With a bit of creativity, you can design an ambigram, in which the way the characters are formed allows the same message or a new message to be revealed when the image is rotated, mirrored, or perceived in a different way. Here is an ambigram that is a mirror image from left to right, forming a sort of visual palindrome:
Here is an example of a figure-ground ambigram.
The rotational ambigram below appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1908. The word “chump” reads the same when rotated upside-down.
An ambigram can also present a different message when rotated. One of the earliest known ambigrams is at the end of Peter Newell’s 1893 book Topsys & Turvys.
Here is the same image flipped over.
Ambigrams can also exist in three dimensions, as pictured on the front cover of Douglas Hofstadter’s book Gödel, Escher, Bach.
The artist Bathsheba creates ambigram sculptures of letters, similar to the one pictured on the cover above. Here is another example:
How to Create an Ambigram
There are many types of ambigrams, but let’s say you want to create a mirror-image style ambigram. You will need to start with some word, and it is traditional to begin with one’s own name. My name is Brendan, so I started by writing my name out in block capital letters:
B R E N D A N
In order for the word to be a mirror image from left to right, first take a look at what’s going on in the middle. I have the letter N in the middle, which is most symmetrical in its lower-case form: n. Next I looked at which letters would have to match each other. Moving from the middle outwards, the E would have to be a reverse image of the D, the R would have to reverse-match the A, and the B would reverse-match the N. Of these, the capital R and capital A seemed easiest, as they are similar shapes. So I would have a combination of capital and lower-case letters. Capital B and capital N just seemed too different, so I went with a lower-case b. Then, to make two letters match, I played around with the shapes to find something in between, that could represent both letters. Here is a basic framework:
Once you have the basic shapes down, you can add as many flourishes as you like. There are also ambigram generators of varying quality available online. Once you begin exploring ambigrams, you may never look at words and letters the same way again.