The magnetic domain structure of micron-sized elliptic permalloy elements has been studied by magnetic force microscope (MFM) measurements, and has been compared to results from micromagnetic simulations. The elements all have the same aspect ratio, whereas the inter-elemental distance has been varied. Both the zero-field states and in field domain configurations have been studied. In zero-applied field, two different stable flux-closure states were found in both the MFM measurements and in the simulations. The different stable domain states occur as a result of minute differences in the local magnetic environment occurring during the demagnetization process. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.