John Thackara | Essays

Use Fewer Words — Or Less Ink?

From drinking bottled water, to a single search on Google: even the most innocuous action seems to have a dire consequence for the planet somewhere down the line.

A new example, to me at least, concerns typefaces; the way a typeface is designed determines how much ink is needed when it's put to use — and some kinds of printers' ink, turns out, on close examination, to be toxic as hell. Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), heavy metal content and carcinogenic ingredients, are a major problem.

Various projects to develop environmentally friendly and non-toxic printers' ink are underway — I, for one, will think twice in the future before inhaling the smell of a freshly-printed book.

But smart sustainable design always heads upstream — and so it was with last weekend's workshop in Treviso, the workshop focused on how to make typography sustainable and was run by Henriette Kruse Jørgensen and Alex Saumier Demers of Fabrica. The challenge to participants was to create a font family that could be reused and printed on recycled newspaper. After just two days, they came up with alphabets of different style using just three simple shapes.

Posted in: Social Good

Comments [4]

BT redesigned the font in their phonebook a few years ago: http://tinyurl.com/2gxwa78

"A test of the new font showed that without even changing the page layout we were able to save on average ten lines per page. Multiplied by 300 pages per directory, multiplied by 25 Million books printed per annum...." etc

Less pulp.
Nick Oakley

Consciously using and designing fonts that use less ink is an interesting idea.

We do have environmentally friendly inks. Soy-based inks aren't made with the same toxins that petroleum-based inks are. Soy inks are a little more expensive on the front end, but they are very saturated with color and require less ink usage to create the same colors as petroleum-based inks. So not only is it better for the environment to create, soy inks are fully recyclable, and they actually require less ink per print.

However, soy-based inks also make ink "bio-available" which means that while they have fewer toxins than petroleum based inks the toxins they DO contain will show up, say, in breast milk. Not sure these are the answer- though we use them in our organization almost exclusively because they still seem better than petro-based inks. But there is still work to be done here.

In terms of typefaces there is also the Eco Font, a font design that includes tiny "holes" in the stroke of the typeface- using roughly 25% less ink to print the text than a similar font. Pretty interesting.

Yetsuh Frank

Hi, I found your article very interesting. I'm a graphic design student at De Montfort University, Leicester and at the moment researching ink saving display typeface designs for one of my projects. Could you tell a bit more about the three simple shapes that was used to create the typefaces. I think the experiments shown here are brilliant.
Tatyana Goodwin

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