Matters concerned with Environment

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finally even an Ecofriendly Font !!

Spranq Eco Sans font

December 21, 2008

As all bloggers probably do, I read the blogs (I have to keep up with the competition!). And, the blog topic that is getting the most attention this week is not related to shoe-throwing or who bid the most for an available Illinois Senate seat.

It is about the Spranq Eco Sans type font. Seriously. This is a font, designed by Spranq, a Dutch marketing company, that has holes in the middle of the strokes to save ink. The company took a Verdana look-alike font and punched holes in the center of all the letters. The holes are not perfectly round, but slightly ovoid, and they run down the middle of each letter. The idea is that the letters, when they print, will require less ink or toner, and that the Earth will be saved as a result. Spranq argues that the user of the font would save as much as 20% on ink when using their font.

Spranq’s Eco Sans font has tiny ovoid perforations in the middle of each letter. When printed on the right substrate at at the right size, the holes disappear and it looks normal. In the process, it would use less ink – Spranq says 20% less – and thus be more environmentally sensible. 
You can download it and try it yourself. It’s important to understand that this font is not intended for display setting. That’s pretty obvious, as the little perforations show at any size larger than about 11 point. But for newspaper printing, the typical font size is between 8 and 9.5 pt. so the little holes won’t show at that size. And, newspaper printing might be the best place to test this kind of typography (religious tracts would be another: holey printing?) because you can monitor ink consumption better on news presses than on sheet-fed over the long term.

I made a test page of 9.5 pt. type on 12 points of leading, and printed it on a laser printer. Indeed the little dots disapper in the printed version, subsumed into the toner as plugged-up shadow dots. But, here is the important question: does a plugged-up shadow dot consume less ink? It does not, and thus the argument of saving the Earth one microscopic perforation at a time falls apart on a conventional printing press with conventional ink and paper.

Even at this size the little holes tend to disappear (and this is the low-resolution World Wide Web, so that makes sense). In print at this size, the holes are highly visible. 
Not one to poke holes in the promotion by Spranq, I spent a little more time monkeying with my test page and setting the type at various sizes to determine where the threshold of visibility occurs. On my machine, a (Xerox) Tektronix Phaser 7700, the microscopic dots disappear from reading-distance visibility but remain clearly visible under a loupe at 9.0 pt. At 8.5 the dots begin to blend together – a function of mechanical (in this case electrostatic) dot-gain – and thus the benefit of these little holes is lost. So, when properly applied, at the right size, this font could really save ink.

One must also take into account the age and eyesight of the reader – myopia is a factor – and the substrate on which the text is printed. Newsprint is the obvious winner here. Paperback books, which are often printed on a high-grade newsprint, would also handle this kind of font nicely, as the more fluid ink and the capillary action of that ink in the paper fibers would overcome some of the visibility issues of the letters. So, on that printing technology and substrate, Spranq’s font would indeed save ink, and thus money (and the Earth). The porous paper would be the equalizing force. After the holidays, and once I am in the company of nice photo-microscope again, I will make some print tests and photograph them for this blog. The results should be very interesting.

At text sizes, and on a porous substrate, the Eco Sans font indeed looks normal. This is its best calling.

One thing that all the responses to all the blogs I have read have not mentioned is the time-to-RIP, a factor in imaging zillions of little tiny holes in every letter printed on a set of plates for printing. Though relatively small (all of this is small), the time consumed is not immeasurable, and it could cut into productivity. There are 26 perforations in the lower-case p for example; drawing that could increase process time. I’d have to do a large-scale test to confirm this, but it definitely increases the task of ripping text for platesetting. And, time on that equipment is real money.

Many of the whiners at other blog sites criticised the design of the font. Well, heck! This is just the first one, based on a version of Verdana, which is a beautifully-open and highly legible font by Matthew Carter designed originally for electronic media. Perhaps Spranq could have chosen a news font; it’s not too late for them to try another font.

In general, I think that the Spranq Eco Sans font is a great idea. It starts people thinking about ways to save rare resources and to be more productive. Certainly it’s not the salvation of the Earth, but it’s a microscopically small effort to save the Earth, and it has the blogsphere abuzz in commentary. Can all those little holes make a difference?

You’ve probably seen Helvetica the Movie (available on NetFlix and iTunes). Can Spranq Eco Font – the Movie be far behind?

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Ecologist, Environmental Scientist...