Monodraw - Super accelerated ASCII Art Editor for Mac OS X

A picture is worth a thousand words and a good one worth a million dollars. Anyways, this is not going to be about Art 101. We come across the need to draw a quick picture to help explain something in text as it helps with visual cognitive learning. To do so, the most commonly used option that I am aware and have seen people use is MS Word, mostly to add a circle to an image to highlight the area of interest. If you are an Enterprise developer, you are already aware of the UML plagued ER diagrams or perhaps class diagrams in Visual Studio or even MindMaps using FreeNode, MindNode etc. These representations help understand the relationships better.


Developers are not artists. So it is not about drawing but creating a visual representation of the abstract concept. This is mainly in the form of relationship diagrams or boxes and circles like sets, Venn that explain the relationship. If you are serious about this, then you must have used MS Visio on Windows or Omni Graffle on the Mac like I have for years. However, (being old school and as a person that sends out my emails in Plain Text as a Rich Text email adds extra KB's for no reason) I personally prefer to quickly draw a diagram using the keyboard with the ASCII characters, like ---------- or =========== or +--------+


There are a couple of reasons as to why I prefer ASCII drawings.
1. PORTABLE, you do not require to open them in a separate program or viewer
2. FILE SIZE, they take up as much space as the characters in the drawing unlike images that take up 4 bytes(characters) for every pixel. So a small ASCII box of 5x3 like here below
|   |
would be 15 characters in ASCII and quite large and visible, however with an Image, that wouldn't even be enough for the header, and could only represent 4 pixels. A screen capture of this very box at 39x39 pixels is 6,878 bytes or approximately 8K as a file on the mac.
3. MINIMALISTIC, they are basic and convey what they require without the additional fluff
4. PRETTY, though this can be a matter of personal choice, ASCII diagrams can be prettier than plain line diagrams

OK, So what?

The only thing that you ever really need for making ASCII art is ASCII characters and they are all available on the keyboard and in fact you use them on a daily basis whenever you type. You can simply open Notepad and start with adding spaces and then replacing a space with a character to see how they all sit together. The only issue with this is it can get tedious and painful.

What IF....
* there was something like an Editor that allowed you to draw with ASCII characters?
* the editor allowed you to work with the elements like they were layers?
* the character art used Unicode to smoothen the drawing and look more like lines than chunky blocks of characters?
* the editor offered most of the main features available in packages focused on creating line diagrams?

What would it look like?

                                                             |                         |
                                                             |                         |
                                           +---------------->|  Character Format       |
                                           |                 |                         |
                                           |                 |                         |
+-------------------------+                |                 +-------------------------+
|                         |                |
|                         |                |
| Monodraw Diagram        |-----Export-----+
|                         |                |
|                         |                |
+-------------------------+                |
                                           |                +-------------------------+
                                           |                |                         |
                                           |                |                         |
                                           +--------------->|  PNG/SVG Format         |
                                                            |                         |
                                                            |                         |

A short answer to the questions above in a picture (worth more than a thousand words) is Monodraw. It is an Editor that allows you to create text based diagrams that can be included in your source code or emails and take lesser space and most importantly are part of that document, not an external one. If you want to include a class diagram or workflow in the comments, you can simply draw the diagram, export and select the comment style.

What about smart editing?

One of the problems with drawing with text is adjusting the diagrams across rows and columns. With Monodraw that is a breeze. Here is a quick GIF to show you how easy it is to adjust the same.

You can do many of the things that you can with most softwares that provide diagramming support.

The diagrams look choppy

Hmmmm, I would not put that to a matter of preference as diagrams made with ASCII characters do tend to be choppy, after all they can only use the shapes of the characters available. Which is why the text smileys are :) ;) :D :P etc, where as there are super large animated stickers and emoji available these days. It is the unicode characters that come to the rescue. You might have seen plenty of signatures with upside down characters, Japanese characters to create cute characters and so on. Similarly, Mododraw uses Unicode to create better diagrams that are more line drawing than series of ---- and +

Even with pure ASCII characters, you can achieve so much more. For those that started using computers years ago (pre Y2K) might even recollect the blue screens with white/red text used by installers of most games. The text below is not an image, but created using text characters.

