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Change Your Font, Change the Environment

We’ve all seen that line appended to the bottom of emails: “Please consider the environment before printing.” But consider this: if there’s no way around it and that email must be printed, then that extra line is only adding length to the print job, effectively wasting paper. And if the text of the line is, say, green? Then you’re printing with color ink instead of just black, and wasting even more resources.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal to print one extra line every now and again, but when you consider how many thousands of emails are printed every day in millions of businesses across the US — on top of all the other documents, memos, and letters shooting out of the print tray at rapid-fire speed — you might start to wonder if anything more can be done to cut back than simply axing that not-so-helpful reminder from our emails.

Good news! If you’re committed to the idea of helping the environment — or even if you’re just committed to the idea of saving money — something can be done. And you may be surprised to find that it could be as simple as changing your default font.

Less weight = less ink

How can this be? Changing the font doesn’t change the number of words in the document. The same amount of ink should be used, right? Wrong. Not all fonts are created equally, and even the basic set of fonts that were shipped with your computer’s operating system are designed very differently from one another.


Take a look above at a side-by-side comparison of some the most popular desktop fonts, shown in a regular weight and at a 12-point size. The unique shapes of the letters inform how “heavy” or “light” they appear on the page. And so it stands as a general rule of thumb that the heavier the font, the more ink it will take to print.

Weight isn’t everything, though

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay made some headlines back in 2010 when it announced it would be making a system-wide default email font switch from Arial to Century Gothic. Their reasoning was that Century Gothic was a lighter typeface and would use less ink when printed, which would save the university money and resources over time.

Similarly, this spring a middle school student named Suvir Mirchandani proposed that the US government could save $400 million if it traded in hefty Times New Roman for thinner, finer Garamond. The $400 million estimate is a bit flawed; for one, it appears to assume that the government only uses inkjet printers, and for two, that the government is running down to Staples every week and restocking that ink at typical consumer prices. Perhaps more importantly, though, neither Mirchandani nor UW-Green Bay take into account their recommended font’s letter size.

Century Gothic’s letters tend to be larger and wider than the letters of other fonts, which means that the same amount of text set in Century Gothic gets pushed out longer — which translates to more pages being printed overall. And Garamond? Scroll up and take a look at the comparison image again. Notice how tiny Garamond’s letterforms appear compared to the other fonts, even at the same 12-point size? That means any switch to Garamond would likely be accompanied by a 2- or 3-point increase in font size for the sake of legibility, effectively canceling out any ink savings.

The rise of the “sustainable” font

So, if simply swapping out one desktop font for another doesn’t necessarily help you conserve, what does? They’re called “sustainable” fonts, and they’re slowly gaining traction around the world.

In 2008 Dutch creative agency Spranq took the free open-source Vera Sans, pricked it full of holes, and called it Ecofont. The idea is, when printed at normal body copy sizes, the ink will spread slightly and fill the holes, resulting in a font that looks “solid” on paper while using up to 15% less ink.


Ecofont may be practical but it’s not exactly gorgeous, though, and this past April ad agency Grey LDN and stationery brand Ryman teamed up to fill that gap with a custom serif typeface called Ryman Eco. Designed by Monotype’s Dan Rhatigan, the Ryman Eco is comprised of fine curved lines, giving it the same ink-saving efficacy in printing as Ecofont’s holes but with classic, beautiful detailing. Ryman Eco’s creators claim it also uses up to 30% less ink than Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Verdana at the same sizes.


Ecofont’s Eco Sans Regular is available as a free download for commercial use, but if you want the whole family — italic, bold, and bold italic — you’ll have to pay for a license. Licensing one home computer for lifetime use runs about $25, but businesses running multiple workstations are looking at a heftier fee.

Ryman Eco is also available as a free download, but it currently doesn’t come as a family — no bolds or italics to be found here. It’s not clear, either, what role Ryman Eco’s refined design may play in businesses that already have strict branding guidelines in place.


The bottom line

Sustainable fonts save money and resources, but they may not fit everyone’s budget or brand. The best way to conserve is to print as little as possible, but for those times when you must print you could do worse than selecting a lighter font such as Century Gothic and keeping the size to a minimum.

No method is 100% perfect (yet!), but it’s surprising how little steps can quickly add up to great bounds when it comes to conservation. Better yet, the next time you have to print you’ll know you’ve “considered the environment” — without sticking that annoying line at the bottom of your email.

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