Back in the day, ASCII art could blow minds on MSN messenger chat. It made use of the keyboard characters and fonts to add emotional cues and decorative details to an online message – just like the emojis we use today. 


But ASCII art could go far deeper than a simple :-) or :-( emoticon. Some users have utilised ASCII text to create innovative, creative masterpieces from simple dots and dashes that were way more than the sum of their parts – and could draw their lineage to text artists from centuries earlier. 


In this guide, we’ll talk through text art and ASCII art in detail.

A top-down view of books organised to create a heart shape on a wooden rustic background

What is ASCII art?


ASCII art is a form of computer text art made with ASCII – the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. 


Quick history lesson: before the 1960s, different computer manufacturers represented and read letters, numbers, and other characters in different ways, which meant they couldn’t communicate with each other. The introduction of ASCII changed that, setting out a standardised computer code so different devices in the USA could talk the same language. 


However, the concept of text art started way before ASCII. In fact, text art is ancient – you could argue it goes back as far as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Even in our more familiar Latin alphabet, you can find text images that predate the typewriter. Take Alice in Wonderland, where author Lewis Carroll set out a long, narrow poem that meandered between different lines to evoke a mouse’s tail. 


Flash forward 100 years and text was starting to go digital. After their introduction, the 128 standard characters of ASCII were used by artists, programmers, and procrastinators alike to create digital images. These could be as simple as an emoticon, which had begun to catch on in the pre-internet computer bulletin board systems (BBS) of the early 1980s and formed the basis for the emojis we use today. 


But rather than simple smiley or frowny faces, other pieces of ASCII art were far more complex – demonstrating artistic flair, attention to detail, and huge awareness of typography.


Examples of ASCII pictures and styles.  


There are a number of different styles, subgroups, and forerunner ASCII artforms. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types available to ASCII artists.


Typewriter art. 


Way before ASCII was ever thought of, typewriter art was the go-to text art form. It was painstaking work, requiring not only the flair and ingenuity needed to devise a piece, but also the laborious process of angling and re-angling the paper in the device to ensure each letter or character hit the right spot. And there was no delete button either.  


Typewriter style.


Typewriter style was a simpler style of typewriter art used to create large letters made up of smaller letters. You can find this in newspapers as far back as the 19th century.



Joy, indifference, melancholy, and astonishment may sound like names for the seven dwarves that never made the final cut. But these four emotions formed the earliest known emoticons, as featured in an 1881 edition of Puck magazine.


However, emoticons only really came to prevalence 100 years later, when university staff proposed a few simple markers to make sure people could tell the difference between a joke and a serious incident on internal messenger boards. And so the :-) and :-( emoticons were born.


In 1998, the Japanese mobile internet provider i-mode developed the first set of emojis to represent emoticons, which Apple popularised in 2010 through iPhone support.


The rest, as they say, is 🏛️ ⚔️📖✏️.




Kaomoji combined ASCII code and Japanese typography to create a unique strain of emoticons that could be read vertically – sometimes called verticons in the west.


Kaomoji have a distinctly East Asian vibe. While western emojis were first used by American computer scientists, Kaomoji was created by Japanese manga and anime fans – and fit with the aesthetic of kawaii, or cuteness. ^_^


ASCII portraits


You’d be surprised what a few dots and dashes can do. These ASCII art pictures range from very basic collections of vertical and horizontal lines to highly detailed, shaded portraits full of emotion – offering a Monet-style Pointillist approach with the dots and dashes of the keyboard.



How to make ASCII art.


Creating ASCII art can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Here are the basic steps on how to use ASCII methods to create art:


  • First open a simple text editor like Notepad or Windows.
  • Then, choose a font with a fixed width. This is important as it means your image will transfer between different devices cleanly.
  • Choose a picture. This could be anything you like – from the beloved video game character Pac Man to the iconic French landmark, Eiffel Tower – but it might be a good idea to keep it simple at first. Just a basic tree or rose is enough.
  • Then, use your characters wisely. For darker areas, you could use more dense characters like ##. For lighter parts, try ,,, and ***. For outlines, you can use ///
  • It’s time to draw! Use your text editor to create your masterpiece. You can also use the negative space in a large block of characters to build your image. Don’t forget to experiment with special characters and colours.
  • Finally, it’s time to embellish your ASCII artwork. Transfer to Adobe Photoshop to build on your ASCII art further. And with Adobe Firefly, you can find inspiration for your ASCII style images in a flash with simple text prompts.


As a shortcut, you can also use an ASCII art generator to transfer an image or photo into ASCII.



Is ASCII still used?


For everyday use, ASCII has largely been replaced by Unicode. This includes ASCII characters, and can still be used for ASCII art.


Why does my ASCII art look weird?


A common issue with ASCII art is font width. You’ll need to choose a fixed-width font, sometimes called monospace. These will convert between different programs and documents without losing their formatting.


What software can I use to make ASCII art?


It’s best to use a simple text editor like Notepad to create ASCII art. Once you’re happy with your image, you can shift it over to Photoshop to embellish, enhance, and elaborate to push your ideas even further.

Enhance your ASCII artwork with Photoshop.

Ready to master ASCII art? Bring your vision to life with the various editing and artistic tools available in Adobe Photoshop.