Switching Fonts May Not Save the US Government Millions After All

By Sarah Zhang on at

We all love stories about teenagers schooling the government, but sometimes we get schooled, too. Last week, we wrote about 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani's research project that suggested the government would save $400 million (£240 million) by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond. Turns out, it's a little more complicated than that.

John Brownlee lays out the various arguments over at Fast Company. There's some typeface nerdery explaining why Garamond looks smaller at the same 12-point size, so it would need to be printed in bigger size to be equally legible. But, as commentators on the original piece have also noted, the bigger issue that the government doesn't print all its documents on HP Inkjet printers. Brownlee explains:

In addition, the bulk of the US government's printing is done on the printing press—printing out W-2 forms, pamphlets, and the like—not office laser jets or ink jets. Press printers have a vastly different economy than inkjet printers: they aren't charging based upon the number of gallons of ink used, but based upon the complexity of a given page's layout, and definitely not at a price of $4,285 (£2,569) per inky litre.

While we couched the savings as a rough estimate, we should have more specifically pointed out the caveats. But the larger point still stands—this is less a story about the government than it is about how small changes can add up. Even if the government isn't only using inkjet printers, lots of us still are, and printing in a slightly smaller font can still make a difference for our own wallets.