ASCII Art - An Enduring Internet Treasure

Category: Cool-Stuff

Long before the graphical Web, people were creating computer images that required no special hardware or software to view. ASCII art is composed only of plain text characters, and can be sent by e-mail without attachments. Take a stroll into Internet history, enjoy some ASCII art, and learn how to make your own...

Keepin' It Simple...

I like the idea of delivering high tech stuff in a low tech medium. Aside from being immune to viruses, worms and web bugs, plain text is universally accessible. Perhaps that's why ASCII artwork is one of my all-time favorite computer topics.

I'm revisiting this topic because many of the websites that are home to this important part of Internet history are disappearing.

The term ASCII refers to a standard set of characters that are supposed to display the same on any computer. ASCII art is a unique form of expression ranging from the simple to the very complex. Using only the characters on your keyboard and some creativity, you can create images that are cute, funny or intricately beautiful.



Smilies, sometimes called emoticons, are the most basic form of ASCII art. Smilies are textual representations of emotions that people commonly use in their e-mail. They're one way to express feelings in the otherwise emotionless world of e-mail. When you see a bunch of dashes, parentheses, and other punctuation marks that don't seem to make sense, try turning your head sideways.

Smileys like the ones in the list below, are great ways to overcome the impersonal nature of the electronic medium.

:-) Smile       ;-) Wink       :-( Frown

These are the most common smilies, but there are dozens more. Check out the Unofficial Smiley FAQ.


One favorite subject of the ASCII artists is animals. Many people use them in e-mail or Usenet signature files just for fun. The eagle and the cat below are classic examples.

     /     \  __  /    ------
    / /     \(  )/    -----
   //////   ' \/ `   ---
  //// / // :    : ---
 // /   /  /`    '--
//          //..\\
                        `6_ 6  )   `-.  (     ).`-.__.`)
                        (_Y_.)'  ._   )  `._ `. ``-..-'
                      _..`--'_..-_/  /--'_.' ,'
                     (il),-''  (li),'  ((!.-'

There are also quite a few people who enjoy portraying cows via keyboard. I've seen some hilarious ASCII cows, like these floating around in cyberspace.

          (oo)          When cows laugh really hard,
   /-------\/           does milk come out their nose?
  / |     ||
 *  ||w---||
    ^^    ^^
                (oo)    Mathematical Cow
      / | x=a(b)||
     *  ||------||
        ~~      ~~

If you need a good chuckle, visit David Bader's COMPLETE GUIDE TO COWS, which is a large collection of ASCII cows, dating back to 1991.

And let's not forget the Internet Tourbus logo, which was featured in the Tourbus newsletter starting in 1995.

    _________ ____________ ________ __________ _____________ ___ _
   /         |            /        |          |             /   | \
  |     "Why | Surf When / You Can | Ride The | Bus?"      /    |  \
  |__________|__________/__________|__________|___________/     |   \
 /                                                       /______|----\
|         T h e   I n t e r n e t   T o u r B u s        |      |    |
|                    |      |    |
    /   \  /   \                                             /   \
    \___/  \___/                                             \___/


A figlet is a way to make large letters out of ordinary text. A program called FIGLET can use a variety of special effects to create text

| (_) | _____  | |_| |__ (_)___
| | | |/ / _ \ | __| '_ \| / __|
| | |   <  __/ | |_| | | | \__ \
|_|_|_|\_\___|  \__|_| |_|_|___/
  _   _     _   _   _   _
 / \ / \   / \ / \ / \ / \
( o | r ) ( t | h | i | s )
 \_/ \_/   \_/ \_/ \_/ \_/

You can learn all about figlets and create your own by visiting the FIGLET website.


