The plotter is a form of computer printer used for wide-format printing applications.
Wide format printing is a requirement when one looks to produce hard copies of designs, drawings, maps or similar such items that may have been generated through vector graphics via a computer or other digital source.
Plotters and modern wide format printers are often essential pieces of kit for many different industries and sectors such as graphic designers, architects, engineering, construction or mapping; among many others.
The Traditional Pen Plotter
Pen plotters really began to come into prominence with office printing and designers towards the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, pioneered by companies such as Hewlett-Packard.
Traditionally plotters operated by use of an automated pen system within the machine, the pens working to a programme to copy the vectors of the computer-generated design. They provided an effective and efficient method of producing hard copies of large or wide format drawings, with the ability to manoeuvre over the paper to draw intricate and complex shapes, lines and colours.
Of course, in comparison to today’s modern wide-format printers (inkjet or LaserJet for example) these plotters were a pretty slow and cumbersome piece of equipment. They were limited by space and design to the number of colours they could possess while there were practical issues with their use such as ensuring pens didn’t run dry of ink.
Despite this plotters were still considered vital for printing requirements due to the fact that they could, even the 1970s vintage, produce high-resolution drawings. In addition, they were also, until the mid-1980s the only real source of attaining a colour hard copy of computer generated imagery.
Plotting an Evolution
Many of the original plotters were designed with a flatbed over which pens were mounted to a travelling bar which would move across the bed, the pens moving according to the vector graphics in order to draw the required shapes onto the paper.
These plotters were effective in their overall quality but slow in operation as well as being bulky and heavy in general use.
Moving into the 1980s plotters however began to evolve, moving towards the modern printers we use today. This evolution included the introduction of ‘grit wheel’ mechanisms which eliminated perforations at the paper’s edge, as factor which, as much as anything, increased the aesthetic quality.
The evolution would continue with the introduction of paper moving printer / plotters with single sheets of paper being fed through a ‘paper pinching’ device in the machine. This moved the plotters away from the old flat-bed design and onto the path that would lead to the printing and plotting machines we see in our offices and workplaces today.
Modern Office Plotters
Today we see a range of different machines which offer digital printing solutions similar to the old style pen plotter.
Machines such as the Hewlett-Packard range of wide-format plotters which can be easily installed into an office or workplace and provide a fast and efficient way of hard copies of computer generated drawings, designs, paperwork and plans.
The Hewlett-Packard Design Jet for instance can produce high resolution colour prints up to four times faster than previous plotter devices whilst maintaining high line accuracy and lower running costs by efficient use of both energy and ink. This evolution in the technology of plotters and wide-format printing means that more and more offices are in a position to handle their own printing and copying requirements in a cost effective and straightforward fashion without the associated costs and hassles of large volume outsourcing.