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E-mails sent today tend to look far different than the e-mails commonly sent in the 1980s when electronic mail and computer networking were first becoming popular. Images, fancy designs, and a variety of colors can decorate e-mail now. Early messages, however, were only text-based and could not contain e-mail graphics or other image-based designs; e-mail art had to be created using only the characters available on a standard keyboard. To make this art, users arranged letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols to create images that were often added to the ends of messages as a type of signature design.
The first electronic message that traveled from one computer to another was sent in the 1970s between two computers that sat side by side. The message was not like e-mails sent today, but it marked a turning point for computer networking. By the late 1980s, e-mail was becoming a popular way for those with computers and basic Internet access to communicate. E-mail art gave users a way to express themselves with a type of picture or design made from common keyboard characters, while still keeping the file small.
Every electronic file, including e-mail, takes up a certain amount of space that is measured in bytes. If an e-mail contains very few bytes, it will take less time to send and receive than a larger file. E-mail graphics and e-mail clip art usually take up more space than simple text messages because they can contain thousands of bytes or more. This is why many people today still use e-mail art that is text based instead of large graphics that take longer to send. The amount of space something takes up as it travels to and from a server is known as bandwidth. Some people still pay for a limited amount of bandwidth usage per month, making text e-mail art more desirable than image-heavy e-mails.
E-mail art is almost always created using a monospaced font. This type of font takes up the same width on a page or screen for each letter, number, and symbol. Courier is an example of a monospaced font that can be used to create clear e-mail art. Electronic mail art done in a proportional font, such as Times New Roman, might have lines that are shorter or longer than desired. That is because proportional fonts contain varying widths that will affect the overall appearance of the design.
E-mail graphics and art are often contained in the signature lines of messages. The signature is the space at the bottom of the e-mail that typically contains the sender's name. The sender's e-mail address, website links, and other information are also sometimes included. A user can find e-mail art online to copy into a signature line, or he can create an original design. Both e-mail clip art and text-based e-mail art are used widely today.