Could switching fonts really save the US government $400 million?

Everyone loves saving money, especially the US government. But could it really be as simple as switching fonts? Last week the media was awash with the story of 14-year-old student Suvir Mirchandani, who claimed that if the United States Government switched from using Times New Roman to Garamond on printed documents, it could save as much as $400 million.

The Pennsylvania student first began considering this idea while watching his school hand out multiple leaflets and trying to discern a way to save on the cost of ink when printing them. Then it was a natural leap to apply the same theory to not just his school, but the nation. Mirchandani posits that, due to the fact that Garamond is about 25% lighter and thinner than Times New Roman, it could save the US government $136 million in printing costs, and an additional $234 million could be saved if state governments also enacted this policy.

“Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume.” – Suvir Mirchandani, in an interview with CNN.

But just how accurate is this estimate? Since Mirchandani’s theory has received international attention, it has been called into question by several typographers and design experts.

According to one article by John Brownlee, the major flaw in Mirchandani’s research is that he measured Garamond at the wrong size—understandable, given that font measurement can be incredibly confusing.

As Brownlee puts it in his article, “There is no guarantee that when you print out a font at 12-points that the letters will be 12-points tall. Only the line which the letters will be printed on will be 12-points tall.” If we were to switch to 12-point Garamond instead of Times New Roman, then, we would actually be sacrificing readability, as Garamond is the equivalent of a 10-point font rendered on a 12-point line. If the size were increased to improve readability, inevitably the cost of printing would increase to be comparable to the cost of printing Times New Roman.

Other issues brought to light regarding Mirchandani’s study have been the lack of specificity regarding which version of Garamond he used (though logical assumption points to the Monotype version of Garamond typically bundled with Microsoft operating systems) and the antiquity of the study he referenced in his claim regarding the cost of printer ink.

Mirchandani assumes that the ink for inkjet printers and the toner for laser printers (commonly used by government institutions) cost the same amount, when in reality toner is about half as expensive. Also, as noted by the aforementioned article by Mr. Brownlee, many US documents are still printed on a printing press, for which the price of printing is calculated not by ink used, but by the complexity of the page’s layout, and it is unlikely it costs as much as the $4,285 per liter assumed by Mirchandani.

Whilst it’s encouraging to see young minds so interested in the practical application of typography, the lesson we really learnt here, is that the only real way to save on printing costs is to go paperless.

Featured image/thumbnail, print image via Shutterstock.