Green Graphic Design Tips: How to Save Paper

Many companies are reducing their use of paper. Newer ATMs don't require envelopes for deposits. Companies give us the option to go green by receiving our bills electronically. Our friends’ and coworkers’ emails instruct us to not print unless absolutely necessary. These steps are all positive but sometimes you just have to print documents. The goal then is to use less paper. But how?

Print on Both Sides of the Page and “Precycle”

Admittedly, this first tip isn't a design tip at all, but it’s worth considering anyway. Some printers have handy dual-sided printing options built into the printing menu. If that's not available, see if your software program has an option to print all even- and odd-numbered pages. You'll want to do a practice run first to see how to orient the already-printed pages. Finally, in addition to recycling, precycle. Put already-printed paper in your copier or printer's paper tray.

Use Columns

save paper with text in columnsHave you ever printed a document only to discover how little is printed on the last page? Perhaps the quickest and most overlooked way to print fewer pages is to put more words on a page using columns. Bonus: this technique can actually make it easier to read the document!

The example to the left shows the same words on both pages, the only difference is the page on the right has a 2-column layout. Most of what we type is "left justified", that is, aligned along the left edge. The text on the right usually "rags" — no hard edge meeting the right margin. In the middle of the page on the left some of the lines of text don't extend beyond the middle of the page, which is common with bulleted or numbered lists. Suppose this document had an extra paragraph or two on a second page, suddenly it becomes a one-page document just by clicking on the two-column option.

Change the Default Margin

graphic design tip, how to save paperIf your document is many pages long, wide margins can add unnecessary pages. Software programs have generous margins built in for very good reasons, but those reasons might not apply to you.

So think about the purpose of what you're printing. If it's not for presentation purposes, reduce all margins. If the document IS for presentation purposes, experiment with which margins you can reduce. Suppose, for example you plan to staple the pages along the left edge. You won't want the left-side content to get swallowed up in the stapling.

Are you putting the printout in a binder? Reduce all but the left margin.

In any case, print as close as possible to the top and bottom of the paper as your printing equipment will allow.

Make it Smaller

save paper, use smaller fontsWhat's the purpose of your printout? Maybe it's a "just-in-case" archival. Or maybe it's a for-your-eyes-only content proofreading draft.

If it's just for you, maybe, just maybe, it's not important that your printout actually look good. I know, I know, I'm a graphic designer, yet I'm suggesting you ugly up your printout, but it's all for a good cause. If you're the only one to see the printout, go ahead and shrink that document into fewer pages.

Try these suggestions when you create documents and when you print documents you receive from others:

  • Reduce the font size(s) in your document. Not an option in your email program? No problem, copy and paste the text you need into a word processor.
  • Reduce the vertical space between lines. Designers call this space "leading" (rhymes with sledding) but your software program might call it line spacing.
  • Make the graphics smaller.
  • Make the header and footer smaller
  • Reduce the margins (see above).
  • Delete excess "hard returns", the spacing created by pushing the enter (or return) key.
  • Print document "thumbnails" of more than one page per sheet.

Distribute PDF Documents

Use a combination of the above techniques, then save your documents for distribution in pdf format. That way, you'll know that your coworkers and colleagues are also saving paper if they print your documents.