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I know I have seen a table of average font widths. I am not sure whether this was for popular LaTeX fonts such as Computer Modern and I can not remember where it was. Does anyone know of such a listing somewhere?

I find myself trying to save trees and squeezing things in on one page. I am wondering if a times new roman clone is what I am limited to or if there are any alternatives in my LaTeX distribution...

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Are your documents pure text or do they also contain mathematics? –  Mico Jun 18 '12 at 14:37
    
My document is pure text. –  jonalv Jun 19 '12 at 12:18
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Here's a simple table of widths of all-lowercase and all-uppercase alphabets for several well-known fonts. (You can use the code to check the alphabet-widths of other fonts that you may find of interest for your project.)

Based on this obviously non-representative sample, you may want to give consideration to Minion Pro, EB Garamond, and especially Dante (also based on Garamond; creator: Giovanni Mardersteig) -- in addition to Times New Roman (represented in the table below by XITS) -- if one of your main objectives is to save trees.

As the example further shows, using a condensed sans-serif font such as "Frutiger Condensed" can really help save more trees. Of course, a sans-serif font (especially a condensed one) may not be suitable to your publication needs.

enter image description here

% !TEX program = lualatex
\documentclass[letterpaper]{article}
\usepackage[vmargin=0.25in]{geometry}
\usepackage{fontspec}

\newcommand\alphabet{abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz}
\newcommand\ALPHABET{ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ}
\newlength{\alphlength}
\newcommand{\measurealphwidth}{% this macro is used in each subsection below
   \alphabet\ \ALPHABET\newline
   Widths: 
   \settowidth{\alphlength}{\alphabet} \the\alphlength, 
   \settowidth{\alphlength}{\ALPHABET} \the\alphlength
   }
\newcommand{\checkfont}[2]{%
    \setmainfont{#1}
    \subsubsection*{#2}
    \measurealphwidth}

\pagestyle{empty}
\begin{document}
\noindent
Computer Modern (Default)

\medskip\noindent
\measurealphwidth

\checkfont{PalatinoNova-Regular.ttf}{Palatino nova LT}

\checkfont{SabonNextLTPro-Regular.otf}{Sabon Next LT Pro}

\checkfont{AldusLTStd-Roman.otf}{Aldus LT Standard}

\checkfont{OptimaNovaLTPro-Regular.otf}{Optima nova LT Pro}

\checkfont{xits-regular.otf}{XITS}

\checkfont{LinLibertine_R.otf}{Linux Libertine}

\checkfont{MinionPro-Regular.otf}{Minion Pro}

\checkfont{EBGaramond.otf}{EB Garamond}

\checkfont{DanteMTStd-Regular.otf}{Dante MT Standard}

\checkfont{arial.ttf}{Arial} 

\checkfont{MyriadPro-Regular.otf}{Myriad Pro}

\checkfont{FrutigerLTStd-Cn.otf}{Frutiger Condensed}

\end{document}
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It would be interesting to see how different the results are if you measured the width of some text with repetitions of more common letters. That is, if the measure took account of the fact that a thinner e will have more of an effect than a thinner z –  Seamus Jun 19 '12 at 16:04
    
@Seamus: I fully agree with you. Using complete lower- and/or uppercase alphabets -- which gives equal weight to all letters - is obviously a rather crude way of measuring the "width" of a font. In the MWE, I chose to list the fonts in descending order of the combined lengths of upper- and lowercase alphabets. However, the rank orderings are not invariant to using just the lowercase or just the uppercase alphabet. And, as you note, having a relatively narrow e -- a fairly common letter in many European languages -- may be far more important in practice than having a narrow w or z. –  Mico Jun 19 '12 at 17:41
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@Seamus That shouldn't be hard to do; The ratio of the letters in all common written languages is quite well known, as web browsers use it (well, vowel:consonant ratio) to determine what language a page missing character set information is in. I'm sure you could find an academic paper around, then just construct a text with the appropriate number of each letter, then measure how long the text is. –  Canageek Jun 19 '12 at 18:52
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@Canageek: I guess there are (at least) two additional complications: Not only do the raw letter widths (and their relative frequency) matter but also (i) the widths of letter pairs (including any kerning adjustments) and ligatures (fl, fi, etc) and (ii) the width and relative frequency of interword spaces in a document. I suppose that incorporating all these considerations is "doable", but these factors do illustrate, I believe, why many people in practice appear to make do with the simple lengths of the lowercase and uppercase alphabets. –  Mico Jun 19 '12 at 18:59
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@Seamus -- yet another complication ... if one insists on using long words that can't reasonably be hyphenated, it matters little how compact the individual letters of the font are. there will simply be more line breaks and ugly lines. –  barbara beeton Jun 19 '12 at 20:32
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I frequently use the LaTeX Font Catalogue (Serif, Sans Serif, Typewriter) for this purpose, which lists all fonts together on the same page with the English standard example "The quick brown fox jumps over the sleazy dog. This makes it easy to find a smaller or wider font, at least for English texts.

According to this list, the smallest Serif font is Antykwa Półtawskiego Light:

enter image description here

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