Home Paintfuck: Brainfuck for art

Paintfuck: Brainfuck for art

Susam Pal’s minimal drawing language CRF[] recently got some attention on r/programming, quickly followed by the slightly more interactive CFRS[] variant (website, reddit).

I found it very enjoyable to play around with, but while I did, I constantly thought about how much the heavy reliance on [] as a looping construct makes it look like Brainfuck, and how it could be very fun to have the same interface available for drawing in Brainfuck.

So I forked her code and made Paintfuck (try here)!

I knew from the beginning that I wanted the canvas itself to be the tape, but I considered a bunch of options for how color would work. Each cell could have three data pointers, for HSV or RGB? But then you’d need a lot of different instructions. Expose just hue or just lightness via the tape value? Maybe combine three independent cells on the tape to select a color? Add an extra bit to determine whether the cell is rendered at all?

In the end, I went with a very simple approach, that I found visually satisfying: Just use the same base colors present in CRF[], and cycle through them mod 8. This enables high contrast and funky patterns, that still give a nice visual impression for what is happening computationally. I might add other color modes later, if I feel the need to encode a jpeg in Paintfuck.

First Impression

Unlike CRF[], it is hard to get Paintfuck to do something that looks cool and interesting. For a while, I even struggled to just flood a line with color (it’s just -[>+]+ btw), but I kept thinking, reasoning and experimenting until I had a pretty decent grasp of some “primitive” shapes and operations.

One thing I absolutely still want to do, but haven’t quite managed at time of writing, is implementing a Rule 110 run. It is definitely possible, but I have real-life obligations upcoming, so I decided to publish it without that particular demo.

Here are pictures of my current demo programs:


A pattern of red and blue dots A simple dotted pattern, created by <----[>+>>>>>>>>V++++]>-

A pattern of diagonal colored lines Diagonal colored stripes, intentionally finite, created by


Three simple colored lines, vertical, horizontal, diagonal Simple lines, mostly showing off how to “fill” a complete line.


A patterned mess of colors Hey, this kinda looks like the pattern on a bus seat from the 90’s.


A face with angry eyebrows A simple face, disappointed by the lack of detail and care taken in the drawing of itself.


Three empty rectangle of different sizes Three boxes, showing off the ‘rounded rectangle’ function


Another mess of colors Another colored mess, except I created this one with intent. If the timelapse function were properly implemented, it would look really cool to watch this grow.


Thick rectangles of color Technical issues, please hold. The code for this could definitely be shortened, by seeding the color for each row first and then copying that into a full line.


Potential Improvements

The current state of Paintfuck is definitely both usable and fun, but there are some improvements that could be made:


The color mode, canvas size and limits such as the maximum number of operations and maximum code length are all arbitrary and have been selected to work for me, in my early stages of experimentation. Technically, there’s no reason that I shouldn’t expose customisation for this.

Animation and debugging tools

I experimented with letting the interpreter run slowly, and changing the state of the canvas in an observable way. This resulted in some really cool animation, but didn’t immediately play nice with changing the code mid-animation. It would be cool to offer an observable interpretation (with customisable delays and stepping, akin to Brainfuck Visualizer).

Since this kind of falls into the category of “debugging/dev tools”, why not expose the entire GridTape state on demand?

Versions of CRF[] created after my fork also include the ? command, which outputs a lot of helpful information right on page. I might want to steal that.

Technically, there’s no reason to not allow inline comments by ignoring all non-instructional input.

Image (and video?) export

While you can export the resulting image by just right-clicking the canvas, this might not be obvious to everyone (I didn’t realise it until I wanted to save pictures for the demo section of this blog post).

Offering a simple ‘Download’-button would be nice. And while we’re at it, why not combine it with the animation mentioned in the previous section and directly offer a download of the animation of the image being drawn?


In theory, repeated position shifts and additions can easily be ‘grouped’ for a quick win in the performance department. This will probably not be necessary until I offer custom resolution, where bigger canvases have ever-increasing portions of their operations dedicated to just traversing the data pointer across space.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading! If you’ve made it this far, I would love it if you went to actually try Paintfuck and maybe showed me some of the cool things you made and/or gave me feedback on the whole thing.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.