You may have heard from Slashdot that the University of Wisconsin is switching from Arial, a sans-serif font, to Century Gothic, a
serif** font that uses 30% less ink, for default printing. The university hopes to save ink, which is both thrifty and eco-friendly. But you may not have seen this art project by Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth: they used ballpoint pens to scribble large-scale test versions of various fonts on a wall, and the ink level afterward was an analog readout for which font uses more ink. Ingenious!
Word to the nitpicky: while there’s no rule that a sans-serif font will always use more ink than a serif font, serif fonts can get away with thinner uprights because the serifs (the little “feet” or flares on the ends of the letters) offer the eye added information that makes the letter more readable. So generally speaking, serif fonts can have lighter ink footprints. And while a more rigorous way of testing the ink utilization of different fonts would of course be to print thousands of identical pages of text in a controlled trial on identical printers with identical ink cartridges (you’d better believe industry already has that information), I love the DIY ingenuity of this project – and the fact that the difference is so obvious. Perhaps we should all consider switching to serif fonts – for readability and ecology? (You’re exempt if you’re a typography maven who could film a short video about why sans-serif fonts are more pure and aesthetic – you know who you are).
Note: astute reader Matt caught that Century Gothic, unlike Century (what I was thinking of), is a sans-serif font. So in this case, the University of Wisconsin is not doing what I’d recommend at all. Maybe they should scribble on some walls and see how readable they think a weenie thin sans-serif typeface really is? Ugh! Terrible!