Advantages, types, and uses of plotters


A plotter is an output device that converts softcopy vector graphics data into hardcopy on different print materials. It is a printer that interprets computer commands and prints continuous lines using a pen instead of dots like an ordinary printer.

There are different types of plotters such as drum, flatbed, electrostatic, inkjet, and pen among others. They are used by engineers for blueprints and advertisement agencies for billboards and signboards. Businesses can also use them to print big business charts.

Using plotters has benefits such as high-quality print, working on big-size material, and they are fast. However, they are expensive to acquire and maintain and also they are big in size.

Types of plotters

Printer plotters are categorized into different types depending on how they print the graphics and their physical design.

Drum plotters

This is the old technology of the plotter. It uses a drum where the paper is fixed. As the drum rotates the paper also rotates as well as the pen creates the image. The printer can use more than one pen for multicolor graphics.

Flatbed plotter

In this plotter technology, the paper is placed on a flat surface instead of a rotating drum like on drum plotters. The paper is fixed on the bed and only the pens move to create the print. 

The bed for the plotter is big which means it can print bigger size images than the drum. Flatbeds are also designed to use multi-pens hence more colors for the graphic. Due to having multiple pens, they can draw complex diagrams very fast.

Inkjet plotters

They print similarly to inkjet printers where the ink comes from the nozzle and is sprayed on the printing material. Inkjet plotters are relatively cheap among all the other plotters. They can also be used for a variety of applications. This makes them ideal for most users.

There are 2 main types of inkjet plotters namely piezoelectric and thermal. Piezoelectric used electric charges to apply ink onto the paper while thermal use heat.

Pen plotter

The plotter gets its name from using multiple pens that are used to draw the image. The pens have different colors to generate multicolored graphics. They print point-to-point graphics and they are commonly used for architectural drawings

Electrostatic plotters

The plotter uses electrostatic charges to create graphics. These types of plotters are not common in today’s application since they were replaced by others with better quality. They were fast but the quality of the printout was low.

Cutting plotters

It is also known as the vinyl cutter. They are plotters that are capable of printing high-quality design graphics. On top of printing, they also have cutting knives that are used to cut the image after it has been printed. They are used for graphics that require a lot of precision.

Uses of plotter

  1. Print vector graphics: plotter are used to print high-quality vector graphics such as maps.
  2. Used with CAMS and CAD: most plotter printers can be used by Computer Aided Manufacturing and Design software. From this software, they can print complex designs that are produced by the software.
  3. Engineering drawings: Engineers use the plotters to print blueprints of different designs. They can include architectural design, electrical design, and vehicle engineer design among others.
  4. Advertising agencies: big advertising companies use plotters to produce big billboards and signboards. This can be used for roadside advertisements, marketing, vehicle banners, etc.
  5. Fashion and design industries: the industry can use the plotter to brand clothes and other items for marketing and art.
  6. Business charts: plotters are used to generate big business charts that can be used to show summaries of business growth and progress.

Advantages of plotter printers

  1. Used with a large sheet of material: unlike the standard printer which uses small-size paper for printing, plotters use big-size paper. The size of the paper is limited to the bed for a flatbed plotter.
  2. High-resolution print: plotters generate high-resolution printouts on large materials. The quality of the print is not compromised by the size of is printout, unlike ordinary printers.
  3. Use a wide variety of printing materials: printers mostly use paper for printing. On the other hand, plotters use a wide variety of materials such as paper, vinyl, steel, aluminum, plywood, cloth, plastics, etc.
  4. They are fast: depending on the type of plotter they can produce printouts very fast.

Disadvantages of plotters

  1. Compared to standard printers plotters are relatively expensive.
  2. Plotters are large in size which requires a big space for storage and operation. Big advertising companies may need to set aside a separate room for the plotter.
  3. Unlike non-impact printers that generate less noise while printing, the plotter makes noise
  4. Maintenance cost: for optimum operation, they require regular maintenance which requires a specialist on plotters. The device will also require a toner that will be used for printing.

The difference between the traditional printer and plotter

Creates characters in dots form.Draws complete lines to create graphics using pens.
They can print all types of graphics.Specialized in vector graphics. They mostly work with specialized graphic software.
Low print resolution.They offer high print resolution even on big surfaces.
Relatively cheap compared to the plotter.They are expensive.
The printing speed is low. Fast speed can compromise print quality.They print fast without compromising on the quality of the print.