My fascination with writing systems gave me the idea to create a poster containing every Unicode character. Unicode is a method for encoding characters, like ASCII, but it can represent virtually every writing system in the world, not just English. I estimated I could print the whole thing on about a 36″×36″ poster. Well, my estimates were off. It turned out to be about 6 feet by 12 feet. Likewise, the process of creating the poster turned out to be much more involved than I imagined.
To make a long story short, I downloaded all the character chart PDFs from the Unicode web site. I then made screen captures of every single page, assembling them into code charts in Photoshop, and saving them as PNG images. All together, there were 93 PDFs resulting in 468 grayscale PNGs (102 MBs).
I then wrote software in Java to load in these PNG images, dice them up, and assemble them into the final poster image. The math worked out nicely so that 256 characters would be almost exactly 6 feet wide if printed at 300 dpi. A width of 256 was chosen because most character subsets begin and end at multiples of that value. The software would eliminate unallocated rows to keep things relatively compact.
The image only took about 10 minutes to generate, and its final size was 22,017×42,807 pixels. I actually had this poster printed and hung it on my wall for a while. I had to have it printed in 3-foot-wide strips since that was the maximum size of Kinko’s large-format printer. Also, since I didn’t have 12-foot ceilings in my apartment I decided to do it in two side-by-side 6′×6′ parts. It only cost a little over $20 to get it printed, which was surprising. Truthfully, I think they may have rung it up wrong, but I didn’t complain.
Successively closer zooms of the source image.
As you might expect, Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters take up most of the chart.
One complete, full-res row of the chart (422KB). (May be too large to view in some browsers)