Which font uses the least ink?

Now that might seem like a mundane question… and to be honest it is. It’s also quite hard to find a good answer to it. If you search online you do find the odd page such as this but most simply quote part of the website for eco-font – the font with the hole.

I saw the eco-font come out at the beginning of the year and avoided blogging about it as there wasn’t much substance to the claim – and I don’t like recommending things that may not actually have any real world use. A few weeks later our environmental manager asked if it was worth adopting University wide. So, curious, I set about doing some tests that involved printing out several comparison pages, scanning them at high resolution and then using Gimp to count pixels. The results were mixed and I moved on.

Then last week the topic was raised again and I decided to take another look. This time I found a bit of software that made it slightly easier – ApFill Coverage Calculator. With this I could take an A4 page of text (a random article from a news website), save to PDF using the functionality in Office 2007, open in ApFill (which uses GhostSuite to convert it again to a TIFF file) and then get a figure for the % of the page which isn’t white. Sounds long winded but it actually takes less than a minute to test each page.

Results

So below are the test results. I did try many more fonts than this – Lucida Sans, Centaur, Trebucet MS, Arial Narrow as well as several I downloaded – but most gave similar results so were not included. I also tested the eco-font againsts its parent, bitstream vera sans and got pretty much what the eco-font designers said I’d save with an 18% reduction in ink. Being most common, Times New Roman is used as the baseline font.

The different font sizes were chosen so that the test text fitted onto one page and looked roughly the same size when compared. The results also represent the theoretical savings in ink. Different quality/types of printers and different font sizes to those I tried will change the result a lot I would imagine.

Font Size Black Pixel Coverage of Test Page (%) Relative Ink Use (%)
Arial 10 5.74 +13
Calibri 11 5.47 +7.68
Verdanna 9 5.22 +2.76
Times 11 5.08 0
Times 10.5 4.54 -10.63
Garamond 12 4.42 -12.99
eco-font 9 4.25 -16.34
Garamond 11.5 4.07 -19.88
Courier New 10 2.98 -41.34
Print Clearly 13 2.51 -50.59

The obvious things you can see from this are that Calibri (the Office 2007 default font) is not very good, the eco-font does what it says it does but that there are fonts that do it better. No one font stood out however for reasons beyond how much ink they (potentially) can save. Garamond performs on a par with the eco-font for instance but the increased line spacing would result in it using more pages (and hence paper) per print job than some of the others. Courier would use even more paper again. Print Clearly – a font I found online – does very well ink wise but may not look professional enough for most people.

Conclusions

As with a lot of things like this, there is no clear cut answer. As mentioned above, what some fonts may save in ink, they lose to increased paper usage. Some don’t look good on screen, some don’t look good in print.

The eco-font itself does pretty well. It saves ink, looks ok in print but might not be to everyones taste on screen where the holes are more obvious. The main problem I see with it in a large workplace would be getting people to adopt it and remembering to use it. Rather than switching to this font, it’s probably better overall to get people out of the habit of printing in the first place and when they do, using the option to print two pages per sheet (and duplex as well of course) – drastically reducing paper and ink in a couple of clicks.

That’s not to say I don’t think a more efficient font would be a waste of time. Far from it. If Office 2010 was released with the default font as a variation of Garamond which reduced the line spacing and had a bit of work done to make it a little more efficient, you’d be looking at a 20% ink saving and maybe a paper saving to boot. Being the default, Office users wouldn’t even have to do anything for those savings to start happening (except maybe get out the habit of using Times). Apple have such a font called Apple Garamond but that wasn’t one I could test. I definitely think considerations such as this should be a direction OS designers head towards.

For now, I may keep an eye out for the ‘perfect’ font that combines styles, efficient ink usage and good spacing. It could be out there amongst the tens of thousands of free fonts or it could be one of the professional fonts you need to buy.

As a disclaimer, I make no promise that these results are correct. They are what I found in my testing but others may test differently and get different results.

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