formatting (bold/italic/coloured etc) is a waste of time, as it

    will be lost when you post the picture.

    There are some features of editors and word processors which can

    help when drawing ASCII art.

    *   Overtype, also known as overstrike: removes the need for you to

        constantly realign characters using the Backspace, Space, and

        Delete keys. Try the Insert key if there is one on your

        keyboard, or look in your program's Options or Preferences. 

    *   Rectangular copy and paste: allows you to select rectangular

        sections of text (not just rows or parts of rows). On programs

        which have this feature, it is usually done by holding down a

        key such as Ctrl while selecting text.

    *   Find/Change: allows you to change all the characters of one

        value to another (eg change all the ~s to "s). 

    But before you start, a word about fonts. For ASCII art you should

    use a fixed-width font [see Question 4], because every type of

    computer system is guaranteed to have one, and that after all is

    one of the main reasons ASCII art exists -- because everyone can

    view it. Different fixed- width fonts do vary slightly in the

    height of the characters, but for most drawings this doesn't matter

    that much.

    DON'T try to post pictures drawn in a proportional-width (ie

    non-fixed-width) font: even if you specify the exact font you used,

    the chances of other people being able to read it are pretty slim

    (even `standard' proportional fonts such as Times New Roman can

    vary in width from computer to computer).

    The other thing to be aware of with fonts is the difference between

    serif and sans serif. Here's roughly how an `m' looks in both: 

    __ __   __        __   __

     |/  \ /  \     |/  \ /  \

     |    |    |    |    |    |

     |    |    |    |    |    |

    _|_  _|_  _|_   |    |    |

        Serif        Sans serif

    The serif version has little strokes, or serifs, at the end of most

    of the main strokes, while the sans serif version doesn't (sans

    means `without'). For example, Courier is a serif font, and Monaco

    is sans serif. This isn't often important, but if you're using a

    sans serif font, just remember to use the vertical bar (|, above \

    on most keyboards) to draw vertical lines, and not the capital i

    (I), otherwise it will look weird for people using serif fonts. It

    also means that you should think carefully before using characters

    like L and 7 for various corners -- they won't always look that

    good with a serif font.

    One way to make drawing ASCII art easier is to type a row of spaces

    for however wide you want your picture, and then copy this row and

    paste it for however many rows high you think your art will get.

    Then turn overtype on, stick your cursor somewhere in the middle,

    and you're ready to draw.

    If nothing springs to mind immediately, start with the ASCII art

    equivalent of the stick figure: 


    /H\ Person

    / \ 

    Fiddle with it, and see what you can do... 

     A                   _              o           _

     O  Person wearing   O`            _O_         (< = Person about

    /H\ a dunce's hat   /H\ Professor  XHX Angel   /H-' to eat a

    / \                 / \            / \         / \  sandwich...?

    Gradually you'll be able to add things like  scenery around the


     ___  ,---.

    / __\/---. ._,

     /  \@-.  -(_)-

         @     ' `    Person playing a banjo

        ,P            while sitting against a

        d'O_,         palm tree ...




    Draw your cat, your toaster, your musical instruments, your

    partner, anything that will sit still long enough -- practice

    makes, if not perfect, then at least pretty good. Whether you do

    small drawings (less work involved) or large ones (easier to make a

    drawing recognizable) is up to you.

    The things which give beginning ASCII artists the most trouble are

    usually diagonal lines and circles. Here are some lines of various


    |   |   /      ,'      ,-'     _,-'

    |  .'  /     ,'     ,-'    _,-'

    |  |  /    ,'    ,-'   _,-'          __..--""

    | .' /   ,'   ,-'  _,-'      __..--""

    | | /  ,'  ,-'  ,-'  __..--"" _______________

    And here are a few circular shapes: 

                                           _____             __

                                        .-'     `-.       ,dP""Yb,

                                      .'           `.   ,d"      "b,

                                     /               \  d'    _   `Y,

                              _     ;                 ; 8     8    `b

                    __     ,'" "`.  |                 | `b,_,aP     P

            __    ,'  `.  /       \ ;                 ;   """"     d'

          .'  `. /      | |       |  \               /           ,P"

       _  |    | |      / \       /   `.           .'    a,.__,aP"

  . o (_) `.__.'  `.__.'   `.___.'      `-._____.-'       `"""''

    The spiral is a good example of *anti-aliasing* -- using the

    particular shape of some characters (especially b, d, and P) to

    smooth the edge of a solid shape.

    A final point: don't use the Tab key. Pressing Tab will go along a

    certain number of spaces in your editor/word processor -- but that

    `certain number' is different for different newsreaders, editors,

    and so on, so your picture may suffer from what is known as `tab

    damage' when other people try to view it. Just use spaces instead.

    [See Question 12 for links to other tutorials on drawing ASCII


6.  What should I know before posting ASCII art?


    It doesn't matter if your ASCII art isn't particularly good; we'd

    like to see it anyway. We won't be rude about it (although you'd

    better tell us what it is, or we might ask :-), but if it shows

    potential, you may find that other people will `re-diddle' it --

    change a few characters, make it a bit better, and re-post it.

