Go with Garamond, reduce printing costs

From left to right, the fonts in the study: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Comic Sans, plus the commonly used Arial and Helvetica.

There’s a fascinating story on the CNN website today. Fascinating, at least, to those interested in reducing printing costs. Hard to believe no one thought of it before.

A teenager, 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani, was trying to think of ways to save money and reduce waste at his Pittsburgh-area school. He noticed an increasing amount of paper handouts and decided to use his computer skills to find a way to cut down on all that paper. Recycling and double-sided printing had already been considered, so he took another tack: Reducing the amount of ink used.

It seems printer ink is more expensive per ounce than French perfume, something long suspected by anyone who has ever had to buy printer ink. Doing the math reveals that “Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38 per ounce, while the equivalent amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75.”

Mirchandani conducted tests with the most commonly used letters in the alphabet, e, t, a, o and r. Then he measured how much ink was used to print the letters in four different typefaces, Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Comic Sans. He also enlarged the letters, printed them out on cardstock, and weighed each one.

His findings? His school district could reduce its ink consumption by 24%, saving as much as $21,000 annually, just by changing its standard font to Garamond, a font featuring thick and thin strokes.

Mirchandani went on to publish his findings in the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI), which challenged him to apply his method to the federal government. Not surprisingly he found the US Government Printing Office could save money by changing fonts. It remains to be seen whether the GPO will do so, as they are trying to transition from paper to digital documents. And, well, the government is the government.

The CNN story doesn’t say which fonts are currently in use at Mirchandani’s school and the GPO, or what consideration those entities might have given to legibility, readability, etc. when they chose their fonts. And no adult would consider adopting Comic Sans as a standard for anything. But saving money by changing to a font requiring less ink is a remarkably simple idea with great potential. Certainly it’s an option I never considered in all my years as a managing editor trying to reduce my printing costs. Lighter weight, cheaper stock; a smaller, more condensed font; less white space; narrower margins; tighter line spacing; shorter stories; fewer stories; cheaper covers; cheaper binding; less frequent publication. I thought I’d tried everything. But I never thought of using a font that required less ink.

There may be hope for the younger generation after all. Wish I could say the same for the publishing industry.

25 thoughts on “Go with Garamond, reduce printing costs

  1. Brilliant ! – and anyway, Garamond is a most attractive font ! Oh, bother: Gunta just said that. Sighh …
    Happily for me, I print very little: but in the days when I was writing the various drafts of my book it was a v. different story. Wish I’d been aware of this amazingly common-sensical idea then. :-}

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever printed enough at home to make a consideration like this important. But lordy do I know about ink costs. I’ve bought a new printer once or twice because new ones come with ink and are cheaper than ink refills for the old printer. Hard to believe color printers have become a disposable item. I can remember paying more than $2,000 for an HP Laserjet printer back in the day, and it was only b/w.

      1. My IT support bloke says that HP hardware remains good, but that the software is such crap that it’s not worth having the hardware … for what that’s worth. Like, zilch in terms of the setting of your comment. LOL !! Sometimes I despair of me …

        1. Well, that was a long time ago (1990ish) and I needed a printer that could handle PageMaker and PostScript fonts. Since then the only decent printer I’ve had was a Canon (I think), although the one I have now is junk. That old HP was built like a tank and performed flawlessly.

          1. If you still had it, it wouldn’t, because they would’ve updated the drivers and the software as well, and now you’d be in a rage most days. [grin]

  2. That is pretty cool PT. I favored Century Gothic for the operator’s manuals I produced (I thought it looked more “technical” than serif fonts like Times New Roman), but I can definitely see how Garamond would use a lot less ink. As for the publishing industry and bureaucracies large and small, the former is dying and the latter is too inept to ever change…

    1. Yep, it’s a great idea if you’re willing to forego design considerations and to consider a change to save money. Sans serif fonts definitely have a more hi tech look.

