[MUST SEE] ASCII Artwork - An Internet Treasure

Category: Cool-Stuff

Long before the graphical World Wide Web was invented in the early 1990s, 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 email newsletters and ASCII artwork are some 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.

I should mention that ASCII art existed long before the Internet. In the early days of hulking mainframe computers, users with too much time on their hands would painstakingly create ASCII art on teletype terminals, print them on line printers, and share them around the office or campus. It was common for students to get in trouble for printing the Starship Enterprise (or a n@ked lady) on the campus printer. These printouts could be several feet long. The popularity of the Internet, email, and Usenet newsgroups made it easier to share ASCII art far and wide.



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 Dictionary.


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

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

There are also 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.

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        |      |    |
|              http://InternetTourbus.com                |      |    |
    /   \  /   \                                             /   \
    \___/  \___/                                             \___/

Patrick Crispen, my co-driver on the World's Biggest Bus, had his own ASCII signature, with the tagline "Warning: squirrels." (Extra credit if you remember the reason for the squirrel in Patrick's signature.)

            .~~~.  ))
  (\__/)  .'     )  ))
  /o o  \/     .~
 {o_,    \    {
   / ,  , )    \
   `~  '-' \    } ))
  _(    (   )_.'


Are you interested in the history or early days of the Internet? See my article Some Fascinating History of the Internet to learn where it started and how it grew.

You might also enjoy my article Bob Explains: How Does The Internet Work?

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:

Christopher Johnson's ASCII Art Collection is HUGE. It has been online since 1994, and is still kept up to date with new entries. Johnson has collected these in an effort to preserve them and make them available to the world. One highlight of this website is Famous Paintings, but there are many other ASCII art categories, such as Animals, Cartoons, Food And Drink, Music, Nature, People, Plants, and Video Games.


The ASCII Art Generator will take any image and convert it to color or monochrome Ascii Art. You can also convert text to Ascii Banners.

And if you want to go really old school, do it with a typewriter. This guy mastered the art, despite his disability. I promise you will be amazed at the story of Paul Smith.

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 "[MUST SEE] ASCII Artwork - An Internet Treasure"

Posted by:

22 Feb 2021

I had to search Patrick Crispen's squirrels, very funny. So brave!

Posted by:

22 Feb 2021

My first experience with ASCII art was about 1964. I was about 12, and we had a father/son field trip to the local military base. We toured the computer lab, and they printed some ASCII art to show off the system. Someone didn't get the word, and the art was a three-page nude for our church group.

Posted by:

John Tyner II
22 Feb 2021

Thanks for keeping up with ASCII - we used to run banners for office parties! I remember your stories about squirrels attacking various cables on the TourBus. Working for US govt back then gave me joy to see your starting efforts to help non-geeks get through all the rapid changes in hardware and software as we weaned from COBOL.....much thanks, JT2

Posted by:

Bob Kinsler
22 Feb 2021

One of my first assignments when I was assigned to the HQ US Army was with the Deputy of Staff Military Operations Office, Staff Office Control which meant I had to hand carry schedules of numerous Generals' daily schedules between the offices of those Deputies and General Westmoreland office.

General Westmoreland got a little unhappy when those in the newly formed IT Department started to send to the dot matrix printer in his secretary office a well defined striptease of her (talk about sexual harassment these days) so I was assigned to go down to the department with a memorandum General Westmoreland just signed about what he planned on doing to whomever was the original programmer if it did not stop.

It stopped immediately when I delivered the Memo although I sat down there for a few days trying to think of a way for two computers to talk to each other, since I suggested teaching them Morse Code and using dots and dits to communicates (0 and 1s).

Posted by:

Hardie Johnson
22 Feb 2021

My sig on usenet was an ascii skier on just three lines. Oh those were the days.

Posted by:

Maura K
22 Feb 2021

Wow do these take me back! We thought these were so advanced then. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Posted by:

Art F
22 Feb 2021

The ASCII movies that I am familiar with used cursor control sequences (typically 2-3 bytes) along with printable characters. These sequences became available with the advent of terminals like the VT100. You could download an ASCII file and simply list it on such a terminal to see the animation, or do so on a regular computer screen if you were using a terminal program that supported emulation of such terminals.

Posted by:

Karl Gregg
22 Feb 2021

Way back in the 90's we shared a central PRIME mainframe computer at Vancouver Community College, in B.C. One year I created a 'text' Christmas tree for my own Email. The IT people loved it so much that they 'stole' it and put it on their opening screen.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2021

Great! Thank you. And I remember making the IBM 1403 printer print a pattern that sounded like music! I was working at IBM, and one day I walked onto the 1403 test line and there were some 20 printers playing "Stars and Stripes Forever", complete with drum rolls!

Posted by:

Sarah L
22 Feb 2021

“ They're one way to express feelings in the otherwise emotionless world of e-mail.”

Oh Bob, if you think that emotions cannot be expressed in words, then I think you need to expand your reading.
Try reading “To Kill A Mockingbird” as a start. It is rich with human emotion.

Here is a link to a site with advice on how to keep emotions out of business e-mails.

Posted by:

22 Feb 2021

If it weren't for C, we'd all be programming in BASI,OBOL and still typing in ASII.

Posted by:

23 Feb 2021

My first job was with the telephone company in the downtown Toronto offices was in 1960. Each year for Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving the teletype machines would start with long messages. Each turned out to be pictures relevant to the particular season. They looked exactly like the ones that are shown here in terms of what was used to create the often very complex pictures. I;m guessing that it would have been called ASCII. Fond memories.

Posted by:

DBA Steve
23 Feb 2021

Are we all sure those early images are ASCII art? I remember many images, including the Mona Lisa as show in the article. But I would have dubbed it EBCDIC art. That was what we all used on IBM, RCA, and Univac mainframes. EBCDIC Extended Binary Coded Data Interchange Code

What would one call the Christmas wreaths we used to make from Hollerith (80 column punch) cards and a stapler?

Posted by:

DD Prabhath
24 Feb 2021

I was on the email list TOURBUS of Ptrick Crispen in 90's, and ROADMAP series was my favourite. 

Posted by:

DBA Steve
24 Feb 2021

I remember that when printing some of the old pictures on mainframe printers, you had to ensure to send the picture to the printer with the proper print chain. Not all of the print chains had all of the special characters needed to print a good image.

Print chains? Goodness, how old am I?

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