    HOWEVER, there are a few things you should check before you

    post any piece of ASCII art.

    *   Are you sending it as plain text? Some news programs,

        particularly those built in to Web browsers, read and write

        messages in HTML (HyperText Markup Language, the language which

        Web pages are written in). HTML allows colours and (using

        JavaScript) animations in ASCII art, but few newsreaders

        support it, and those which don't will show a whole lot of

        garbage text with your picture hidden inside it.

        So if you have one of these HTML-sending programs, PLEASE

        select the option which tells it to send messages as plain text

        only. If you have a picture which uses HTML for a particular

        feature (such as  colours or animation), put it on a Web page,

        and post the URL of the page to alt.ascii-art, rather than

        posting the whole picture.

    *   Is it under 72 characters wide? Most news readers can only show

        lines which are under either 72, 76, or 80 characters wide, so

        if your picture is wider than 72 characters it may get wrapped

        [see Question 4). Also remove any unnecessary space characters

        from the end of each line of the picture, to prevent lines from

        being too long (and getting wrapped) without your realizing.

    *   Have you used any control codes? Inserting control codes (ASCII

        characters 0 to 31) in a picture can sometimes achieve

        interesting effects on your computer screen or news reader,

        such as reversing text, changing its colour, and so on. DO NOT

        post any of these pictures to alt.ascii-art, for two reasons: 

        1.  the effects that the control codes have on your news reader

            are almost certainly going to be  different from those on

            the thousands of other news readers that other people use 

        2.  on some news readers, control codes can cause  messed up

            displays, messages not appearing, or (in some cases) the

            news reader crashing.

    *   If your first line starts with one or more spaces, stick a

        dummy line (such as -- or .) above it, to prevent the spaces

        from being ignored by your news program (this only applies to

        some news programs, and only to the first line of the


    If you're not sure about whether your message will turn out ok,

    post it to a test group (such as news:alt.test or news:misc.test)

    first and make sure (using a different newsreader, if you can) that

    you can read it ok.

    [See Question 10 for advice on posting someone else's ASCII art.]

7.  Can I post to ask for some text drawn in ASCII?


    Probably not, unless we're REALLY bored. The reason for this is

    that there is a program called Figlet which does that sort of thing

    automatically -- you type in `Jane Smith', and you get back 

        ___              __,               

       ( /              (          o _/_ / 

        / __,  _   _     `.  _ _  ,  /  /_ 

      _/_(_/(_/ /_(/_  (___)/ / /_(_(__/ /_



    in this and a whole lot of other fonts. The ASCII text-art produced

    by Figlet can be quite stunning, so it's best to try it first

    before asking for help from the newsgroup.

    The Figlet home page is at This site links

    to the FTP site, where you can

    download versions of the program for  many different platforms.

    If you have a Web browser which has form support (most browsers

    do), you can run Figlet on the Internet by going to one of the

    following sites and choosing your text and options on the Web page.

    Different sites offer different options (eg multiple fonts at once,

    justification, line length etc). Some of these sites also provide

    an e-mail Figlet service for people with browsers which don't

    support forms.








    *    http://boulder.Colorado.EDU/~kai/figlet.html 




    [Shimrod, Veronica Karlsson]

    If Figlet doesn't produce the kind of results you want, THEN you

    can post to alt.ascii-art with your request. Make sure that you


    *   the fact that you have already tried Figlet, or don't have

        access to it  (otherwise you will probably just get told to use


    *   a description of the kind of lettering you want, along with any

        other symbols or logos which you would like incorporated into


8.  Can I post to ask for an ASCII art picture?


     Yes, if we find it interesting. Give your request the subject

     `REQ: xyz' if you're looking for a picture of an xyz, then in the

     message describe more exactly what you're looking for. Generally,

     the more specific you are, the more likely you are to get someone

     to draw what you want: if you just say something like `can someone

     draw me a fish' then you're not likely to get many replies,

     because people won't be sure whether or not they're wasting their

     time by drawing something you won't want. If you don't have Web

     access, mention this fact, otherwise you may get replies

     consisting only of URLs for the kind of pictures you're looking


9.  How do I get an existing picture converted to ASCII art?


    There are computer programs available which convert graphics files

    of a particular format (usually GIF) to ASCII art. They go by names

    such as ascgif, gifa, gifscii, and gif2ascii. Do a Web search for

    any of these programs to find places where you can download them.



    However, the output from these programs is often poor (fiddling

    with the picture in an image-editing program beforehand may help).

    In this case, you can post a request to news:alt.ascii-art asking

    for someone to `asciify' it, but PLEASE DON'T POST THE PICTURE

    ITSELF. To save downloading time for people reading the messages,

    if possible give the URL (Web address) of the picture instead.

    If you saw the picture on a Web page, you can find out its URL by

    right-clicking on it (on the Macintosh, right-clicking,

    Ctrl-clicking, or holding down the mouse button) and selecting

    `Open this image' (or its equivalent for your Web browser), then

    copy the URL from the Location bar to your news program (make sure

    you copy it exactly).

