__  __   __     _,
\\  \\   / ___ '||  ___  ___ __  _  _   ___    _/|_ ___
 \\ /\\ / //_\) || // \)// \\ ||'||'|| //_\)    || // \\
  \/  \/  \\__,_||_\\__,\\_//_||_||_||_\\__,    \|_\\_//

         ___   __  ___  () ()      ___  _,_ _/|_
         __\\ (/_'// \)'||'|| ==== __\\'||\) ||
        ((_||_,_/)\\__,_||_||_    ((_||_||_  \|_

Answers to frequently asked questions in the ASCII art Usenet groups

Author: Matthew Thomas (mpt26 @ student . canterbury . ac . nz)
Version: 2.0.2
Last changed: 1998-09-19

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

This FAQ is regularly posted to alt.ascii-art and alt.ascii-art.animation. It is also available at the following locations.


1. What is ASCII art?
2. What isn't ASCII art?
3. What goes on in the ASCII art Usenet 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 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
' (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:

2. What isn't ASCII art?

The following specialized artforms are not ASCII art in the `pure' sense, and are not welcome in the ASCII art Usenet groups.

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

In the ASCII art Usenet 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:

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

There are three ASCII art Usenet groups. alt.ascii-art is the main group, where most of the discussion takes place.

rec.arts.ascii is a `best-of' group, for posting the best ASCII art from alt.ascii-art. 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 rec.arts.ascii is extremely low at the time of writing (it was resurrected in November 1997 after the previous moderator, Bob Allison (`Scarecrow') retired in December 1996).

If your news server isn't set up to allow direct posting to rec.arts.ascii, e-mail your message to the moderator, Don Bertino: bertino-@-netcom-.-com (remove the dashes first).

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 Usenet groups looks a complete mess to you, don't panic. There are several reasons why it may look weird.

5. How do I draw my own ASCII art?

You don't need a special program to draw ASCII art. 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.

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:

     ___  ,---.
    / __\/---. ._,
     /  \@-.  -(_)-
         @     ' `    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 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.

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

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.

If you're not sure about whether your message will turn out ok, post it to a test group (such as alt.test or 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 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.

[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 include:

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 for.

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. Try:

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 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 Usenet 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.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, as long as you don't make any money out of them. There are a few important conditions, however.

As for posting other people's ASCII art, after a discussion in 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 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 http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/2695/links.htm.

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 http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Marina/4942/faq_hta.htm and http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Studios/9334/animlesson.htm.


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