When different services and sites gain popularity, they tend to take a chunk out of an existing service’s userbase. The same cycle repeats with different processes online, including things we feel a cornerstone of Internet usage with.
One of these practices is image sharing. Greatly improved Internet speeds have made it possible to upload and download far bigger pictures than ever before. Strict constraints meant that ASCII images became an art form: text loaded so much more quickly than pictures that it was by far the best way to share.
A Brief History
This type of artwork predates ASCII, with evidence of similar works being created via typewriter in the 1890s. Creators in this period prior to ASCII standardisation tended to refer to it as “typewriter art” or as “artyping” – in fact, competitions were held in this field as “Artistic Typing Competitions.” This Flickr album features a series of pieces from the 1930s and 1940s by Charles R. Cannoni.
One could make a convincing case for artistic typography existing before this, with certain editions of Alice in Wonderland featuring a text layout that would have been almost entirely unique in the 1860s.
If you’d like to read more about the practice formerly known as “artyping,” there are articles online providing great detail in an approachable manner. If you’d rather see a more modern example of ASCII art online, we suggest GameFAQs. The site once demanded all user submissions be in plain text, meaning that ASCII creativity was the only method of formatting available.
The above example of ASCII usage on the modern Web was found on a walkthrough for Driver 2 written in 2003 and would have served as a way of identifying the author.
Creating ASCII artwork
Depending on how you go about creating ASCII artwork, it could take minutes or days. Every character matters as does its positioning. There’s an enormous difficulty curve associated with making a picture look “right,” and it’s something you may never be able to make totally perfect.
Alternatively, you could “cheat” and save yourself a lot of time.
Online conversion services have managed to streamline the process of creating ASCII artwork, doing everything for you in a fraction of the time. The binding theme across the different converters is the ability to upload an image from your own computer.
Here are a few converters we think you might like.
PicASCII is one of the simplest options, with little room for output customisation. Its only real options are a choice of size and colour, but it is relatively limited.
Unfortunately for PicASCII, there is one major limitation you might find insurmountable: the conversion only uses “#” symbols, meaning you can lose some detail when viewed closely. Viewed from a distance, it’s harder to observe. The above example shows a picture at what PicASCII considers size “2” before zooming in much more closely to identify individual characters.
PicASCII does the basic legwork for you, and if that’s all you require, then it’s a great option. As we’re going to show, there are other options packing more features that may also appeal to you.
Text-Image houses an enormous amount of power under a rather plain looking UI. Going by the website’s footer, it was last updated in 2006; there’s no real need for innovation with ASCII art generators provided there is a robust service at their core.
Text-Image allows you to choose the width of the picture in characters with a choice between 1 and 500 characters. Naturally, a 500-character wide image is enormous, likely far exceeding the size of the original image. This is where ASCII artwork becomes interesting: it’s entirely possible to create a picture substantially larger than the original.
While it might seem like Text-Image doesn’t give direction on how to choose the colours, that works quite well. Most colours are represented, with “blue” being visibly different from “royal” and so on. Even more obtuse names, like “magenta,” work.
For the most part, you’ll want to use basic colours with a black background, but other colour schemes can be interesting. Depending on what you’re converting, a different colour scheme could be a fun idea. Our example above reused the Nirvana smiley face with its original colour scheme as an example of when colour choices could be advantageous.
Unfortunately, Text-Image doesn’t have the option of maintaining the source material’s exact colour, meaning the image will always end up becoming monochromatic.
Probably one of the most well-known ASCII image converters, Glass Giant is another relatively advanced option, although with a streamlined interface. If you’re coming from Text-Image, the only thing you’ll miss is the free-form choice of colour schemes: white-on-black or black-on-white are your only options. In return, you’ll gain the ability to link to an image online rather than having to upload it.
Beyond this, font size options are provided, and pictures can be reproduced with lines of up to 400 characters. The combination of a small font size and 400 characters can yield extremely detailed imagery which might be exactly what you had hoped for.
We believe these three converters all exhibit features that differentiate them from each other while maintaining a high degree of usability at the same time. Of the three, Text-Image is undoubtedly the most advanced, but all three serve their purpose. Though we have not tried it before, it could be possible to create a unique poster for display with a sufficiently large ASCII image (and a large enough printer to do the idea justice).
In addition to our coverage of these three converters, we hope you enjoyed our brief look at the history of “artyping” and how it morphed into the present system of ASCII artwork.