Recently a story has been circulating of 14-year-old student Suvir Mirchandani, who claimed that if the US Government could save as much as $400 million by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond on printed documents.
The basic reasoning behind this is that Garamond is approximately 25% lighter than Times New Roman.
But is that estimate accurate? Should you look to change fonts in your home/work/school? Well that all depends.
The Cost of Ink
The cost of ink is extremely high. Some estimates say that a gallon of ink can cost almost $10,000 dollars. However, not all ink cost that much. But that is the high end of cost. Ink can be much cheaper (like 3rd party and refills). But those who do a lot of printing tend to use laser jet or thermal, vs. ink jet. These costs will be even cheaper still. Laser Jet toner, for example, is normally half the cost of ink jet ink.
However, this is the cost of the direct ink. If you don’t print large amounts in bulk, you also end of losing some by the starting and stopping of each print job. Consumer Reports tested this after reader said the never got nearly as many pages as the printer companies said they would. They estimated you can lose up to 50% of your ink through normal use compared to large bulk printing.
This means, for a normal person, you will lose more though normal start/stop usage, rather than the choice of font you use.
Not all Fonts are Equal
According to John Brownlee, Mirchandani’s report is flawed because he measured Garamond at the wrong size.
“There is no guarantee that when you print out a font at 12-points that the letters will be 12-points tall. Only the line which the letters will be printed on will be 12-points tall.”
If you were resize the documents to be approximately the same size, it would take up more ink, reducing savings.
This of course leads us to the how good is that smaller font, if we want to keep the font sizes the same.
Brownlee hints that if we were to switch to 12-point Garamond instead of Times New Roman, then it would be the equivalent of a 10-point font rendered on a 12-point line. This would make the font harder to read. Small print is used at the bottom of ads because they don’t want you to read it. But if you want to read the text, then you need to make the font easier to read, which means increasing it’s size.
The (in)ability to read the text printed has a cost associated with it. A font must be easy to use (i.e. read) if it is going to gain acceptance. While we can read a smaller font, it take longer time. If it takes a person longer to read, either because they have a hard time reading it, or because they must adjust their habits, there is an associated cost. After all Time = Money.
What you Generate vs. What you Get
When you look at your personal usage, or that for your small company you run into another problem. What do you normally print? Is it what you create, or what you get from another source.
You may not be able to control what you get from other people and companies. Most of what I print is not what I generate, but from other people. So I have to either spend a lot of time “Fixing” other people’s documents, or work with them being of the “wrong type”. I may not be able to change their fonts if I get the document through the web, or as a PDF.
So could the government save $400M? Probably not quite that much, but it could save some. A quick back of the napkin calculation would put it closer to $50 – $100M. This assuming that they are using Laser Printers, increase the font size for equivalent readability, and get a discount for buying in bulk. While that seems like a lot, there is also the cost of updating all of the documents (if you want to see a quick decrease in cost), but that has a cost associated with it. Then this number would have to be spread across all of the different departments, including states and local government to get that type of savings.
Would the savings be worth it? Hard to say for sure, but it could be an expensive test to run.
Could you save that much? Probably not. As the Consumer Report’s report shows, you not printing as much would hurt you more than anything. If you print a lot, then hopefully you look to a Laser Jet which is more efficient.
What to do?
So what should you do if you want to save on printing cost? Look to ways that you can reduce printing. Can you keep it in a digital format? Do you have to print a copy for each person coming to the meeting, or can you send it to them and they can pull it up on their smart device or laptop when they come to the meeting?