Cutting Plotters

Though plotter ink printing is less-used now, there is a newer application for plotter printing technology that has created its very own niche. This is the cutting plotter. Cutting plotters are ingenious devices that replace the automated line drawing implement with a sharp cutting blade. The applications for this are many-fold, chief among them being the cutting of thin media such as vinyl. Marketers love using cutting plotters because they have opened up numerous eye-catching graphical possibilities for varied-shape advertisements on vehicles, signage, indoor ads and more.

Cutting plotters have greatly multiplied the options for creativity when it comes to large format printing projects. Not only does a designer have the actual “blank canvas” of the printing medium on which to display colorful, attention-grabbing images; now they can also create large-format projects which can take advantage of the medium’s physical shape within a space. Imagine the impactful difference between a simple movie poster versus a life-size standee cut to fit the imagery of movie characters.

Plotter Applications

While plotter printers currently are most often used for CAD, GIS and CAE (Computer-aided engineering) purposes, plotters still print with greater precision than traditional large-format printers. 

Wide-format plotters generally offer a series of common widths when it comes to the size of media that can be printed on. Some of the most common are 11, 18, 24, 30, 36 and 42 inches, though there are other choices within that range. Having a set of standard dimensions helps reduce cost for large-scale customers of plotter printer projects.

Large format printing
Large format printing

Plotter Types

Flatbed and drum plotters are the two primary plotter printer variants. “Roller plotter” is another name for drum plotters. This type actually holds the printing medium on a cylindrical drum and spins it as the ink pens automatically zip around to create the lines dictated in the digital file. The two dimensions of movement allow lines to be crafted in all directions, including curves. Don’t confuse a drum printer with a drum plotter, though: A drum printer is an outdated device that rotates a cylinder a little at a time and only applies a single line of ink at a time.

There are a few other kinds of plotter printers on the market, as well:

Roller plotter: Much like a traditional office printer, paper (or other media) is mechanically pulled through the machine while the ink is applied along the way.

Pen / Inkjet plotter: Usually on the lower-cost end of the spectrum, inkjet plotters often utilize a system of tri-tonal inks to print high-quality color images.

Electrostatic plotter: This type of plotter uses a positively-charged toner to draw images on a negatively-charged paper.

While plotters offer a number of advantages for various kinds of printing projects, they are on average larger than large format traditional printers and tend to cost somewhat more. If a print house is operating with limited space, it can be difficult to find enough area to place a plotter printing machine. 

Overall, though, the added creative capabilities of plotter printers can offset the need to extra space and higher cost. Between plotter printers’ specialized niches in mapmaking an architectural needs and the visual uniqueness that can be produced via the use of a cutting plotter, this type of printing device offers a lot of incentive both for a printing business as well as for the many customers who enjoy the amazing results.