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Technology Untangled: Can software save money on printer ink?

June 17, 2015

technology-bourI bet you cringe a little every time you go to buy replacement ink for your inkjet printer. I have read that printer ink is ounce-for-ounce one of the most expensive liquids you can buy. It only makes sense to look for ways to economize when using it. I have tried various refill products, but they usually leave me unsatisfied.

That’s why I was intrigued when I ran across a software product that purported to save up to 28 percent on the use of your ink. The product, Ecofont, is marketed by a company based in the Netherlands. Their idea is to provide you with specialty fonts that physically use less ink per letter.

There is some evidence suggesting that simply using a different font could save significant volumes of ink. A science project conducted by a 14-year-old student last year reported that the government could save up to $234 million by simply switching from Times New Roman to Garamond as its standard font. While the actual savings are probably debatable, the idea of adjusting to slimmer fonts to save ink seems like common sense.

The twist with the fonts from Ecofont is that while they appear as normal text to the naked eye, they actually have microscopic holes precisely distributed throughout the interior shape of each letter of the font. Those holes are white spaces where no ink is deposited during printing. Less ink used per individual letter of course equals less ink used per page. Although the letters are full of holes, the entire outline of each letter remains intact and undisturbed. This, they say, helps the mind perceive a crisp and complete font when reading a printed page.

I decided to download the free demo version of the Ecofont software to investigate (www.ecofont.com). The pay version is $25 for one computer or $55 for three computers. Once installed, an Ecofont toolbar is added to MS Word and to MS Outlook. Here, the first limitation was revealed. This software works exclusively with documents produced within Word and Outlook, nothing else, so unless these are the only two programs you ever print from, your ink savings will not be maximized. One other interesting note: If you choose to print to PDF from Word, the resulting PDF documents do in fact carry along the hole-riddled font properties within each converted document, so others who print your distributed documents can gain some theoretical ink savings also.

The next limitation is there are only a few fonts available that contain the microscopic holes – five to be exact. You must create your documents with one of those specialty fonts in order to achieve any ink savings at all. Fortunately, these fonts include some of the most popular ones, such as Times New Roman, Arial and Calibri.

I created some documents with Word and examined them closely. The first thing I noted was that the on-screen image for the Ecofonts was normal. No matter the magnification, I could not see any holes. The printed pages were a different story. The pages were crisp, but light. The appearance was more like a draft print. It reminded me of the effect you get when your printer is about to run out of ink. With my reading glasses on, I could definitely perceive the holes in the lightened fonts. It was annoying and too light. Examination under 30-power magnification revealed a very precise placement of the holes. It is clear that some serious design effort went into the development of the concept, but the subjective result is poor in side-by-side comparison with a normally printed page.

Unfortunately, this ink-saving solution works only for plain, black, printed text. Color images and graphics are unaffected. In my experience, a major portion of my ink use is due to printing of Web pages, colorful newsletters and advertisements. No Ecofont ink savings are achieved there.

This technology might impress me as more useful and more economical if it could somehow be installed directly to the printer itself instead of to each individual computer that communicates with the printer.

I do not see Ecofont as an ideal solution for saving ink. If your business prints a large enough quantity of plain, black text pages to add up to any measurable ink savings, you probably shouldn’t be using ink at all. The obvious savings answer is to use a laser printer and dry toner. For our court reporting business, since we do not use MS Word or inkjet printers for transcript production, we would see no savings.

It seems to me that if you want to save some money on ink, you could print most documents using the economy settings of your printer. Along with “Fast Economical” and “Fast Draft” modes, my HP 4500, for example, has a setting hiding under the Advanced Properties tab that adjusts the ink volume from automatic to light. Pages I printed that way still had a better appearance than the Ecofont pages. Experiment with similar settings on your inkjet printer, but save even more ink by instead using a laser printer whenever possible.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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