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ANSI Art is computer artwork that originated on BBS (bulletin board systems) in the 1980s. It consisted of a combination of the fixed width IBM/OEM (code page 437) font, and 16 colors.

The IBM font consisted of all of the standard keyboard letters and symbols, as well as "extended" characters including shading characters, box drawing characters, card suits, and many others:


IBM/OEM code page 437 font
IBM code page 437, used in BBS ANSI Art.

The 16 ANSI colors
The 16 standard ANSI colors.
 
Clever use of the shading characters (The shading characters) allowed BBS-era ANSI artists to mix two of the standard ANSI colors to create pseudo-colors:

Shading characters blending from one color to another
Pseudo-colors created using shading characters.

The result was artwork like the following:

One caveat of ANSI art was that the brighter 8 ANSI colors could only be used in the foreground of a character. The background had to be one of the 8 non-bright colors. This was sometimes frustrating, however the solid block character () could be used to create what looked like a bright background color with a space as the forecolor.

During the hay day of BBS, ANSI art was so popular that various art groups were formed, releasing hundreds of packs of ANSI artwork files. Although not as popular as it used to be, today there are still some who continue to draw ANSI art.

FANSI 1.0 was first introduced in 2001 as an attempt to bring BBS-like ANSI art to MUDs (multi-user dungeons, which are online multiplayer text-based games). The only deviations from BBS ANSI art were:

  • 9 of the 160 extended characters could not be displayed due to limitations in MUD client software. Fortunately none of these characters were critical, and it didn't effect any of the line drawing or shading characters.
  • Due to a bug in some MUD client software programs, bright background colors were allowed and soon became common practice among FANSI artists. This subsequently became an official part of the standard. (This becomes irrelevant in FANSI 2.0, however, as will be explained shortly.)

As MUD clients became more advanced, some client developers attempted to develop standards that allowed more than the 16 ANSI colors. MXP was developed, and although not solely about new colors, it does allow 16 million colors via hex color values (ie: #FEFE0B). Similarly, some clients began to support a 256 color extension to ANSI developed for the XTERM terminal emulator. This allows less colors but is much easier to implement. Currently, no one color extension has been adopted completely across the board, and usually a MUD client adopts one or the other, but not both.

In 2008, FANSI 2.0 was developed, which adds support for:

  • 256 colors, based upon the xterm 256 color codes. Clients that support only MXP will have the 256 xterm colors converted to equivalent MXP codes. Clients that don't support any form of 256 colors will have the 256 colors downconverted into the standard 16 ANSI colors.
  • No limitation on "bright" background and foreground colors, including the ability to use any of the 256 colors at the same time in a single character.