  3. I found this interesting and I will be keeping Garamond in mind. However, I doubt it will save me much money simply because I don’t print much. I think the most printing I do is that of tax forms. Hmm. You really ought to contact the IRS, PT. Nah, never mind. The GOP has told us the revenooers are corrupt and so they are likely in bed with HP on this. Next year, expect our forms 1040 in Comic Sans. 😀

    The printer ink thing reminds me of the electric car fad, actually. People are paying thousands of dollars more for hybrids and electrics when greater savings could be made by simply driving less, as for example, combining trips. Similarly, I find that considerable printer ink can be saved by choosing options that reduce what you print, such as the print-version option that many web sites offer. When I print my statements for credit cards and checking accounts I omit the pages with the standard fine print and the images of cancelled checks – those are available online if needed. Also, my printer has a black-only option – no need to reproduce color in most cases. I got a new HP wi-fi printer last December and its color cartridge is still more than half full. I enrolled in their automatic cartridge-replacement program. The way it works is that the printer, being attached to the internet, tells them when I replace a cartridge. They then send me a replacement and charge it to my card. So far, only one b&w cartridge. Costs are estimated at 6 or 7 cents a page.

    1. I print very little anymore. Simply don’t have the need. Would be convenient to have a company sending me new cartridges automatically, but by the time I use up what I have on hand, I’ll probably be getting a new printer. (Found some deal on Amazon for cut-rate third party ink refills with good reviews and decided to take a chance. They’ve worked just fine.)

      1. Some printers also offer the option to choose density/how dark you want to print (with black only or with all colors) That choice has saved our company money with ink.
        All the big media have picked this story up – bet some actually utilize the info…government agencies are always whining they can’t reduce their budgets – hey, how about this kid’s idea?
        Great comparison of ink and perfume costs.

  4. Interesting. Back when, my college journalism advisor was considered an authority on typography. I dimly recall him saying Garamond was among the most readable faces. If newer research has not disproven his statement, it would add to the creative student’s reason for going with Garamond.

    1. Thoughtful designers should consider it for clients like book publishers, who print massive quantities. And for those who don’t give a flip about legibility but just need to convey information, there’s always the thinnest, lightest version of an already thin font. Something like Raleway Thin.

  5. Well, I’m a “Georgia” man myself. At my age I have to have a little more meat to my font that Garamond can produce. I do like the presentation however.

    CBS Nightly News had a brief feature on the ninth grader last night also. But I, like others here, do not print that much these days so I don’t see the savings substantially adding to my traveling agenda.

    At any rate, I suspect at some point in the future, “print” as is referred to today will be a thing of the past and all things will be digital for the most part

    1. I didn’t mean to suggest that any individual at home could save money this way, but it’s fascinating to me because I worked in publishing for so many years. I had to consider legibility for my readers, but the way the government cranks out best-selling yawners like the 2,000+ page ACA bill that no one read or the 20,000+ page ACA regulations, it seems a good candidate for change. How many pages of tax regulations, forms, and instructions do you suppose they print every year?

      Publishing as a viable industry is dying, but I suspect we’ll always have some printing. Not everyone can do or access everything digitally, and that “paperless society” we heard about so many years ago has yet to appear. One look at my mailbox every week convinces me that some printing will never go away.

  6. I changed years ago from Times to Palatino; I wonder how that compares to Garamond. Hmmm. Will have to print a couple of pages to see the difference. As Artie Johnson would say, “Verrrrrry Interrrrresting!”

    1. Oh, I love Palatino! That was my chosen body type for 15 years in my journal. I don’t know if its strokes get quite as thin as Garamond’s, but certainly it would offer similar benefits vs. fonts without tapering strokes.

  7. I have to confess a passion for Garamond and all its understated elegance. And being a career professional Designer, I thought I had heard all the best reasons to use it . . . at least until now. (LOL!!) Precious.

    1. Interesting, isn’t it? I worked in publishing for 30 years, and during the last few was doing everything I could think of to reduce our printing costs. Changing forts never occurred to me. We were using Palatino body type and Optima heads. Not sure changing to Garamond at that point would have saved a notable amount, especially with a small monthly publication.But goodness knows I tried everything else. Smaller type, narrower margins, less white space, lighter stock, etc.

... and that's my two cents