The kid in Pittsburgh was wrong. but he was also right.

By now you may have seen stories about the 14 year old who measured ink usage and claimed that the government could save nearly $400 million by switching fonts from Times New Roman to Garamond. The Pittsburgh teen figured that the amount of ink required to print letters in 12 point Times New Roman and then compared it to the amount needed to print the same letters in the thinner 12 point Garamond. Then he extrapolated by how many words per year the U.S. government prints and derived his answer.

However, his process was fundamentally flawed (as explained by the long-winded author over at FastCoDesign). To summarize:

  1. Computer fonts are measured by the old physical print standard of "points". That what the "pt" stands for next to your font size selector in Word.
  2. Those "points" determine the size of the block, the physical block of steel that holds the individual letter on antiquated letter presses
  3. The block size is set - all 12pt blocks are uniform - but the fonts they hold are not. 
  4. 12pt Garamond is significantly smaller than 12pt Times New Roman
  5. Printing Garamond at the same general size as Times New Roman negates any potential savings
He also calculated savings figures based on the assumption that the government would be heading out to OfficeMax and buying individual print cartridges, which they definitely will not be doing thanks to GSA contracts and print service agreements. 

So, his assertion that a simple all-pts-being-equal switch from Times New Roman to Garamond would save the government hundreds of millions is flawed for a couple of reasons which we just covered. But, that isn't to say that print policies can't be altered to save your organization money. Let's look at a few things you can do, right now, to cut down on print costs - however minimal the savings may be. 

  • Print in a serif font, and print smaller. Since Office 2007, Microsoft has used 11pt Calibri, a sans serif font, as the default typeface in lieu of the old standby 12pt Times New Roman - a serif font. Serifs are the little feet and tails you see on the individual letters in the graphic above, and while they look old compared to the cool modern look of Microsoft's chosen Calibri, or the Apple-adored Helvetica, they also make it easier to read individual letters when the type is small. Case in point: You can distinguish these letters easier than you can distinguish these. Printing in a serif font, but using smaller type, means you can fit more, legible words on the page, cutting costs. 
  • Change fonts. Yes, we just spent multiple paragraphs and one graphic proving the Pittsburgh kid was wrong. However, it is possible to save ink by switching fonts. There are special fonts - most notably Ecofont - that are designed with savings in mind. In Ecofont's case, the primary lines of each letter are riddled with small holes, lessening the amount of ink needed to print them by an average of 20%. 
  • Calculate price your actual per page. Factor in how much you're paying for toner/ink under your current agreement, what you're paying for paper, and what you're paying in equipment lease & maintenance. Figure out what you're actual seeing in terms of printed pages/cartridge. Then factor in the cost of any dedicated print resources - if your company maintains copy rooms, figure out the maintenance costs for those rooms; if your company maintains print shops, figure out the cost for those in terms of resources, maintenance, rent (potentially), etc. Once done, take your print spend to market - there may be considerable savings by outsourcing  your print to a third-party shop. 
Chances are, this has been the most you've ever read, or wanted to read, about font sizes and typefaces. But while there may not be a whole lot of savings to be had by swapping from one font to another, that's not to say there isn't savings to be had within your print category. Keep an eye on it. Or ask us to - we're pretty good with print services.

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Nicholas Hamner

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