Ever since Chester Carlson introduced the first modern computer printer to the world in 1938, industries have been obsessed with refining printing technology for their specific use. Today, the technology has achieved a dazzling array of capabilities, from ultra-efficient laser technology to wide format printers and visually stunning graphics produced on an offset press.

Among the constellation of printing technologies includes the wide format plotter. These devices were once common in architectural and engineering firms. Prized for their ability to deliver super-precise schematics and blueprints, they’ve since been replaced by the improvements made in laser technology. However, it’s still possible to find them in use today.

What is a Plotter?

A plotter is a unique type of printer which creates large documents – such as blueprints or charts – which may range from between two and six feet wide. Rather than relying on lasers or drops of ink, plotters manage these sizes by using a physical pen to draw each design. This pen is attached to an arm which moves horizontally across a vertical bar. As the bar moves up and down, the pen arm moves left and right. Together, these movements create smooth, precise lines that are associated with architectural designs.

A computer controls the movement of the arm and represents one of the first instances of automation in the printing industry. An engineer would develop the design using CAD software, which would then translate the design into a set of coordinates. These coordinates formed instructions which caused the pen to move.

The Art of Vector

Unlike rasterized images, which a real from pixels, plotters operate with what is known as vector imaging. Each coordinate is connected by a line, granting the plotter the ability to scale designs up or down without losing detail. Unlike rasterized images, which develop a blocky blurriness as they’re enlarged, vector images can be recreated on a plotter at a variety of sizes flawlessly. It’s this feature which made plotters so popular for industries which demanded precision.

The Rise of Wide Format Printing

Wide-format plotters outstripped printers in their ability to deliver accuracy and clarity of detail until laser printing became mainstream in the late 1980s. Over the next decade, laser printing evolved to develop many of the same capabilities as plotters in terms of accuracy and clarity of detail. Laser printers exhibited several crucial advantages over plotters. They were:

  • Much faster. A laser printer could print a document in a fraction of the time it took a plotter to draw.
  • Able to handle gradients and line shades. A plotter struggled to handle gradients, line shades, and solid areas effectively.
  • More cost-effective. Plotters were the only cost-effective way to produce ultra-accurate drawings through the 1970s and 1980s. Laser printing technology changed that, driving down the price of wide format laser printers.
  • Easier to use. Using a wide format plotter required a specialized skillset. The engineer needed to master the CAD software as well as the physical capabilities and limitations of the device. In contrast, a wide format printer was about as easy to use as an office laser printer, making this technology more accessible.

By the early 2000s, large format printers using laser technology had all but replaced plotters for most applications. Today, architectural firms and engineers frequently utilize wide format printers to produce blueprints, schematics, and other technical documents requiring absolute precision.

Why Choose Modern Wide Format Printers?

Wide-format printers are invaluable across many industries, and they’ve been widely embraced by fields which once employed plotters to create their documents. With the continued evolution of wide format and laser technology, these devices have only gotten more powerful and sophisticated.

Today, wide format printing rival the precision of plotters. They deliver the clarity and accuracy which many professionals rely on to develop soundly engineered products, buildings, and machinery.

However, the advances in this technology have also made these machines accessible to any business which desires the flexibility to output materials on larger paper sizes. A modern wide format printer can do much more than output layouts and blueprints, making them a flexible, reliable, and a practical option for many businesses.

Considering a wide format printer? DME helps companies transform their office into a productivity ecosystem. Start a conversation with a specialist today to discover your best options.