When I was just a kid – about 9 years old – my brother and I would purchase those new computer magazines that had all kinds of neat programs and other “computer tricks” in them. Back then, computer programs consisted of BASIC software that you could type into the terminal a line at a time, save it on the floppy disk (there were no hard drives on personal computers back then), and then run it to watch some fun ASCII-based graphics or game flash across the screen.
I’m sure many of you have your own memories of the days when ASCII text was really all there was to computer graphics. It has been nothing short of astonishing to watch each generation of computer graphics and animation advance upon the successes of the last.
I always believed that ASCII graphics were an artifact of the past, one of those ancient technologies that you’ll find in some museum display somewhere, detailing the history of computer technology. That is, until I stumbled upon the ASCII art community, and discovered ASCII Generator.
The Community of ASCII Artists
We’ve covered a fair amount of ASCII art generator tools here at MakeUseOf. Most of them were fairly simple tools that just converted straight images into ASCII art in one quick step, such as ASCII-O-Matic, ASCII Art and Text-Image. Simon also covered a couple of cool sites that convert photos to text.
ASCII art is an acquired taste. I started out thinking, why would anyone want to take a step back in time to a day when you could only create images from text? But when you look at some of these brilliantly created photos, you start to realize why. There is a certain beauty in it – a clear image from a distance, from what otherwise looks like white noise up close.
ASCII Generator 2 is a project by Jonathan of the UK (wardog_uk at SourceForge). It comes fairly well recommended there, and it provides for adjustments and features that most other simple ASCII converters just don’t have.
The layout of the tool is the actual image you’re converting in the lower right corner, the controls and tweaks in the lower left, and the actual ASCII image in the large center pane. All you have to do to get started is load up one of your favorite pictures.
The first picture I tried was from Halloween, and at first I thought that I had completely messed up the software. The text looked nothing at all like the image.
Then, after reducing the size of the display using the settings in the menu for “Size:”, the entire picture came into the frame. Much better. Although, in my opinion it still left a little to be desired. I think maybe with ASCII art, “busy” images like this one are not always the best to use.
Maybe larger portraits without so much background “noise” makes for better ASCII art. So, I tried using a stock news photo of President Obama instead – a full zoom face shot. Definitely better, although from just these tests, it seems clear that the clearest images come from a photo with a white background and the object in the forefront.
I really wanted to put the converter to the test, so I tested out a cool space image that I had on my hard drive – a series of planets with a sun tucked around the edge of the largest planet, all framed in a stunning star field. After importing the image, I was pretty impressed by the results.
Although I also found that you can make the image much clearer in the ASCII art format by tweaking the brightness and contrast in the settings box at the lower left. All of the adjustments are immediately reflected in real-time on the output ASCII image.
My favorite part of the application is when it’s time to print or save the ASCII image, there are output formats that make the output image even more impressive. For example, you can do a color printout, which colors the text in the color tones of the original image.
I also found that the black & white image output in GIF format also offers an image that appears more clear than the original output ASCII on the screen itself (or maybe it’s just my imagination). What I did find is that it is a blast to play with this software using different images that I’ve got stored on my hard drive.
Another cool feature is that you can swap the colors so that the text is white and the background is dark. This makes for a really unique effect that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else that I’ve seen ASCII art. In my opinion it also makes for a much clearer output image too.
In the menu, you can also switch around the font and the default characters that are used in the output image. Sometimes a different font, or using italics, makes for a really cool effect in the final image.
You can output these as image files – I saved this one as a GIF – and then use them on your website, blog or anywhere else.
Are you into ASCII art? Have you ever tried ASCII Generator 2? Give it a shot and let us know what you think about this Ascii art generator project in the comments section below.