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11.12.08

Type design with the holey spirit 

Ecofont preview, cropped

A getting a lot of attention lately is the Ecofont (acknowledgements to Jim Donovan), a from SPRANQ based on Bitstream Vera (which went open source under GNOME). The claim: that by putting dots into the characters, one can use up to 20 per cent less ink or toner.
   The idea of omitting a part of a character or even manipulating outlines is not new, but what SPRANQ has done is, to my knowledge, original. have done ink traps for years—these are most obvious on designs like Bell Centennial, which are to be used at small sizes for phone books. Ink traps are where ink can go in a less-than-ideal printing environment (e.g. high-speed presses, low-grade paper) and “fill in” the rest of the letter.
   And people have been doing funny things to characters for ages, including putting holes in the design, but that was always for ornamental purposes, not for ones.
   SPRANQ claims that the result of its roman-only design works at small sizes, and that it should display all right at 9 or 10 pt.
   It’s not a bad idea and I am not surprised it has taken the , who have been turning out excellent type in the last 25 years, to have thought of it.
   ‘After the Dutch holey cheese, there now is a Dutch with holes as well,’ jokes the website.
   However, is it the best solution for the ?
   The company claims that it won’t do a serif version of Ecofont, because seriffed letterforms use more ink. I’m not sure if that holds true always.
   A typical serif design has greater contrast between verticals and horizontals. Seriffed typefaces tend to be more compact when it comes to copyfitting (how many letters per line). There are, of course, many exceptions.
   If you take in the contrast (knowing that the horizontal strokes are going to use less ink) and accept that seriffed characters are narrower (in general), you might still be helping the planet. Notably, better copyfitting means less paper. Ecofont, being wide, uses more paper.
   The only way to test these claims about ink is scientifically—maybe someone with way more time than me can put it all to the test? (The problem: you use more ink or toner and paper doing it. Not good.)
   So I hope SPRANQ might consider Ecofont Serif, with holes through the verticals, but keep the horizontal strokes more intact (or use smaller holes). It has already employed a similar idea, anyway: the holes in the horizontals in the existing Ecofont are necessarily smaller, because there is still some contrast between their and the verticals’ thicknesses. And they should make it more compact.
   As for the sans serif, intuitively the idea works and it certainly makes for some deserved press. I only wonder if the rasterizers for computer will pick up that the holes are there and allow the ink or toner to cover them. I assume SPRANQ has that covered, or perhaps someone can inform me of how that process works.
   All in all, I take my hat off to these guys.
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Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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