In Defense of Government Fonts

Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Suvir Mirchandani (photo: Pittsburgh Concert Society)

Font nerds have been upset since a 14-year-old student became a media darling for figuring out that the U.S. government could save half a billion dollars a year if it switched to a different font for printed materials.


For a school science project, Suvir Mirchandani compared four different fonts to see if any one of them used less ink. After examining Times New Roman, Garamond, Comic Sans, and Century Gothic, the middle-school student determined Garamond’s thinner, lighter design required 24% less black, cyan, magenta and yellow for printing than the other three fonts.


This reduction in ink usage meant the government could save as much as $467 million a year if it employed only Garamond for books and documents, according to the whiz kid.


Mirchandani’s analysis proved so convincing that his work was published in the Journal of Emerging Investigators. This publishing feat was followed by appearances on CNN and other news shows.


But experts in the world of fonts weren’t convinced by Mirchandani’s work.


Thomas Phinney, who produces the blog Phinney on Fonts, said the student’s conclusions were “a bit off-​​base.”


The problem, Phinney wrote, is changing fonts to Garamond in itself won’t save toner. Garamond is deceptively smaller than the other fonts, meaning when it is selected at the standard 12-point size, it’s really more like 10-point. If someone used Times New Roman at 10-point instead of 12-point, the same result would occur as far as less ink being used.


“What this all means is that if you printed any of the other fonts to match Garamond 's actual size, you'd get almost the same savings in ink cost, at the same expense of readability,” Fast Company Design’s John Brownlee pointed out. “Garamond doesn't really use less ink than Times New Roman, Comic Sans, or Century Gothic: it's just the equivalent of a 10-point font rendered on a 12-point line. And sure enough, if you look at Mirchandani's sample text, Garamond looks like it has been rendered at a much smaller point size than the other fonts; it's obviously harder to read.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Save $400M Printing Cost from Font Change? Not so Fast (by Thomas Phinney, Phinney on Fonts)

Why Garamond Won't Save The Government $467 Million A Year (by John Brownlee, Fast Company Design)

14-Year-Old Calculates U.S. Government could Save $136 Million a Year by Changing Fonts (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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