       .      .'
          :`...' `.,'  '
      `.  ' .**.  ; ; ':
      ` ``:`****,'  .' :
    ..::.  ``**":.''   `.               The examples so far have
  .:    `: ; `,'        :               been pretty basic, but there
    `:    `   :         ;               are ASCII artists who produce
      :   :   :        ;                some pretty amazing images.
      :    :   :     .:
       :    :   :..,'  ``::.
       `....:..'  ..:;''
        .:   . ...::::                  This rose is just one example
       ,'''''``:::::::                  of the work you can sample
                 `::::                  at the Signature Museum.
             . ,.    ::::'      ,..
           .'.'  ``.  ::      .'.. `.
         '        .: ::    ,'.'     .
        .' ,'    .::::::   ,.'    .:::.
      .' .'  ..:'     ::: .,   .;'     ~
     ,;::;.::''        ::.:..::'
    ~                  ::;'
                       ::               The ASCII Art section there
                     ,:::               has pages devoted to
                       ::.              Animals, Christmas, Easter,
                        ::              Flora, Love. Misc, Music
                        ::              and People.  Find it at

ASCII Signature Museum


This next site is truly asciimazing. It's a condensed version of the original Star Wars movie, done with ASCII animation. STAR WARS in ASCIImation is achieved by displaying frames of painstakingly composed ASCII text one after the other. You MUST see this one. :-)

Roman Messmer in Switzerland has taken ASCII art to a whole new level -- ASCII Movies. Messmer has created scenes from The Matrix, Spiderman, The Terminator, Harry Potter, Nemo and others in stunning asciimation. When I last checked his website, it was offline. But many of his ASCII movies are still available via the Wayback Machine's archive.


If you thought those were kind of nifty, you will be amazed at the ASCII images you can find hidden in the corners of the web. Many of them are in COLOR and incredibly detailed. Here's a sampling of what you'll find:


Wanna learn more about ASCII art? See the ASCII Art Dictionary. You'll find info on the various styles of ASCII art, how to create your own, and links to some other fun ASCII art pages. Have a little fun with ASCII art. It's a wonderfully rich, low-tech, and very accessible medium to express yourself!

/ _\ ___  ___  /\_/\___  _   _    / /  __ _| |_ ___ _ __  
\ \ / _ \/ _ \ \_ _/ _ \| | | |  / /  / _` | __/ _ \ '__/
_\ \  __/  __/  / \ (_) | |_| | / /__| (_| | ||  __/ |  
\__/\___|\___|  \_/\___/ \__,_| \____/\__,_|\__\___|_| 

ASCII art is one of the treasures of the early days of the Internet. I hope you've enjoyed this topic, and will pass along the link to others! Do you know of other ASCII art websites? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "ASCII Art - An Enduring Internet Treasure"

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Very nice to see again the Internet Tourbus logo !
Thanks !

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

My first view of ASCII art was when I was about 10, in 1962, but maybe later. A group of fathers and sons from church was touring a defense facility that one of the fathers had arranged. In the computer room, one of the workers showed off the then-new "fast" printers by printing out a 3-4 page pic of a nekked woman.

Before Usenet, we had a local program called Talk at *IT, where I still work. One of the fun things was live ASCII art, where a poster would use ASCII code to animate his signature to change it from something like "Smeagol" to "Gollum." The art devolved into "ASCII wars," with a poster messing with or erasing, as you watched in real time, a previous user's post. ASCII animation was disabled shortly thereafter.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

This takes me back to 90's. There used to be a gallery which not only had Mona Lisa but many other ASCI versions masterpieces(even in colors).

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Bob, many thanks for the "Memory Lane" trip. My age cometh through: the art brings back the 1960s to me! The naked woman on the bar stool, the robots, etc. I _think_ I still have the woman on the bar stool on punched paper tape somewhere around here. Memories. Thanks again.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Where the squirrel at?
I wantz zquirrel!

(is that like mixing metaphors LOL)

Posted by:

Art F
01 Feb 2016

I remember animated artwork containing ASCII characters that was created by mixing ASCII characters with control codes that terminals (VT100 and the like) and terminal emulator software could respond to. I would imagine these could still be viewed via telnet (text only) connection with the proper telnet software, though I don't know where one would find examples. Do the sites mentioned have them?