│                                                                         │▓▓
│         ____     ___ __ __  ____    ___ __    __  ___ ___    ___        │▓▓
│        |    \   /  _]  T  |l    j  /  _]  T__T  T|   T   T  /  _]       │▓▓
│        |  D  ) /  [_|  |  | |  T  /  [_|  |  |  || _   _ | /  [_        │▓▓
│        |    / Y    _]  |  | |  | Y    _]  |  |  ||  \_/  |Y    _]       │▓▓
│        |    \ |   [_l  :  ! |  | |   [_l  `  '  !|   |   ||   [_        │▓▓
│        |  .  Y|     T\   /  j  l |     T\      / |   |   ||     T       │▓▓
│        l__j\_jl_____j \_/  |____jl_____j \_/\_/  l___j___jl_____j       │▓▓
│                                                                         │▓▓
│                                    │▓▓

Created with Monodraw

On a personal recollection it reminded me of the time when drawing text box frames on screen was the rage, either via C using the curses library or in FoxPro using the Box command. On Unix systems there was a utility called Banner that allowed you to create large text like a banner, then there was Figlet a utility that allowed you to create fancy text using ASCII characters and include them in email signatures, BBS headers, etc. I definitely recollect using since 93.

What else

Monodraw advertises itself as a "Powerful ASCII art editor designed for the Mac" and that is what it does. It does so like a professional editor with layers and selections that are easy to move, layer, edit and delete. It offers a palette of ASCII and Unicode characters to choose from while using the various tools. The thing to note about Monodraw its that it is an early r at ver 1.0(83) which means that there are a lot many things to be expected to be added to Monodraw.

There is special emphasis on smart lines and shapes, that retain their connectivity while you can move the boxes around. As you can see in the animation above. The lines themselves can be altered to behave in different ways, like Automatic diagram connection, stepped lines. The end points can also be customised to have arrows, circles in fact any ASCII/Unicode character that you want.

From a user experience, if you are used to using Mac applications, Monodraw is seamless and intuitive, there is not much to think about while working with it. As a user that has been using ASCII art for over 2 decades and has used several tools, the only other tool that comes close to what Monodraw offers is Jave. With which there are a feature or two that Jave does better but Monodraw wins hands-down on most other features. Personally I am impressed with the ability to work with layers and modify them individually.

The couple of things that I feel could be added (I am sure might be on the roadmap)
1. A Circle shape, at this time Monodraw does not create a Circle/Oval shape.

2. The pencil tools needs to be better, it currently uses a fixed character. This could be varied to use different characters to provide a more realistic line, like this example here

3. If a selection could be moved. When you select a couple of character in a diagram, if you press a key, the entire selection is replaced with that character. However if there was a way to select and move that row or column of characters, it would be so much more helpful.

4. Recording and Playback. This is a wishlist, a lot of ASCII artists prefer to be able to record the keystrokes and then play them back thereby allowing for ASCII animations.

These wish list features do not detract from the usability of Monodraw and might be added soon in the upcoming features.


Monodraw is a very useful tool in the arsenal of a developer, specially when it takes away the process of dealing with actual ASCII and helps layer the same to easily create stunning ASCII art and diagrams.

Monodraw is now available from the Helftone website as a trial version, you can purchase a license and activate your copy.

Software : Monodraw
Version : 1.0 (83)
Publisher : Helftone
Website :
Twitter : @monodraw
Platform : Mac OS X (10.9.x or higher)
Demo : Available
Price : $49.99 (USD)

Note: We do not have a giveaway for Monodraw at the moment, follow us on Twitter at @whatsin4me, if we might have a giveaway, you would be informed about it.