    If the picture is not on a Web site anywhere, put it up on your own

    site (if you have one), or get a friend to put it up on their site,

    and post the URL to alt.ascii-art. If you can't do this, post your

    request to alt.ascii-art and wait for an artist to reply, then

    e-mail the picture to them.

10.  Can I post or use other people's ASCII art?


    Don't assume that if somebody posts something to a discussion group,

    that gives you the right to use it however you like; copyright laws

    still apply. For more information, see the article `Copyright Myths

    FAQ: 10 big myths about copyright explained' in 

    news:news.announce.newusers. (It is also available at 

    ASCII art is often an exception to this rule, though: generally,

    ASCII artists don't mind if you copy their pictures and repost them

    or put them on your own Web site, as long as you don't make any

    money out of them. There are a few important conditions, however.

    *   If the picture contains a few letters in one corner which don't

        seem to be part of the picture, they're the artist's initials.

        DO NOT remove these initials -- would you cut away the part of

        a Van Gogh painting containing his name?  Leaving the initials

        on is a small price to pay for being able to use the picture

        for free.

    *   If you're going to use a picture in your signature file, or in

        a place (such as a log-in screen) which means you're going to

        be using it a lot, you should really e-mail the artist (or post

        to the newsgroup, if you don't know their address) and ask for

        permission, because otherwise people may get the mistaken

        impression that you were the one who drew the picture.

    As for posting other people's ASCII art, after a discussion in

    news:alt.ascii-art the following rules were agreed upon:

    1.  If an ASCII ART picture has initials on it, leave them on when

        posting it.

    2.  If an ASCII ART picture doesn't have initials on it, mention

        that you didn't draw it when posting it.

    3.  If somebody posts a picture without initials and you have an

        original copy with initials, feel free to repost the original

        version. The repost ought not to be taken personally, as we all

        know that ASCII art often loses proper credits. Responses to the

        repost are not necessary.


11.  What should I know about signature files?


    A signature file (or `sig' for short; not to be confused with the

    initials added to an ASCII picture) is a small, personalized text

    file which an e-mail or news program adds to the end of every

    message a person sends -- the equivalent of a letterhead for

    dead-tree (paper) mail. Usually it contains little more than the

    person's name, organization, and e-mail address, and an

    inspirational quote of some sort; but some people like to

    incorporate ASCII art into their signature files as well.

    The biggest problem that this causes is the number of lines that

    the signature file takes up. This is a topic which, despite its

    lack of importance in relation to global warming, violence in

    society, and so on, can be the subject of heated arguments. To be

    brief, (almost) no-one will complain if your signature file is four

    lines long or fewer -- and it is quite possible to draw good ASCII

    pictures which are that small. Some examples are at:



    Some e-mail programs don't allow you to have a signature file which

    is longer than four lines, while others just complain. Five or six

    lines is usually acceptable, but  any longer, and you're starting to

    take the risk that your signature will be longer than some of your

    e-mail messages; this wouldn't really make sense on paper, so it

    isn't really acceptable in cyberspace either. The exception is in

    messages posted to news:alt.ascii-art itself -- we're used to seeing

    long sigs, so we won't complain.

    But no matter what the length of your signature, make sure it's

    fewer than 72 characters wide, otherwise it may end up a horrible

    mess [see Question 6]. 

12. Where can I find more ASCII art?


    Lots of ASCII artists put up libraries of their own and others'

    ASCII art on their Web sites, as well as tutorials on how to draw

    ASCII art. Allen Mullen has links to many of these sites at


    Yahoo also has a page dedicated to ASCII art, at

    And try Joan Stark's Web site:

    To find out how to animate ASCII art using JavaScript, see and


This document may be freely copied as long as Matthew Thomas is

identified as the original author. 

-------------------THE ASCII ART FAQ TEN COMMANDMENTS-------------------


           /  _  _|                  1. Thou shalt read the FAQ.

          (\'('\/')                  2. Thou shalt not remove the

    ______/(    >(__                     initials from any ASCII art.

   /`-    \ \_=__| `\                3. Thou shalt not claim ownership

  /       /__(  _____\  _____            of someone else's ASCII art.

 /_ \.____    ,"     "."     ",__    4. Thou shalt read the FAQ.

|    /   _\__/_       -       /  \   5. Thou shalt ask permission

\/      /____  \ASCII ART FAQ  ///       before using someone else's

 )     / /   \__\     -        |         ASCII art.

 '-.__|_/    ///| I      VI    |     6. Thou shalt not sell someone

      \_     |        |        |         else's ASCII art.

        |    |   II      VII   |     7. Thou shalt read the darn FAQ.

         \   |        |        |     8. Thou shalt not post post someone

         /   |  III      VIII  |         else's ASCII art without making

         \   |        |        |         clear that you didn't make it.

          \_ |   IV      IX    |     9. Thou shalt not assume that

            \|        |        |         ASCII art isn't art at all.

             |    V      X     |     10. Thou shalt read the FAQing FAQ.



-----------[Joris Bellinger, Colin Douthwaite, Matthew Thomas]----------