FAQ: New to alt.ascii-art? Read me first!
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Answers to frequently asked questions
by Matthew Thomas
Version 1.0.4
Last changed: 1998-Feb-16

Additional changes:
  1. Section 1 : replaced paragraph about 'ANSI' character sets with something more clear and concise. RM (1998-02-16)
  2. Section 3 : deleted 'tt' in "fonts with [...]and 'tt' in its name will be probably fixed-width" AF (1998-01-10)
  3. Section 4 : changed figlet ftp URL ftp.nicoh.com to ftp://ftp.internexus.net/pub/figlet/ AF (1997-12-11)
  4. Section 11 : changed the bit about rec.arts.ascii after its reanimation.
    Changed the date of Scarecrow's retirement from November 1993 to June 1996 AF (1997-11-30)

NOTE: If you are new to Usenet News, please read the messages in news.announce.newusers before posting to any newsgroups. Thanks.

This FAQ is regularly posted to the newsgroups news:alt.ascii-art and news:alt.ascii-art.animation, and is also available at http://artpacks.acid.org/faqs/faq-altasciiart.html, http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/7373/faq.htm, http://www.stud.uni-hannover.de/~freise/ascii/faq.html and http://vibes.vossnet.co.uk/i/ighaig/ascfaq.htm.


  1. What is ASCII art, and why do people use it?
  2. What is the alt.ascii-art newsgroup for?
  3. Help! I can't tell what this picture is supposed to be ...
  4. Can someone do my name / these words in ASCII, please?
  5. Can someone convert this picture to ASCII, please?
  6. Can someone draw me a ...
  7. How do I start drawing ASCII art?
  8. Ok, I've drawn an ASCII picture. Can I post it to alt.ascii-art?
  9. Can I copy this ASCII picture?
  10. What should I know about signature files?
  11. What happened to rec.arts.ascii?
  12. Where can I find more ASCII art?

  1. What is ASCII art, and why do people use it?

  2. 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, numbered from 0 to 127, which are standard on almost all types of computer. The first 32 characters (0 to 31) are various control codes for signalling things like and end of transmission, a beep, escape, backspace, and so on. The last ASCII character, 127, is another control code representing the Delete key.

    The ASCII characters used in ASCII art are the 95 characters from 32 to 126, as follows.

    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 ASCII art:

    # (hash/pound):
    a hash sign on most computers, a pound (£) sign on some British ones
    | (bar):
    a solid line on most computers, but some split it in the middle
    ^ (caret):
    differs in size depending on the font used
    ~ (tilde):
    appears in the middle of the line in some fonts, at the top in others (this especially can make some pictures look odd)
    ' (apostrophe/single quote):
    tilts southwest-northeast in some fonts, is vertical in others (this may also apply 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 /          \

    IS IT ASCII? by RaD Man

    Not all "ASCII" is ASCII! Certain computer operating systems use their own specific character sets which are modified hybrids of the original 128-character ASCII set. These "strains", if you will, have been deceivingly dubbed as "Extended ASCII" or "High ASCII" as they have added symbols beyond the first 128. Realize that while these extra characters may seem to give you more flexibility in your artwork, you are severely limiting your viewing audience to those who use the same operating system as you -- thus defeating the purpose of ASCII entirely!

    Please refrain from using these special characters in addition to the 33 special control codes in the true ASCII character set. Remaining within the 32-126 range benefits everyone in a multitude of ways. Not only by maximizing the number of potential viewers, but it also ensures proper interpretation of your artwork by others and will alter the way they perceive your abilities. This is just one of the necessary disciplines of becoming a real ASCII artist.
    [RaD Man / ACiD / 16-Feb-98]

    People use ASCII art for many reasons. Some of them are:

  3. What is the alt.ascii-art newsgroup for?

  4. news:alt.ascii-art (sometimes shortened to a.a-a) is a newsgroup where 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:

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

  5. Help! I can't tell what this picture is supposed to be ...

  6. If a picture you see posted to this newsgroup looks like a complete mess to you, don't panic. There are several reasons why it may look weird.

  7. Can someone do my name / these words in ASCII, please?

  8. 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 (lettering styles). 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 http://st-www.cs.uiuc.edu/users/chai/figlet.html. This site links to the FTP site ftp://ftp.internexus.net/pub/figlet/, 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.

    (Thanks to Shimrod and Veronica Karlsson for the original list.)

    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 include:

  9. Can someone convert this picture to ASCII, please?

  10. Yes, but there are a few things you should know before making this sort of request. Firstly, there are computer programs 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. Try:

    However, the output from these programs is often not good (fiddling with the picture in an image-editing program beforehand may help). In this case, you can post a request to the newsgroup 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, 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.

  11. Requests! Can someone draw me a ... ?

  12. 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 for.

  13. How do I start drawing ASCII art?

  14. You don't need a special program to draw ASCII art with. It can be drawn using any text editor, such as the Windows or Macintosh Notepads, any of the various Emacs editors, nedit on Unix, BEd or AZ on the Amiga, edit in DOS, and so on. You can use a word processor to draw ASCII art, but remember: (1) use a fixed-width font (see Question 3); 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/word processors which can help when drawing ASCII art.

    But before you start, a word about fonts. For ASCII art you should use a fixed-width font (see Question 3), 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:

     ___  ,---.
    / __\/---. ._,
     /  \@-.  -(_)-
         @     ' `    Person playing a banjo
        ,P            while sitting against a
        d'O_,     MT  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 angles:

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

    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.

    Here are a couple links to existing ASCII art tutorials:
    Daniel Au's Tutorial
    Allen Mullen's Site- several tutorials

  15. Ok, I've drawn an ASCII picture. Can I post it to alt.ascii-art?

  16. Yes! It doesn't matter if it's not 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.

    If you're not sure about whether your message will turn out ok, post it to a test newsgroup (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.

  17. Can I copy this ASCII picture?

  18. Don't assume that if somebody posts something to a newsgroup, 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 http://www.clari.net/brad/copymyths.html.)

    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 for your personal use. There are a few important conditions, however.

  19. What should I know about signature files?

  20. A signature file (or `sig' for short) 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 summarize, (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 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 8.

  21. What happened to rec.arts.ascii?

  22. rec.arts.ascii was a moderated newsgroup, meaning that all messages sent to the newsgroup had to pass through an intermediary (the moderator) who checked them for appropriateness before sending them to the newsgroup proper.

    In the case of rec.arts.ascii, the moderator was Bob Allison (otherwise known as `Scarecrow'), and he retired from the job in June 1996. The newsgroup was inactive from December 1996 until November 1997. Don Bertino (bertino@netcom.com) is at the helm as moderator. Post away.

  23. Where can I find more ASCII art?

  24. 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 http://www.yahoo.com/Arts/Visual_Arts/Computer_Generated/ASCII_Art/.
    And try Joan Stark's Web site: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/7373/.

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


This document may be freely copied as long as Matthew Thomas is identified as the original author.

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