Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fonts and ink and $

The buzz over a fourteen-year-old’s discovery that Garamond uses less ink than Times New Roman doesn’t surprise me. It’s a good story. But Suvir Mirchandani is hardly breaking new ground. In March 2009, designers Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth found Garamond to be an ink-thrifty font, thrifter than Courier, Brush Script, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Comic Sans, Cooper Black, and Impact. Also from 2009: Ecofont, which comes in a free version. There is nothing new under the sun, at least not in the recognition that some fonts use less ink than others.

[Granted, Robinson and Wrigglesworth’s novel methodology couldn’t produce numbers.]


7:38 p.m.: Daughter Number Three pointed me to Thomas Phinney’s analysis, which casts doubt on Mirchandani’s method and conclusions:

Garamond lowercase is about 14% smaller than Times lowercase (while its caps are only about 4% smaller). So it is no surprise that it uses less ink at the same point size. . . .

This is why most scientific studies comparing typefaces first compensate by resizing the fonts to eliminate differences in the lowercase height (called x-​​height by us font geeks). This study failed to do that. . . .

It should be obvious by now: you could just as easily save ink by setting the same font at a smaller point size.
Phinney (unlike CNN) includes a highly visible link to Mirchandani’s work. And, yes, the samples of Times New Roman and Garamond in the study are markedly different in size.

In photographs of Robinson and Wrigglesworth’s experiment, the Garamond and Times New Roman samples appear (to my untrained eye) to be the same or nearly the same in size. So perhaps Garamond does save ink?

Even if Suvir Mirchandani’s work is flawed, I salute its spirit of inquiry. Why should the world run on Times New Roman anyway?

Thanks, DN3.

comments: 2

Slywy said...

Smaller, thinner, more compressed fonts save ink/toner and paper. That this is "news" is a commentary on the state of journalism. The reason that smaller, thinner, or more compressed fonts aren't used for many purposes is simply that they're harder to read. The better solutions might be (1) fewer, shorter reports in (2) electronic formats. Does anyone read most of this stuff anyway?

There's a whole discipline around typography that seems to have been forgotten.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, it does say something about journalism. And pixels are the ultimate ink-saving strategy.

I just printed a document in Garamond and thought ugh. I like more substantial fonts, whatever the cost in ink.