TheDraw’s Lost ANSI Art Fonts

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Sample ANSI art by Roy/SAC

Most people know what ASCII Art is – its art created by arranging text into pictures. ANSI art is also text art, but it’s a little more special. It allows you to create text art that includes additional text characters, color, and limited animation. It gained popularity in the tech underground of the mid-80’s, and a community of artists emerged and flourished. It’s hay day was short lived though. In the 90’s unicode became the standard for encoding text, and since ANSI Art was based on IBM’s extended ASCII* character set, its presence became more and more uncommon.

These days the most editors can’t open ANSI Art files. If you try to view them they just wind up looking like gibberish. This doesn’t mean the art form is dead though – fans of the genre have gone out of their way to create special editors and viewers so that the art can still be appreciated, but the community is much smaller than it once was.

The Lost Fonts

About a year ago, someone named Aaron Haun sent me a zip containing over a hundred user created ANSI art font files from an old DOS app called TheDraw. He thought I might be able to provide a place to preserve them since I’d done so for the AOL Macro fonts. The only problem was neither of us knew how to decode the files within the zip.

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Aaron’s ASCII Tattoo

Armed with copies of TheDraw and ACiDDraw, I decided to do some ASCII archaeology. I ended up going through the same rigmarole I did when I was trying to get Mark Zuckerberg’s Vader Fader to work, and was able to load up the old DOS apps on a Windows 98 virtual machine. This unfortunately didn’t help much, but it was cool to see the old apps in action.

After some more research, I learned most of IBM’s Extended ASCII characters had unicode counter parts. Since unicode is easy to display, I wrote a script to process the font files and return unicode compatible versions. This script also stripped out the color information. Though I felt the colors were neat, I couldn’t figure out how TheDraw was encoding them**.

What was left were some pretty neat ASCII fonts from the late 80’s / early 90’s. Created for use in emails and on old BBS systems, today it appears these fonts have mostly disappeared from the internet. After talking with Aaron, the only two sites that appear to host ANSI art font files are archives.thebbs.org and slbbs.com, and in both cases you’ll need a special ANSI art viewer. Aaron told me he originally grabbed the font zip from ASCII Artist Roy/SAC’s web page (roysac.com), but that site appears to have been shutdown a year ago. Roy/SAC does still have a deviantart page though, and you can see what his site used to look like at the internet archive (NSFW-ish).

With the fonts in hand, I decided the best thing I could do was convert them into FIGlet fonts so people could once again start using them. I created simple web-based FIGlet Editor to assist in the process, and ported over the fonts I felt looked best going from ANSI to FIGlet. Sadly this means I only ported over a hand full (10 total), since a lot of ANSI’s charm is in its color. Plus, even with the decoded files and my editor, it took a decent amount of time to make the fonts.

You can see what the ported over fonts look like in the screen shot below or you can browse the “ANSI FIGlet Fonts” section of TAAG and use them yourself. Later this week I’ll also add them to the figlet.js repo if you want to download the individual figlet files.

You can see what the originals look like on Roy/SAC’s old font page (internet archive link). At some point it might be interesting make something that would show the ANSI fonts as they once were, but for now I thought it’d be cool to at least provide a way to use some of them in a stripped down form.

More ANSI Art

Notes

* This is somewhat confusing because there’s an extended version of ASCII known as ANSI that was done by Microsoft. This leads me to believe that the name ANSI art was a mistake that wasn’t noticed until it was too late (plus “IBM Extended ASCII Art” doesn’t have much of a ring to it). Making this even more convoluted, Microsoft’s ANSI character extension was never standardized by ANSI, so it makes no sense to call it ANSI in the first place.
** TheDraw didn’t encode colors with ANSI escape codes.

2014.01.22 Edit: I updated the font screen shot to include all of the fonts instead of just 4.
2014.05.18 Update: Roy/SAC has recently relaunched his site and created a neat tool for working with fonts from TheDraw.

