Money-Saving Tips: Probably not a Series

April 8, 2010

While researching the preceding blog entry I stumbled on this money-saving tip for the millions of users of desktop printers. Tracking down the source took some detective work.

The news originated on the Printer.com blog. Then Diane Blohowiak, coordinator of information-technology user support at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, began testing Printer.com’s claim. Wisconsin Public Radio interviewed Blohowiak, and the Associated Press circulated a short account of the interview on March 25th this year. Associated Press reporter Dinesh Ramde kept after the story and on April 6th this week reported that Blohowiak now expects the university to save 5-10% of it’s $100,000/year budget for ink and toner cartridges. According to a Google search roughly 400 newspapers reprinted Ramde’s thorough reporting since April 6th.

saveprintingcostsSource: Printer.com

The detail would sound like mumbo jumbo to anyone not involved in desktop printing, but here’s the scoop. For test purposes Printer.com chose Arial. As shown in the chart above, if you switch to Century Gothic, printing costs would drop by 31%. Printer.com calculates that an individual could save a whole $20/year; a small business perhaps $80 a year. Diane Blohowiak has calculated that a major educational institution can save a whole lot more.

On the other hand, if you, your staff or students suddenly fall in love with Franklin Gothic Medium, costs could rise by a full 11% over Arial.

Ah I can hear you thinking: what’s the catch? Alas there are two. As reported in the second AP account, renowned type expert Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging, points out that Century Gothic was designed for titles and headlines, not for full text documents. He still recommends Times New Roman or Arial for their readability.

Problem two is even more perplexing. The design of most letters in Century Gothic, because it’s a headline font, are broader than text fonts, and the same number of letters are going to use more paper when printed with this face. None of the reports state how much more paper.

Instead I’ll point out a third problem expanding Haley’s statement above. Century Gothic is a sans serif font. There are a minority of book designers who would use a sans serif font for long text documents (except for unique design challenges). It’s simply more difficult to read in smaller sizes for extended periods than serif fonts. (No one ever got fired for using Times Roman!)

Here’s an approximation of what the opening paragraph of The Wind in the Willows looks like set in 10 point Century Gothic:

witwillows80ps

Tiring. But go back to the chart. Times Roman offers a 29% savings over Arial, a mere 2% less than the problematic Century Gothic. Problem solved.

And now the punch line. Printer.com published its original research results on April 13th, 2009! The firm’s headquarters is in The Netherlands and so the data didn’t filter to the U.S. press until it could find a homegrown spin. The direct result: lots of ink and toner unnecessarily wasted in the past year while we avoided the challenge of reading long laser-printed reports set in Century Gothic.

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The End of the Desktop Printer

February 17, 2010

I was pleased to encounter Adrian Kingsley-Hughes’ blog posting this evening, “The Slow Demise of the Printer.” Of course many of my readers could read into the title in two ways: an acknowledgement of my frequently noted difficulties at printing companies, or as a note on the decline in the use of desktop printers. You’ll realize from the title of this blog that he means the latter.

This is a topic that I’ve been following for a decade or more. The champions of paper and printing argued early that the Internet and the web actually were accelerating the consumption of both, as most people were not comfortable with reading long documents on yesterday’s generation of CRT screens. It was true. CRT screens did tend to weary the eyes after hours of viewing, and, at the same time, a lot of very long documents were published, whether as Microsoft Word docs or PDFs. Much easier to print them out and read them at your leisure, perhaps during business travel, back in the days when that was not a complete horror show.

As recently as 2006, an article in Toronto’s Globe & Mail proudly stated, “It’s official: The paperless office, predicted for more than 30 years, hasn’t happened. Less paper? Today’s offices use more. Paper use at home is skyrocketing too, and printer sales are way up. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” Yet by that December, The Christian Science Monitor was reporting that “…after decades of hype, American offices may finally be losing their paper obsession. The demand for paper used to outstrip the growth of the US economy, but the past two or three years have seen a marked slowdown in sales — despite a healthy economic scene.” More recent reports indicate that the demand for laser printer paper is now declining.

Several things have changed (besides the horror of business travel). LCD screens have significantly higher resolution that CRTs, and the evolution of video cards allows us many more controls to set those screens to a suitable brightness/contrast setting for comfortable reading (of course most people don’t bother with the adjustments, but they’re there). Digital typography continues to improve  through the efforts of Adobe, Microsoft and some of their smaller competitors.

At the same time the web has trained most of us on the art of “skimming.” Yes some documents, books and other printable materials must be read careful, even repeatedly. But the bulk is dross, and if you can make it through the executive summary, you’ve probably aced the comprehension challenge for that piece of malarkey.

I saw early on that for me at least there was far too much interesting information I could access from the web to justify printing it all out and never getting around to reading it. So instead I create PDFs of stories that I think are interesting to me or readers of this blog, and file them carefully. They’re availabe to me through my filing system, but never in my face.

Works just fine.

I occasionally print out longer articles to read while travelling, but just as often copy them to my small laptop to read on-board, on-screen. Also workable.

I do not believe that the future of publishing will include more printed output. The changing landscape is just not tending that way.

Is it different for you?

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