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Hey, Bob, thanks for the ascii article! I still put a small ascii image in my signature line and will always have a soft spot for the wonderful visual effects of ascii images in general.
I wish this note were courier so I could show my current snowflake. Here it is, but I'm sure it's distorted. Folks can copy/paste and change the font to courier to see it as it should appear:

, ,
/ /_/\/\_\ \
/\ /\
' '

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Hey Bob, I sometimes use ASCII art in Linux I have a couple of links to provide for your Linux readers if you don't mind. Enjoy!

Posted by:

Romke Egbers
01 Feb 2016

Yeah! Memories. Even if I started working with computers (CDC 6600) in 1973 (much later than 1962), I am old enough to recognize these pieces of real craftsman work.
Thank you for reviving my memories!

Posted by:

01 Feb 2016

Bob, I remember seeing this back in the '50s, then later when I worked (& shared fun) with computers. I *DO* recall that 'nekkid' woman printing out on the 1403 - as well as MUSIC!!

Your ascii art wasn't quite right on I.E. Looks like a proportional font distorted it. It copied perfectly to my fixed font editor.

Posted by:

Phillip Levy
01 Feb 2016

This takes me back... we used to see this come in on the telex machines that we had a

Posted by:

bd gold
02 Feb 2016

I love this post, really takes me back. Never saw the "nekked" woman, nor wanted to. A more current phenomenon is the photo collage, which uses photos as mosaic tiles to paint a picture. The best ones use photos that are thematically related to the resulting picture.

Posted by:

02 Feb 2016

Enjoyed the article very much -- didn't realize how big a deal ASCII art is on the Internet.

Also, I remember producing "light" versions of ASCII art as class projects in my high school typing class. Amazing what can be produced just using the capital X and the right amount of spaces!

Posted by:

Art F
02 Feb 2016

Some examples of the animated ASCII artwork that I alluded to in my previous comment can be found by googling "VT100 ASCII Art". Here's a nice one as displayed by YouTube:

Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
02 Feb 2016

Annie, I love your snowflake! I thought it was missing one line of characters, so I filled that in and tweaked a couple of spaces on the next-to-last line and took out the underscores on the line above that. Copy to Word document, strip formatting with the "Aa [eraser]" icon, then choose Courier New and center the text. Nice!

, ,
/ /_/\/\_\ \
' '

Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
02 Feb 2016

Annie, my second attempt, formatting your snowflake in MS Word with 10.5-pt Arial font (with requisite leading spaces) to see if it'll come out right in my post:

, ,
/ /_/\/\_\ \
' '

Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
02 Feb 2016

Tue., 2/2/2016 4:50 pm EST - Well, that didn't work.

Here's How To make a 6-pointed snowflake in a Microsoft Word document (10-pt Courier New). On centered text, type as follows:

2 commas, separated by 5 spaces
_\/[2 spaces]\/_
_\/[1 space]\/_
/[1 space]/_/\/\_\[1 space]\
_/\[1 space]/\_
/\[2 spaces]/\
2 apostrophes, separated by 5 spaces

Tweaked with periods for Facebook display (it looks great in Word):

Posted by:

03 Feb 2016

YES..!! Those were the days! I still have the punch-tape of the Mona Lisa Smilie. I was one of the Singer Busines Machine Engineer back in 1972/73 installing their System 5800 Accounting Machines.
Thanks for the article.. Sure brings back good memories from the good old past...!! Yes. The last 40 years, have been working and seen some 6 or 7 generations of technology flashed past!!

Posted by:

03 Feb 2016

I've been a subscriber since 1997 and always remember the ASCII squirrel and "Watch out for squirrels" slogan.

Posted by:

04 Feb 2016

I still make ASCII art. I started in 1998 when the newsgroups were still active. Now I post it to my site. Annoys me that people call almost anything ASCII art these days.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- ASCII Art - An Enduring Internet Treasure (Posted: 1 Feb 2016)
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