What is a printing plotter? Applications and types

Printing plotter what is it?

A printing plotter is a hardware device similar to a printer, designed to print vector graphics instead of printing individual dots on paper. Instead of toner, printing plotters use a pen, pencil, marker, or other writing tool to draw many solid lines on paper.

architectural plans

The printing plotters are ideal for printing architectural plans, engineering designs and other computer-aided drawings, that is, blueprint printing plotters. However, some graphic designers use plotters when they require line work with a very high level of detail. Getting to this level of detail is a very important feature of the high resolution plotter. For graphic design, such as posters, T-shirts and signs, large format printers produce quality images and generally at a lower cost.

Plotters use a vector format, which is creating images with lines. Vector images use point-to-point nodes, joined by lines and curves, created by mathematical settings of position, location, and length. Changing the image scale does not affect print quality.

Although they were widely used some time ago for computer-aided design, flatbed plotters have lately been replaced by large-format printers.

Large format printing plotter

Large format printing plotters tend to cost quite a bit, both for the machine and for ink replacement.

They are used more in the creation of technical drawings. However, some graphic designers use plotters when they need highly detailed line work. This is where the high resolution of plotters really comes into play. Plotters often create much larger line details than printers. Achieving this level of detail is a main feature of plotters.

Detailed, high-resolution technical drawings benefit from a plotter, which has the ability to produce sharp, clear images that those industries require. For graphic design, such as posters, T-shirts and signs, large format printers create quality images and generally at a lower cost.

Types and uses of the printing plotter

printing machine

There are several main categories of plotters, below you will find a small description of each one:

1. Drum plotter

Also called a roller plotter, it allows you to turn the paper from one side to the other in a cylindrical drum and in turn the ink markers move left and right. By putting these two directions together, the lines can be drawn in any direction. It was the first output device used to print large engineering drawings and graphics.

2. Flatbed plotter

The flatbed plotter is a drawing hardware used with computer aided programs (CAD), it has a wide horizontal surface on which the paper is located, which remains stationary. A scroll bar creates lines on the paper as it moves across the surface. This plotter allows you to use several different pen colors to draw the graphs. The size of the chart is limited to the size of the flatbed plotter’s surface.

3. Inkjet plotter

The inkjet plotter allows you to create an image by spraying small drops of ink on the paper. They are generally used for banners, billboards, and large billboards often visible along the roads. They are available in thermal or piezoelectric models. The former use heat to spray ink drops and the latter use charged crystals to spread the ink. They can generally produce better quality graphics than other types of plotters.

4. Cutting plotter

The cutting plotter is a large-size cutting device that creates pre-cut mylar (transparent and flexible polyester film) or vinyl designs and graphics instead of printing them. The plotter knives slice through a sheet of material that sits on the flat surface area of the plotter, etching the design stored in the computer. Used for creating billboards and vehicle graphics, they provide much greater speed and precision than can be achieved with the traditional method of generating poster designs and logos by hand. There are different options for this type of plotter with different costs. There are even domestic plotters, created mainly for crafts, scrapbooking and other occupations or hobbies.


When looking for a printing plotter, you should pay attention to very important issues such as the following, which will determine, among other things, the price of the printing plotter:

  • type of material on which to print: not all print on canvas or banner and their configuration can change in heads and ink and even the work area.
  • Printing work area: this depends on the type of material and the market in which it is focused, for example if it is for photographic printing, UV printing (using a UV printing plotter), large format, etc.
  • type of inks to be used: the printing plotters are configured according to the material to be printed, if it is known beforehand that you will use sublimation inks, your machine will be relatively small compared to others. In this section we emphasize eco-solvent inks (they are less aggressive to the environment and with high resistance to sun and water), indicated for outdoor advertising printing, as a replacement for solvent ink, which is highly toxic, carcinogenic and of little durability in the sun.
  • print quality: this depends on the market the company is targeting, that is, if they only print billboards on the roads or large-format notices on top of a building (they require less resolution) or if they want to print pedestrian outdoor advertising or indoor advertising, these require higher resolution heads.
  • printhead quality: this is reflected in the working life of the printhead, in the quality of the print and in how it reacts to the ink. Be careful with blocked or second-hand printheads, which usually get clogged continuously, having to spend more ink cleaning than printing.
  • ambient temperature: this is very important due to the behavior of the inks, which may imply having to make investments in heating or air conditioning. For example, UV inks tend to work very poorly when printing machines are in cold environments, whereas DTG inks work inconsistently in high heat areas.

For all the above conditions we do not dare to give a price range because it is very varied depending on the needs.

Plotter to print canvases

Canvas or canvas prints have been created to copy the look of an original oil or acrylic painting, and are often used to create large-format photos or illustrations for interior design.

