Can fonts be eco-friendly?

Is it true that your font selection can have an impact on the environment?

21 Sept 2021 / 10 min read

Dipika Mathoora

Founder – BrandItUp Studio

Dipika Mathoora

Founder – BrandItUp Studio

In green graphic design conversations, a frequent topic of discussion is the selection of eco-friendly or green fonts. The logic behind is that opting for fonts that use less ink can result in significant reductions in ink waste during a project, thus making a positive contribution to the environment.

In this article, we will dive into the origin of this idea and hopefully alleviate any guilt or eco-anxiety you may have on this issue.

First, we have to start by understanding ink use in print design.

It’s a fact that inks account for 1% or less of the material used in a project. Therefore, they are generally considered the least critical element of sustainability in terms of percentage. This rule applies strictly to packaging and print design. The cost of the material and the carbon emissions associated with it are the most significant factors in the environmental impact of any print project. Swapping from a virgin stock to a recycled one can result in substantial and meaningful environmental savings. Moreover, the larger the scale of the project, the more meaningful the carbon footprint savings can be achieved.

For instance, if a design uses a large amount of ink but is printed on a recycled or sustainably sourced paper or material, the overall impact on the environment may still be relatively low. In contrast, a design with minimal ink usage but printed on a non-recyclable or non-sustainable material may have a greater impact on the environment. Therefore, it’s important to consider both ink usage and material choice in green graphic design. A sustainable approach involves using eco-friendly inks and opting for environmentally responsible materials, as well as optimizing the use of both to minimize waste and reduce the overall environmental impact of the project.

When did the topic around eco-friendly font started?

The conversation around eco-friendly fonts can be traced back to 2014, when a 6th-grader proposed that the US government could save over $400 million by switching to a font that used less ink toner. The student’s recommendation was to switch from Times New Roman to Garamond, which he claimed could save up to 30% of ink and money.

However, there was a fundamental problem with this proposal. While Garamond may use less ink per character, it is also a thinner font than Times New Roman. This means that to maintain the same level of readability, Garamond would need to be printed at a slightly larger size, effectively offsetting any ink savings. Despite this limitation, the student’s proposal brought attention to the potential impact of font choice on ink usage and sparked a broader conversation around eco-friendly fonts.

According to John Brownlee, a designer and writer for Fast Company, to have the same legibility and accessibility as something like Times New Roman, you need to increase the font size. When the font size is increased the ink savings vanish. This is mostly partly due to the font’s x-height of Garamond being much lower than Times New Roman. To create the same legibility as Times New Roman, and to ensure the government documents would be accessible to all, the font size of Garamond would have to increase, effectively eliminating all ink savings.   We cannot abandon accessibility of information and design in our work simply to save a minuscule amount of ink. We must ensure our messaging and design doesn’t exclude others.

So the takeaway?
I encourage you not to worry too much about your fonts, have fun, and honestly, it is one of the least important choices that you can make in terms of green graphic design. It’s much more valuable to be considering your paper stock options, printing method and also the type of ink being used. We can fall into decision fatigue as green graphic designers and it’s important to put your energy into the areas where you can have the most meaningful impact.

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