17 thoughts on “TheDraw’s Lost ANSI Art Fonts”

  1. Wow, great job! I’m a great admirer of ANSI art, and even tried doing some of it myself (it actually looked pretty good, IMHO). It just bothers me that I wasn’t able to follow the BBS’ and Usenet’s era… those were the days.
    Great blog by the way, keep it up!

  2. It is awesome that you were willing and able to include the ANSI fonts as a part of your TAAG program. You pwned it. My tattoo looks great on your post btw ( I always knew it would make me famous lol ).

    Thanks again for your efforts. You are the one who deserves the 1337 tattoo just consider mine free advertisement for your work ( people ask about it all the time, I tell them about your site, and they proceed to call me a nerd, and I can’t really debate that).

    @rOOT, glad to see I’m not the only ANSI art and old school BBS admirer. +1 Nostalgia. There are still some telnet BBS running some classic L.O.R.D. doors. Good fun.

    1. No problem, thanks again for the idea and passing along the fonts! The tattoo is definitely pretty cool, it’s probably the first of its kind (I did some searching and wasn’t able to find anyone anything similar – closest was an ASCII art skull and bones).

  3. Nice man! I was going crazy trying to get windows 95/98 so I could use x99’s macrodrawer that I still have saved as a zip file. I came across your site and I no longer need it because u got tons of fonts including ones that were in x99’s macro shop. Good to see old sko0lers man! AOL were the days! Not sure if you program but perhaps you can make an Android/iOS app for this? I think its a good idea, it perhaps could make u rich too (just remember me if you do, lol). Gggreat job! Some l33t work.

    1. Procrastination has kept me from updating the repo. However, I’ve gone and added the new fonts so they should be there now:

      https://github.com/patorjk/figlet.js

      They listed above, but here they are for easy reference:

      3D-ASCII.flf
      ANSI Shadow.flf
      Bloody.flf
      Calvin S.flf
      Delta Corps Priest 1.flf
      Electronic.flf
      Elite.flf
      Stronger Than All.flf
      THIS.flf
      The Edge.flf

    1. Glad to see you’re back! I updated the bottom of the post to link to the new tool you created. Also, thanks for writing up a specification for the *.tdf format!

  4. Mr. Roy, I found all of those thedraw fonts long ago, as well as all other content on your site. It’s a long boring story, but it’s almost surreal to see you post in response to this.. I thought you had been kidnapped, maybe by iCE or ACiD . Thanks for your work and for making an effort to preserve an era of time that should not be forgotten.

    I can’t believe years ago I was searching too hard for ascii art and came across thedraw ansi fonts on your site, sadly, i downloaded your entire site man! I ripped the whole thing, and went through the content often. Often enough to pass the idea of adding the fonts to the creator of TAAG.

    Now that some TheDraw fonts are available on TAAG, inspired mostly by content only available on your site, which went down, stopped the world from turning, but I saved and passed on to preserve in case you never showed up again, I think TAAG would look great on your Links to ASCII ANSI Related Online Tools page πŸ™‚

    Thanks again, still can’t believe ROY of SAC just resurfaced and commented on this post.

  5. Greetings from Cthulu of ACiD! I was always on the periphery of the textmode art scene (in administrative and ancillary roles) and after the whole thing went pear-shaped I, too, despaired at the fate of textfiles’ TDF archives. I kept myself awake at night pondering what it would take to convert them into ugly TrueType fonts, and the figlet solution was also an option that tripped across my mind.

    It is a great relief to see that someone has done good by this footnote to a footnote (but c’mon — PD SysOps relied on these fonts a great deal when they couldn’t find any elites to beautify their boards for cred and warez) and enshrined them in some way. (I even used the Elite font for a couple of my personal projects — eg. http://www.sito.org/cgi-bin/egads/showart?show=yoy.0030&idonly=YOY&cat=texty&seq=9 in tandem with several Figlet fonts for lack of a qualified textmode fontician to illuminate my poem for me)

    1. hey bun former LZ member… you taught me some VB back in the day and from it I eventually became a successful software developer. Hope like went well.

      While I’m here and we are talking about AOL. Thanks for the API spy back in the day pat it was truly the best!

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