What Is ANSI Art, and Why Was It Popular in the 1990s?

A Red Wolf ANSI Art Example
The Cave BBS / Nukemaster

All through the age of the dial-up BBS, a distinctive fashion of electronic illustration emerged that used 256 text figures and 16 hues to generate a vivid array of artworks. Here’s a glance at why ANSI artwork emerged and how it however serves as a exceptional hallmark of early on line society.

What Is ANSI Artwork?

In the days before home net hit the mainstream, a distinct digital medium referred to as bulletin board devices (BBSes) presented the on line gateway to chatting with other computer system entrepreneurs, exchanging information, and even playing online games.

To connect to a BBS in the course of the golden period, you necessary a personal pc, a dial-up modem, a phone line, and a textual content-dependent terminal emulation application. Terminal emulators (these kinds of as Procomm Furthermore) on the IBM Computer system) could only show 16-colour text and ASCII characters—no bitmapped graphics. This limitation was handed down from the teletype times, wherever unique codes transmitted in a serial fashion represented different letters on a site. As terminals obtained a lot more refined (like the use of video screens in its place of paper), suppliers extra new ways of managing the text output, including positioning the cursor anywhere on the display screen or switching in between kinds of text.

The Cave BBS ANSI Art by Nukemaster
An ANSI developed for the author’s BBS in the early 1990s. The Cave BBS / Nukemaster

ANSI artwork is a unique kind of laptop artwork that originated on the IBM Laptop in the 1980s and was utilised generally as a way to offer colourful electronic illustrations for text-dependent BBSes. The ANSI art palette consists of the 256 characters current in the IBM Computer system “extended ASCII” character set (also called Code website page 437.) In distinct, Code Site 437 authorized a new dimension in text-centered art due to its block people (that could be used equally to pixels,) gradient blocks for shading effects, and specific one-width and double-width lines for drawing containers and menus.

ANSI artworks can make use of 16 foreground and 8 background colours as described by ANSI.SYS in MS-DOS. ANSI artwork relies on exclusive terminal control sequences named “escape codes” (a form of individuals terminal regulate codes we described previously), and that’s wherever the “ANSI” element definitely will come in.

IBM Code Page 437 Characters
The people in IBM Code Web page 437.

ANSI stands for “American National Requirements Institute,” which is an business that maintains specifications in the United States. ANSI artwork gets its title from its use of ANSI escape codes defined by the ANSI X3.64 regular adopted in 1979. These escape codes offer a text-based mostly way to deliver management codes to a text-primarily based terminal to modify colors, situation the cursor anyplace on the screen, and far more. That cursor management capacity also makes it possible for ANSI artists to build animations and fancy animated results these types of as spinning cursors at BBS command prompts.

ANSI art was the hottest in a extensive tradition of text-based mostly character artwork practiced as ASCII art on BBSes and teletypes just before the IBM PC—and even on typewriters for practically 100 several years prior to the Computer era.

Linked: What Are Teletypes, and Why Were being They Used with Pcs?

Why Did Folks Use ANSI Art?

With out any other graphical capabilities to tumble back on, a lot of Pc-based BBSes utilized ANSI artwork as decoration and embellishment that additional character to their programs. And BBS callers from time to time traded or collected ANSI artworks (with the file extension .ANS) for pleasurable.

Also, BBS doorway video games (these types of as TradeWars 2002 and Legend of the Purple Dragon, for case in point) employed ANSI artwork for title screens and vibrant illustrations that added environment to the recreation knowledge.

TradeWars 2002 ANSI BBS Intro Screen
EIS

To develop ANSI artwork, people generally utilised a distinctive system known as an ANSI editor. The earliest acknowledged specialised ANSI editor was ANSIdraw, unveiled about 1985. The subsequent yr, Ian Davis introduced TheDraw, which turned the most well-known ANSI art editor for lots of decades. Later, dedicated ANSI artists switched to far more innovative systems this sort of as ACiDDraw and PabloDraw, which is currently maintained now.

Once ANSI became a preferred artwork type on BBSes, it did not acquire prolonged in advance of a committed ANSI artwork neighborhood sprung up. Unique groups this kind of as ACiD Productions (originally brief for “ANSI Creators In Demand”) and iCE (“Insane Creator Enterprises”) would collect the most effective artwork from a group of artists and distribute them frequently in “art packs” (compressed information complete of ANSIs) that have been traded on BBSes.

What Transpired to ANSI Artwork?

In the mid-1990s, the rise of the graphical web designed serial terminal textual content-based mostly communications appear obsolete. The graphical internet could show bitmapped illustrations or photos, various substantial-resolution fonts, and could be interacted with making use of a mouse in a present day graphical user interface (GUI.) In distinction, the terminal-like expertise on a BBS was largely a vestige of an earlier age ahead of the GUI.

A Legend of the Red Dragon title screen ANSI art for BBS
Seth A. Robinson

After the online came alongside, BBS utilization dropped significantly in the mid-to-late 1990s, producing ANSI art less necessary. Also, around that time, Windows became extensively adopted in the Laptop planet, and most of the fonts did not contain the special “extended ASCII” characters of Code Website page 437 that produced ANSI art perform. So even if you known as a BBS in a terminal emulator running below Home windows, the fonts would normally not render ANSI artwork appropriately. Also, proportional fonts (with variable spacing) created equally ANSI and ASCII art split, considering the fact that they relied on fastened-width fonts to get the job done appropriately.

ANSI art examples today

Still, whilst ANSI artwork died again dramatically in the early 2000s (and some ANSI artists transitioned to bitmapped art unveiled as JPEGs), a resurgence in BBS nostalgia has introduced the art from again from the edge more than the past 15 decades. Nowadays, some die-tough ANSI artists nevertheless build ANSI artwork both of those for contemporary BBSes and for viewing on the net thanks to special web-sites.

In truth, if you’d like to check out ANSI art these days, you can look at intensive archives at each 16shade.rs and Artpacks.org. Equally websites permit you check out ANSI art as graphical illustrations or photos in your browser with no require to any specific program. If you want to watch ASCII art, ASCIIart.edu has you covered. Have enjoyable!

Connected: The 1st Web site: How the World-wide-web Looked 30 Several years Ago