Creating artistic images with ASCII art

And Much More …

ASCII art is not just about images; it also includes fonts and banners. The FIGlet (Frank, Ian, and Glenn's Letters) and TOIlet (The Other Implementation's Letters) [5] packages can help you create them. Both programs support a variety of options for controlling and shaping the output.

Whereas FIGlet simply produces various banners in black and white, TOIlet uses asterisks, other fonts with color gradients, and the interpretation of Unicode (Figure  6).

Figure 6: TOIlet offers a variety of options for displaying banners in all sorts of colors and shapes.

Beyond the console, projects like JavE [6] or Asciio [7] offer programs for generating images with characters in a graphical environment. JavE is based on the Java programming language and is available under a free license. To start the software (Figure 7) unpack the ZIP file, get a command line in a new directory, and type the following command:

java -jar jave5.jar
Figure 7: JavE offers many opportunities for creating your own ASCII art.

Asciio , a combination of Perl and Gtk, also provides a graphical user interface. Currently, packages are only available for Debian-based systems. Although the application is quirky, it does let you design your own works fairly quickly.

The CMatrix tool from the same package creates a kind of screen saver for a terminal based on the terminal design in the movie The Matrix (Figure 8). A number of switches let you change the display in terms of, for example, the scrolling behavior and the characters used.

Figure 8: Want that Matrix feeling in a terminal? CMatrix can help.

Both MPlayer and VLC Media Player let you display movies that use ASCII characters. To do so in MPlayer, you need to start the player with the -vo aa <file> parameters. The -vo extension stands for video output format and expects the name of the desired output module; in the example, this is aa for ASCII Art.

To do this in VLC Media Player, you need to configure the output. In the menu under Tools | Settings | Video | Output, you can choose between ASCII-art video output for monochrome and Color ASCII art video output for a multicolor display (Figure  9).

Figure 9: Assuming you load the correct output module, the VLC video player plays a normal film as ASCII output.

Worth a Look

If you need inspiration, numerous fan sites exist that you could happily browse for hours [8] [9] [10]. To help you relax, you might want to take a look at the alphabet soup version of the Star Wars movie in your web browser  [11].

The Author

Thomas Winde is a freelancer who offers excursions ( and looks back on many years of experience as a Linux user. As co-organizer of the Chemnitz Linux Days, he is responsible for the newcomers forum, where he and others give talks.

Frank Hofmann ( studied computer science at the Technical University of Chemnitz. He currently works in Berlin for the open source expert network Büro 2.0 as a service provider specializing in printing and typesetting. He is a co-founder of the training company Wizards of FOSS ( Since 2008, he has coordinated the regional meeting of Linux User Groups from Germany's Berlin-Brandenburg region.

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