What is a Wide Format Plotter?
Wide format plotters print vector graphics using a computerized pen that draws on the surface of the paper. Unlike most printers, plotters draw in lines instead of dots or pixels. There are two types of wide format plotter: cutting plotters and pen plotters.
Cutting plotters have a blade instead of a pen and are used to cut into material such as mylar, paper, and vinyl. Some cutting plotters are made to cut harder material, including cloth and hide. The user inputs the desired dimensions in the computer and the plotter cuts it into the material. In the past, cutting plotters were used for advertising venues such as billboards.
Pen plotters have a pen that moves across the paper, capable of incredibly complex line art. Although pen plotters are most commonly used in architecture and engineering, they can be used to create maps and other designs. While these plotters cannot produce broad regions of color, their ability to draw close, intricate lines is a valuable asset to the architecture field.
Finding the Right Plotter
The first thing to consider when looking for a wide format plotter is what you intend to print, including both your standard projects and your “occasional” jobs. This ensures you get a unit that meets all of your needs. Also, consider future growth when purchasing a plotter.
Once you’ve figured out your intended use, it’s time to take a look at size. Remember, accessories and software upgrades can always be done later, but you can never make it bigger. Wide format plotters range in size between 24″ and 60″, so make sure the plotter you choose is big enough for your largest jobs.
Also consider what you’re going to be printing on. Your plotter needs to be able to handle all the materials you plan to use. You don’t want to get stuck with a model that only prints on paper if you need to print on vinyl, too. Software is important, as well. The dealer or the manufacturer should be able to provide you with the correct software drivers. Be sure to check any other applications or programs you might need to use to be able to communicate with your wide format plotter.
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How Much Do Wide Format Plotters Cost?
It is impossible to provide an exact cost for wide format plotters; prices are based on the features, size, speed, model, and the dealer you choose. The following is a pricing guide based brand averages to give you an idea of what you can expect to pay for your wide format plotter.
- The Canon iPF9100 wide format plotter is 60″ wide with a 330ml ink tank and offers a maximum print resolution of 2400 x 1200. It has an average cost between $1,500 and $2,000.
- The Canon iPF8300 wide format plotter is 44″ wide with a 700ml ink tank and offers a maximum print resolution of 2400 x 1200. It has an average cost between $6,000 and $7,000.
- The Vinyl Express Qe6000 wide format plotter has a cutting speed of 24″ per second, 300 grams of force, up to 300″ tracking, and a quiet digital servo motor. It has an average cost between $1,500 and $3,000.
- The Vinyl Q Series wide format plotter has a cutting speed of 50″ per second, 400 grams of force, and up to 600″ tracking. It has an average cost between $2,000 and $4,000.
Difference Between a Plotter and a Printer
The key difference between a plotter and a printer is the way in which they transfer the information to the page. A plotter has a pen that draws on the page, while a printer has ink that is sprayed onto the page. Printers offer the ability to print in color and produce the print faster, while plotters cannot produce a wide color range and take some time to finish a job.
Plotters are most commonly used in the architecture and engineering fields, though originally they were used for printing computer-aided designs. However, printers have taken over that field in most aspects. Wide format plotters are still used in architecture and engineering largely due to the enhanced definition their linework has to offer.