ASCII Image Renderer 🖼️

July 2, 20244 min read
ASCII Image Renderer 🖼️

We will be building a simple ASCII image renderer.

What is ASCII?

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) is a data-encoding format for electronic computer communication. ASCII assigns standard numeric values to letters, numerals, punctuation marks, and other computer characters.

ascii table

Understanding what an image is

An image is a collection of pixels, each pixel can hold a color value in the RGB format.

RED ->      (255, 0, 0)
GREEN ->    (0, 255, 0)
BLUE ->     (0, 0, 255)
BLACK ->    (0, 0, 0)
WHITE ->    (255, 255, 255)

We create different colors by blending red, green, and blue, with each color's value ranging from 0 to 255. A value of 0 represents the absence of that color, while 255 represents the fully saturated version of that color.

My Approach

To render each pixel in a terminal, we need to calculate the color of each pixel. Instead of using colors, we will render the image in black and white. We have to determine the brightness of each pixel, which can range from the darkest (0, 0, 0) to the brightest (255, 255, 255). This brightness will be calculated by finding the average value of red, green, and blue for each pixel.

brightness = int((R + G + B) / 3)

Once we have the brightness of each pixel, we will represent each brightness value using specific characters. These characters will reflect the brightness values, ranging from dark to light.

PIXELS = ".'`^\",:;Il!i><~+_-?][}{1)(|\/tfjrxnuvczXYUJCLQ0OZmwqpdbkhao*#MW&8%B@$"

For example, we use a period . for the darkest part compared to a dollar sign $ because it doesn't cover as much space relative to where it is rendered. We will be using this image of Johnny Bravo for testing.

johnny bravo

Rendering the Image

I will render the images in a manner similar to a printer, row by row. This involves looping through each pixel of an image, mapping the pixel to a character, and adding a line break based on the width of the image. For this project, I am using Python and processing each image with the pillow package.

code snippet

Considering terminal width

In the same way that images appear differently based on the screen resolution, we also want to adjust how images are displayed based on the width of the terminal. If the number of pixels or characters per row is greater than the terminal's width, each line will break, causing the image to not render as expected. To address this, we need to compress each image so that it has a maximum width equal to the size of the active terminal. We don't need to worry about the height, as users can simply scroll to view the entire image.

import os

TERMINAL_WIDTH = os.get_terminal_size().columns

img ="RGB")
width, height = img.size
image_ratio = width / height

resized_width = int(TERMINAL_WIDTH * coverage)
if width > resized_width:
    img = img.resize((resized_width, int(resized_width / image_ratio)))
    width, height = img.size

Where coverage is a value between 0 and 1 that represents how much of the terminal width should be used for the image.

rendered image

Issue with terminal font

The image appears stretched vertically because of the font size relative to the line height. To resolve this, we will double the number of pixels or characters per row to achieve a better approximation. Additionally, we still need to consider the width of the terminal.

resized_width = int(TERMINAL_WIDTH * coverage * 1 / PIXEL_WIDTH_MULTIPLIER)

Within the for loop.

 pixel_art += PIXELS[pixel_index] * PIXEL_WIDTH_MULTIPLIER


rendered image fixed When you have a closer look you'll see each unique character that combine to form the image. rendered image zoomed


This project was relatively easy to do and helps to understand how images work. It's fascinating to see how everything can be represented numerically. That's why I enjoy working with microcontrollers and sensors because we're essentially converting signals and physical properties into something we can work with numerically. Once we have those numbers, we can build just about anything!