The Government Would Save $400 Million If It Just Switched Typefaces

Of the many schemes to make the government more efficient, this is probably the only one that involves typography. A middle schooler in Pittsburgh has calculated that by simply switching the typeface used in government documents from Times New Roman to Garamond, it would save taxpayers $400 million in ink.

Suvir Mirchandani was inspired by an earlier project looking at how to save ink in teacher handouts. He recorded the ink usage of four different fonts—Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic and Comic Sans—and found that Garamond's thin strokes would save his school district 24 percent in ink

Then he decided to apply his results to a bigger scale: the U.S. government. He sampled documents from different government agencies and dug through printing budgets. As CNN reports, this is what he found.

Using the Government Services Administration's estimated annual cost of ink — $467 million—Suvir concluded that if the federal government used Garamond exclusively it could save nearly 30%—or $136 million per year. An additional $234 million could be saved annually if state governments also jumped on board, he reported.

These numbers are only estimates, of course, but they show how subtle changes made many times over add up to big differences. (Also, ink is mad expensive. By ounce, it costs more than Chanel No. 5 perfume, as Mirchandani points out.) And our government is still a prodigal producer of printed goods. Every day, for example, we print 2,000 copies of the Federal Register, which regularly runs to hundreds of pages.

The government has to be at least somewhat transparent about its printing practices, but the rest of us—those of us who still print things out, anyway—could take a cue, too. In 2010, the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay changed the default typeface of its email system from Arial to Century Gothic to save ink. And of course, there are special ink-saving typeface with tiny holes in the letters.

Prefer to choose your typeface based on aesthetics alone? By all means, go ahead—just don't print anything out. [CNN]