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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.

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