Designing a monogram

Although I don’t get many commissions to design monograms, they are still one of my favourite forms of lettering as they can often produce unexpected challenges and no two monograms are ever the same. Sometimes the chosen letters provide a natural solution but often it can take a few attempts to coax the curves and shapes into a nicely balanced design.

Fig 1: Examples of monograms that worked naturally

examples of monograms

Fig 2: Example of a monogram that needed extra revisions

Example of a monogram that needed extra revisions

Recently, I had a slightly unusual request to produce a monogram that could double up as both a single design and be split apart into individual letters. The combined letters were ‘A&P’; this would also be used as a separate ‘A’ and a ‘P’.

So I thought I’d share my thoughts on designing a monogram and a step-by-step explanation of my process. But what exactly is a monogram?

Definition of a monogram

My personal definition of a monogram is simply two or more letters that link together to form a device. Wikipedia has a more in-depth article:

The brief

Before I start, I glean as much information from the client as possible about their preferred style (roman, script, flourished etc).  They may already have very fixed ideas about what they want, be open to suggestions or occasionally it can be difficult to get any feedback. Sometimes they have seen a monogram on my monogram design page and want a similar design.

Sketching the monogram

Fig 3: Sketching the monogram

sketching the monogram


I begin, as I always do, with a series of rough ideas; quick pencil sketches to get the ball rolling. I normally try to get down at least three to four different ideas for the first round. I don’t worry too much about quality at this stage; there’s no point in trying to make the drawings too polished until the basic design has been approved.

The sketches are scanned into the computer and e-mailed to the client to peruse over and give their feedback. If they don’t like any of the ideas I try to pin down the problem and start the sketching process over again.

However, if one or two of the ideas resonate then there are two ways to move forward. The first route is sketch a few more variations on the chosen theme and re-send them to the client. Or I may feel that the design is close enough to start artworking it.

Artworking the monogram

For the next stage I use a computer drawing program and my preference is Adobe Illustrator (I use this at some point for a lot of my digital type/lettering work) as it is vector based. Without going into technical details, this means the curves can be manipulated with precision and the design can be enlarged or reduced without loss of quality.

First of all I place the sketch into Illustrator, make a new layer and start tracing the outlines using the pen tool. Sometimes I’ll add a few guidelines to help but on the whole I try to judge by eye. I trace round the outlines fairly quickly, building up the shapes in chunks. To speed up the process I copy and paste any shapes that are the same or similar. The sketch layer is switched off and I begin the process off bending and coaxing the outlines, using the bezier handles to manipulate the curves.

The illustration below shows the bezier curves in Illustrator.

Fig 4: Example of a monogram design in Illustrator

Monogram showing bezier handles

If you want to find out more about how to use bezier curves in Illustrator visit these two links:

The monogram is now starting to look more like a finished piece. For this particular project I had to produce a number of variations. My initial idea was to design the A and P in such a way that when they were placed together the ampersand would be formed from the swashes of the two letters. The client liked the idea but was unsure about the shapes of the individuals letters, especially the ‘P’, so a number of variations were drawn up.

Fig 5: Variations of the monogram design at artwork stage

Monogram at initial artwork stage

The final monogram

The client finally chose from one of the variations shown above. I make one final edit, tidying up any loose ends; making sure the curves are smooth, the stroke thicknesses are even and the design is balanced. The monogram is then saved in various file formats: eps, png, and jpg (and if the client requests it, psd). Below is the finished monogram with the individual letters.

Fig 6: The finished monogram

Finished monogram

Commission your own monogram

If you would like a unique monogram designed for your own use (they look great on stationery, as a logotype or a tattoo design), a special event such as a wedding or to mark an anniversary, check out the monogram design page or use the contact page.

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