To choose the correct Plotter, check the following items:

  • Not just any large format printer or plotter can print on canvas. This requires a device that allows to work heavier substrates, that has a skillful manual roll feed to handle thicker material, since the canvas has a weight of approximately 280-430 g / m2 than a large format printer configured for lighter options, such as CAD paper or plotter paper, it cannot process. The cutters must also be powered by a more powerful motor to allow the canvas to be cut cleanly.
  • Since canvas and graphic prints are often designed for display and in some cases exposed to sunlight, they have to be kept in good condition over time. For this, canvas printing inks are based on pigments, are waterproof and are stabilized against UV rays, so they will not fade or diminish the intensity of the color even when they are outdoors.
  • Large format canvas prints, banners or signage are often viewed from a distance, so the print quality doesn’t have to be the best up close. The ink you use is far more relevant than the resolution to the quality and lifespan of your canvas print.
  • If your business is viewing high volumes of printing, it is best to choose a canvas printer or plotter that is capable of fast and powerful processing, and can hold larger ink cartridges and rolls so you can work unattended longer.

Vinyl printing plotter

A vinyl printing plotter, also known as a vinyl cutter or vinyl printer cutter combination, is a computer part that uses a ballpoint pen to draw your design on paper. It allows you to cut out vinyl sign letters, and other images, for a wide range of things, including billboards, decals, and more.

Digital vinyl printing plotters come in various sizes, from large to small. Some varieties of vinyl plotters that are more optimized allow connection to the computer, are more affordable in terms of costs and are optimal for making displays, posters, wall lettering, etc. There are also commercial grade vinyl cutting plotters, which are quite large and can be used to cut such large letters for a large building wall or large billboard. Commercial plotters often cut immediately (and accurately) and allow simple adjustments to improve spacing.

Textile Printing Plotter

In recent years, there has been an increase in the growth of the digital textile printing industry, whereby the main equipment manufacturers are developing new business models for the textile segment: print heads, inks, machinery, etc., The The greatest acceleration occurred in clothing (haute couture and sportswear), followed by home textiles. Sublimation and other direct-to-fabric processes have seen a huge rise, due to the shift from traditional analog screen printing to large-format digital production. Today, large-format equipment manufacturers continue to develop new technology that will print on fabrics. This includes signage and displays such as banners and posters, trade show graphics, POP / POS displays, flags, interior décor such as walls, chairs and sofas, curtains, sheets, tables and furniture coverings, and even rugs and clothing / apparel such as t-shirts, caps, sportswear and more. All these applications are having a great growth !!

Some of the companies that offer textile printing plotters are: Agfa Graphics, Azon, Durst, Epson, Ink, Kornit, Mimaki, Mutoh and Roland.

Frequently asked questions about printing plotter

printing plotter questions

As always in our blog, more than talking like crazy about a topic, the main objective is to provide you reader with useful information that solves as many doubts as possible on any topic related to printing, for this reason we share the most frequently asked questions and they ask us about a printing plotter, we hope they will be very useful for you.

How to use a printing plotter?

The trend today is that any technological device is very user-friendly, there are display screens that indicate step by step how to carry out the printing process, or directly from the computer the sequence of the process can be verified of impression. Additionally, you should also know the easy access to the management of supplies, know how to change them or validate that they are properly installed, how to mount the paper rolls and replace them if they run out. In large format devices, great care must be taken regarding the proper way to change the cartridges, as well as the paper, since to have the best printing results it is necessary to maintain the equipment properly.

Which printing plotter to buy?

When purchasing a printing plotter, you must consider the image quality, software, design, performance, supported media, ink type, and printer consumables. However, the need for your business or home takes precedence, and then the other elements follow. To learn more about each of these items, check the section Digital printing plotter Prices, where we expand these and other necessary concepts to take into account when you need to buy a printing plotter.

How does a printing plotter work?

A printing plotter is an output device frequently used for computer-aided design applications, in order to create vector designs such as architectural plans. By moving a pen mechanically, plotters create lines on the surface of the paper to reproduce vector graphics drawn on a computer. Although ideal for printing large line graphics, they cannot reproduce raster graphics, and the development of large-format laser and inkjet printers has made them largely obsolete.

How does a print and cut plotter work?

A cutting plotter works like a plotter, but instead of a pen, it moves a knife. The depth of the blade is adjusted to the material (paper, mylar or vinyl), this is achieved because the cutting plotter is connected to a computer, which has specialized programs for cutting or drawing design. Those programs are responsible for sending to the machine the dimensions or cutting designs required for the cutting blade and generating the results according to the project. Lately, the use of cutting plotters (or die cutting machines) has become common for those who have a hobby of paper crafts, such as card making and scrapbooking. Such devices help the desired shapes of the card to be cut very precisely and repeated identically.
Cutting plotters are simple to use: a vector drawing is loaded into the computer, then cut lines are selected and sent to the machine.

What is the best printing plotter?

There are many brands of printing plotter on the market, and it is not so easy to offer recommendations for each one. Although it is advisable to evaluate and buy brands that are common and compatible with most accessories. Some brands have specific measurements and you need to ensure that the size and specifications of your project will meet your goals.

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