Revolutionary Type: Ecofont


In the midst of all the printing companies offering recycled paper, vegetable-based inks and e-waste management, one firm in the Netherlands is backing up for a second and asking consumers to consider switching to a greener font.

Yes, we’re talking about the carbon footprint of Times New Roman, Helvetica and Gil Sans. But don’t roll your eyes just yet. Although it may seem silly, the new Ecofont, created by SPRANQ, could have major sustainable ripple effects and potentially kick-start a different approach to how we design typefaces, and why.

For instance, rather than ask a questions such as, “What makes a font look good?” this Dutch design team asked, “How much of a letter can be removed while maintaining readability?”

The answer, deduced after many trial runs and much coffee: 20%.

“We started off looking at Verdana, the most-used font in Holland,” says SPRANQ co-founder Gerjon Zomer of the creative process behind Ecofont. The Ecofont is based on the Vera Sans, an Open Source letter, and is available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

The team then deleted thin vertical strips within each letter to produce as much negative space as possible – doing this saved about 50% of the ink but also left them with a font that was unreadable on most computer screens. They tried cutting out a series of square shapes and even stars, but in the end, circles proved most effective.

Finally, the designers switched from Verdana to Vera, and declared they had a winner. It’s now available for free downloading at

“I think the power of Ecofont is its simplicity,” says Zomer. “There are a lot of complicated technical solutions out there to save ink, but they don’t usually appeal to people. We decided it was important to see the effect, right there in front of you.”

Some environmentalists argue that if renewable vegetable- or soy-based inks are used, it hardly matters how much is printed.

“But those still require cartridges,” Zomer says, “which need replacing, and each cartridge can require up to three and a half litres of oil to ­manufacture.”

Another advantage to the Ecofont is that it’s free.

“We found that most things to do with the environment right now are still very money-related,” Zomer says. “If a business is going green, it’s usually just for publicity’s sake and for customer reassurance. If the cost is too high, it won’t be successful.”

Reaction to the Ecofont, which unfortunately isn’t refined enough yet for book publishing or other high-end printing projects, has been mixed.

For whatever reason, North Americans tend to embrace it, but the European community has been more cynical, claiming it’s nothing but a cheeky marketing ploy.

Writers at, for example, gave it a test-run and had mostly positive results, but they also point out that one could simply adjust the printer settings – think options such as low-resolution, fast draft mode or grey-scale.

Meanwhile, in a Jan. 2 National Public Radio broadcast in the United States, the host quipped, “We’re doing something similar here in our offices – our printers no longer use vowels.”

Still, despite all the criticism, there’s something to be said for green initiatives taking hold in unexpected places. The Ecofont proves that a seemingly inconsequential, small white dot on the stem of a 6-pt letter F can have a positive effect on the earth, one that’s hard to measure in quantitative terms but that perhaps signifies something greater.

And a small leap forward is always better than standing around doing nothing, so at the very least, the Dutch deserve a pat on the back for tackling the green movement in a unique way, choosing to think small in a world of big problems.

Source: National Post, January 15, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s