Keeping a 1-to-1 character ratio; why or why not?

May 27th, 2009 | By | Category: Design Secrets

In an ideal world, when all the pixels are in place & every color is perfect, every letter matches up in an ambigram. But since it is not an ideal world, we have to make some adjustments as artists. The best part about being an artist is the ability to put our own spin on an idea or a thought, and if that doesn’t work, spin it in a different direction! When referring to ambigrams, the phrase “put your own spin on it” can be taken quite literally.

I would like to focus on these two types of ambigrams:

Rotational – reads the same way when rotated 180º degrees. Certain variations of this exist; for example, one word can be read one way, and when you rotate the word 45 degrees or 90 degrees, you read a completely different word.

Symbiotogram – an ambigram that depicts a different word when rotated 180º degrees.

As I mentioned earlier, in an ideal ambigram (rotational or symbiotogram), there is the same number of letters in both words, all the letters will match up well and you can keep the ratio of letter 1-to-1. So, for what reasons would you want to alter the ratio and combine two (or more) letters?

In a rotational ambigram, just because there is the same number of characters in either direction, does not mean that the 1-to-1 ratio is optimal for legibility & readability. Combining several characters in one direction, while reading them as one character in another direction, could improve the legibility of the ambigram and make life a bit easier for the artist.

The key to creating a successful 2-to-1 ratio is to explore multiple variations to determine which character(s) will work better for which ratio. Sometimes two characters will blend together seamlessly in one direction while forming a perfectly legible single character in another direction. Let me illustrate this point by using an ambigram which utilizes this approach.



For this particular ambigram, I selected the names of my two friends who recently became engaged. Initially, I set the words in Myriad to look for matching stems, crossbars, curves and strokes. Almost immediately, I noted that the ‘u’ would be a problem when matched up to the upside-down ‘i’. The next thought was about how well the verticals in the ‘u’ matched up to both the ‘l’ and the ‘i’. There was my first 2-to-1 match-up!


Ok, so the u/li are matched up well. My eyes were then drawn to the central character of the ambigram, the ‘h.’ Granted I set the word using a lowercase ‘h’, but decided to use an uppercase ‘H’ instead, because that is a natural match to itself upside down. I also noticed how the ‘&’ character matched the curves of the ‘s’ really closely. I knew that I had that problem solved as well and that the s/& would be a good match for each other.

The only letters remaining were the ro/a combination. At this point, there was no choice but to make it a 2-to-1 ratio because I cornered myself by matching up the u/li. The shapes of the ‘o’ and ‘a’ are pretty similar to each other. Now you may think that I need contacts because those letters have nothing in common except for being vowels.

Here, I would like to make a very important point: to determine whether or not a 2-to-1 (or more) ratio will be successful, you need to see it in context of the full word and not just by itself on a piece of paper. Other than some basic curvatures, those two characters are different. Each has a different personality, a different signature if you will. But, combine those two letters, place them in the context in which they would be seen, and your perception of those characters will change. The proper context will not only help you understand whether the ratio is successful or not but will also help you perceive the word, as well as determine the legibility & readability.

At this point, the ‘r’ looked like the odd letter out. There did not seem to be any room for it. But since I had the other letters figured out so well (at least for the time being) I thought that the ‘r’ would fit in later. And…


…it did! If you look at the right side of the above ambigram, the way the ‘r’ merges with the ‘a’ and ‘l’ makes it look like an exaggerated spur of the lowercase ‘a.’ On the opposite side, the merger of the ‘l’ and the ‘r’, along with the slight separation at the terminal of the ‘r’ (see above image), helps define the r/o combination while upside down, it appears as an exaggerated ‘a.’

And, the final ambigram:


In the final version, I ended up using two 2-to-1 ratios; they ended up following each other, and when both of them were combined, they helped make certain letters more prominent in either direction, as well as help disguise other letters. As you can see, 1-to-1 is not always the optimal solution. Even if a word matches up well utilizing 1-to-1 ratios, try to experiment with different ratios; it will train your eye & your hand, as well as your ability to recognize certain character transitions and potential for unique & unusual combinations.

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  1. Recently I’ve been having trouble with my unborn daughters name. This article has really changed the way I approach ambigrams. I have a new respect for the 2 to 1 ratio, Thank You

  2. The result is hard to read, but the method works :)

  3. WOW!
    I never heard of the 2-to-1 concept.

    I found your site today, as I was drawing my second ambigram.
    Excellent resource!

  4. honestly i dont totally love the result because the & doesnt really look like an &, but i get the concept, and im sure that could be fixed with a few tweeks. however, all in all this article was really helpful

  5. This prompted me to try making an ambigram with my name and my girlfriend’s name, Elizabeth. I think I’m having pretty good luck, except with the M/E conversion. I tried tipping it on its side to use those similarities, but it looks funky. Other than that, I’m having fun turning the e into the dot of the i formed by the b, and trying to find a nice stylistic way to turn two l’s and an l and an i into A’s is interesting as well. Maybe I will find some other tips in other articles to help with the problems I am experiencing.

  6. [...] Keeping 1-to1 character ratio, why or why not? [...]

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