Actually, Switching Fonts Won't Save the Government That Much Money


Last week, media outlets (like us) were charmed by 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani's elegant plan to save the government millions and millions of dollars, simply by switching from Times New Roman to Garamond for official print documents. (The theory being that the new font would use less ink per page, multiplied by the quadrillions of reams of paper the government burns through every year.) Today we learned that the plan, which seemed too good to be true, is indeed too good to be true. cites blogger Thomas Phinney as the theory's debunker. According to Phinney, a font enthusiast with an M.S. in printing, there are several problems with Mirchandani's analysis. First, he writes in a blog post, printing in Garamond in the standard size 12-point font is unrealistic, because all 12-point fonts are not created equal. Garamond 12 is too small, and thus too hard to read at 12-points, so printers would likely opt for a larger size — which would end up costing basically the same amount as Times New Roman in 12-point.

In Phinney's words

Most scientific studies comparing typefaces first compensate by resizing the fonts to eliminate differences in the lowercase height (called x-​​height by us font geeks). This study failed to do that. As a result, they actually get results that are the exact opposite of other studies. Century Gothic has a very large x-​​height, so printed at the same nominal point size uses more ink than Times. Printed at the same x-​​height (as in other studies), it would use less.

Phinney adds that it's also problematic to assume that the government prints papers in the same way that individuals, or schools, do:

Many of the documents that account for a substantial percentage of the government’s overall printing costs are printed on a printing press, using offset lithography. For offset printing, the percentage of the cost of that is associated with ink is in fact much smaller than for laser or inkjet printing.... Additionally, because of the huge cost of owning printing presses, many or most offset litho jobs will be printed out of house, using third-​​party printers.

Basically, no matter how you look at it, there's no way that Mirchandani's plan would save the government a substantial amount of money.

It is important to note, however, that this information didn't come from the government itself, but from an interested onlooker. When CNN questioned a representative from the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) on the possibility of switching over to Garamond, he gave nothing approaching Phinney's careful analysis. All he said was that the government is moving away from printing and towards digital, which is really neither here nor there. You'd think that the agency tasked with printing would be equipped with a fuller explanation for all printing practices, especially when confronted with an eager student brainstorming creative solutions to real-world problems ... like government waste.  

(Image via BrianWancho/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.