The first time I heard the term plotter I wondered how it’s any different than a traditional printer. After all, they’re both printers. How different can they be? While there is considerable overlap there are some key differences.

First, the type of plotter being compared is important since plotter can refer to several different devices. Plotter can mean a:

  • Pen plotter
  • Cutting plotter
  • Flatbed plotter
  • Printing plotter

What all plotters have in common is they carry out tasks along an X and Y axis. Whether it’s printing a vector images or cutting vinyl signs, they both coordinate points along an X and Y axis to accomplish their functions.

Plotters are generally capable of working with larger sizes and different types of media. Although, some plotters such as Cricut machines work with smaller sizes.

While cutting or pen plotters have little in common with traditional printers, plotting printers have considerable overlap with them. Indeed the main difference between them are paper sizes since both use the same type of technology for printing.

Plotter Printers

Wide format plotters accept large rolls of paper as well as cut sheet paper. While a conventional printer can create a larger composite image by combining several sheets of paper. A plotter is better for accurate scale and ratios.

Large maps, engineering drawings, line drawings, schematics, and other images with long continuous lines require wide format printers. Therefore, plotters are used in place of standard printers especially for computer-aided designs.

An inkjet plotter is capable of high resolution prints. They are regularly used by graphic artists to print high quality posters and banners in advertising.

Plotters for graphic design purposes are made by HP, Canon, Roland DGA and Epson. Those wide format printers use the same liquid ink found in inkjet printers. Kip, Ricoh, and Kyocera make electrostatic plotters for engineering purposes that uses toner like any laser printer.

So there is considerable overlap between a printing plotter and the type of printer found in offices in terms of how they work. A significant difference is paper sizes.

Plotters accept rolls of paper between 24 and 64 inches. Whereas conventional printers only go as large as 13 x 19 inch paper.

Different Purposes

While both types of printers can print vector images, regular printers have size limitations. For example, if you want to print 36 inch architectural drawings, you’ll need a plotter.

The size limitation of regular printers eliminates them from performing large prints. It isn’t print quality that separates plotters from regular printers since plotters have roughly the same print quality as their inkjet or laser printer counterparts.

New plotter printers have integrated controllers which makes printing to them the same as printing to any printer. Both plotters and printers raster images to print.

Many of the signs you see on cars, billboards, and in stores are made with plotters. They are also responsible for many of the designs you see on t-shirts, sportswear, banners, and posters.

What is a plotter


Why is a plotter used instead of a printer?

Plotters are used since they can print on much larger paper sizes than a regular printer. Most printers max out at 13 x 19 inch paper. Plotters use rolls of paper from 24 inches to 64 inches wide. These sizes are good for engineering drawings, maps, posters, or banners.

Can you print on a plotter?

Since modern plotters now have built in controllers, printing to them isn’t any different than printing to regular printers. Most plotters also accept cut sheet paper sizes so you don’t need to trim a printout down to a standard size.

What is the purpose of a plotter?

Plotters were originally used to print large engineering drawings, maps, and schematics. They have since expanded to print high quality wide format posters and banners.

Do plotters use toner or ink?

Depending on the model some plotters use ink and others use toner. No printer uses both, it’s one or the other. Plotters such as the HP T650 use ink. Other plotters such as the KIP 7100 use toner.

copier guy

The Copier Guy, aka Dave. I’ve worked on scanners, printers, copiers, and faxes since 1994. When I’m not fixing them I’m writing about them. Although, I’m probably better at fixing them. I’ve worked with every major brand. As well as several types of processes. If it uses paper I’ve probably worked on one.

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