Encyclopedia of New Media - ASCII Art

...Defined by the Encyclopedia of New Media

Back to ASCII Art Academy

(source: Encyclopedia of New Media)

ASCII art is text art created with ASCII, a protocol established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is America's representative to the International Organization for Standardization (IOS). ASCII art uses ASCII text characters to produce images. The emoticon, an element of text messaging and email, is an example of ASCII art at its most popular and functional.

Precursors of ASCII art are techniques such as mosaic, hiero-glyphics, and dot art. But ASCII art is most obviously an extension of typewriter art. After E. Remington and Sons began manufacturing type-writers in 1874, they were soon being used not only for writing, but also for creating pictures. Typewriter art competitions were held as early as 1890, and the genre continued to be popular until the 1970s. Text images were later sent via Teletype, which was developed around 1900; drawings transmitted over Teletype are done in capital letters and printed on long paper tapes.

The ASCII code was established by ANSI in the early 1960s, and was standardized between 1968 and 1972. It is a way of presenting and reading the Latin-based alphanumeric keyboard characters used by many language groups. Like other protocols, it was developed as a standard to ensure that the message sent over a network would be similar to the message received.

ASCII art uses the alphanumeric character set to produce images, with characters coming together to mimic pen lines, brush strokes, benday dots, and so on. Its utility in computer-mediated communication (CMC) ranges from the use of such basic emoticons as the "smiley" to the creation of elaborate pieces that emulate classical art. ASCII art is most commonly found in online talk/chat environments, online games, email, ezines, and as "signatures" at the end of email or Usenet messages. (The Usenet newsgroups dealing with ASCII art are alt.ascii-art, where participants post their art, and rec.arts.ascii.) ASCII art is also found on dedicated Web sites, where users exhibit their work and provide links to other exhibitors.

In the past 20 years, ASCII art has become a developed form that includes abstract, cartoon, portrait, realist, and minimalist sub-genres. Much ASCII art relies on line characters, such as _, \, |, /,and -. Other pieces use the whole range of keys, but letters often interrupt the line of the image unless used carefully.

At the level of signature and emoticon, ASCII art continues to be a significant element of text-based communication; as a more complex artistic form, it remains a specialist or niche interest. However, the eas with which it can be developed -- and the fact that it does not impact on file size in the same way that images do -- means that it remains both a useful and an entertaining staple of CMC. Despite the multimedia environment of the Web, some users cannot download image files or reach HTML. ASCII is the most universally accessible form of CMC, although even this form excludes some language groups.

The Internet was originally a text-based medium, and email is still one of its most frequently employed aspects. Its origin in text helped the Internet to create an environment of experimentation and exploration of the possibilities of text as a primary communications medium. One of the early observations about text-only CMC was that it failed to communicate the complexity of gesture, expression, and emotional nuance that was clearly evident, for example, in verbal exchange. Originating as a way of enriching the text environment and allowing for a greater range of human expression, ASCII art can be viewed as an argument against technological determinism, as it shows that individuals can shape the uses to which technology is put. The continuing popularity of ASCII art is an example of how the older forms of the Internet, such as email and Usenet, undergird the newer forms, such as the Web.

   /~~\               ...:(((((((((((((((((:'
  /~~\ \          .::)))))))))))))))))))):`
      \_\__   ,-((((((((((((((((((((((:'
    ,`~__ '),' ` `''"~'~-=-===.~~'"'`
   (,@   ,/   `.`.`. .-.     _/@@@/`.
    \_.__/\__`~\____ |~|.~+=/@@@/~_/@`.
      ~` _____\ \. '~| |'~~;@@/~_/@@@@/`.
        /=___=___\-  | |    `\_/@@@@/~_/@`.
       //~           `.`.      '\@/~_/@@@@/.
  jgs //               `.`.       \/@@@/~~ ;
     ]/                  ~=`._      `'~=._.;

ASCII art by Joan Stark (


  • Abbate, Janet. "Inventing the Internet". Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1999.
  • American National Standards Institute. Homepage. (March 19, 2002).

Further Reading

  • Danet, Brenda. "[email protected]: Communicating Online". Oxford, England: Berg, 2001
  • The Great ASCII Art Library, April 1997. (March 19, 2002).
  • Mullen, Allen. ASCII Picture Collections. (March 19, 2002).
  • Riddell, Alan, ed. "Typewriter Art: Half a Century of Experiment". London: Polytechnic of Central London, 1981.
Related Topics
Email; Emoticons; USENET

-- Kate O'Riordan

SOURCE: Jones, Steve, ed. "Encyclopedia of New Media: An Essential Reference to Communication and Technology". Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: SAGE Publications, 2002. pp. 15-16. Converted to ASCII by Ghost Rider (a!p) on August 18th, 2004 and ported to the web by Roy/SAC in February 2008.


Useful Resources

  • ASCII Art Academy - articles and tutorials about ASCII art
  • Online Videos releated to text art, BBS, demoscene, SAC and Warez
  • ASCII Nudes Collection - 30 Years of "Naked" ASCII Art - 30 pieces of ASCII art showing nude girls created by hand by various different artists. A "boss key" feature is available too, which is interesting by itself, showing additional examples of great ASCII art without nudity.
  • "Morph" - ASCII Animation (ASCIIMation) using JavaScript created by Skylined. It "morphs" a number of ASCII pictures from one into another and finishes with a great "mandelbrot" fractal zoom.
  • "Star Field" - Another nice ASCII Animation using JavaScript created by Skylined showing a horizontal semi 3d star field animation like the ones that were popular in old computer demos and intros.