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ASCII art basically consists of pictures pieced together from characters (preferably from the set defined by ASCII). They can be created with any text editor. Most require a non-proportional font for correct viewing.

The simplest forms of ASCII Art are emoticons: little two- or three-character combinations for expressing emotion in text. :-) More complex examples used several lines of text to draw large symbols or crude representations or more complex figures. It was popular to put such art in one's signature block to be included in all your e-mail and Usenet postings. Some common examples:

   /-------\/             O
  / |     ||     /o)\    /H\
 *  ||----||     \(o/    / \
    ~~    ~~
       Cow     Yin/Yang Person
Some types ignore the particular shape of the characters and treat them as more-or-less filled boxes:

               <d+ -3Wm;
             sd(     -?Qm;.
           .amm;     .xmWmc
           """""`    """""""

ASCII Art is and was used wherever text can be more readily printed or transmitted than graphics. This includes typewriters, teletypes, computer terminals, early computer networking, e-mail and Usenet news messages.

It's straightforward to generate ASCII art algorithmically. There exist specialized text editors designed to draw lines, boxes, and filled areas easily. Converting a bitmap to ASCII art is a special case of vector quantization. An example of a program that generates ASCII art can be found in ASCII art conversion tool.

In the 1970s and early 1980s it was popular to produce a kind of ASCII art that relied on overprinting -- the overall darkness of a particular character space dependent on how many characters, as well as the choice of character, printed in a particular place. Thanks to the increased granularity of tone, photographs were often converted to this type of printout. Even daisy wheel printers could be used. The technique has fallen from popularity since all cheap printers can easily print photographs, and a normal text file (or an e-mail message or Usenet posting) cannot represent overprinted text.

Animated ASCII art is possible by embedding ANSI escape sequences for cursor movement into the "picture".

In Japan, ASCII Art achieves unique development. It is something to be called "JIS Art" because it is not represented by ASCII only, but is conventionally called so. The abundance of characters allows more eleborate ASCII art. Largest source of recent "JIS Art" is 2ch BBS, and characters and stories in these "JIS Arts" are gaining popularity/recognition with emergence of this BBS. Cultural similarity with Manga (Japanese comic) can be observed.

Ascii art editors exist, many are listed: http://directory.google.com/Top/Arts/Visual_Arts/ASCII_Art/Software/ e.g. Jave - http://www.jave.de a free versatile ASCII editor written in java.

See also: ASCII cows

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