What Is The Difference Between A Plotter & A Format Printer?

by Chris And Marry

Plotters were invented in the early '60s and it was the entire rave back in the day. Companies spent a lot of money and time investing in plotters as it was quite efficient in printing on a large scale and large media.

However, its spot in the limelight was quickly overtaken when wide-format printers came into being during the '90s. Up to this day, most industries and manufacturers opt for printers instead of plotters, but what do we know about the mechanics of these two machines? Where do their differences lie?

What Is The Difference Between A Plotter & A Format Printer?

What Is The Difference Between A Plotter & A Format Printer?
What Is The Difference Between A Plotter & A Format Printer?


The fundamental difference between plotters and traditional printers is that plotters are vector scanners/devices. It follows a set of commands from the host computer and uses more than one pen to print out complex and detailed high-drawings such as graphs, blueprints, maps, etc.

The reason it can carry this out is that plotters can follow certain sets of commands. One of these commands is called 'move' wherein the movement of the carriage continues while the plotter pens are held and retained above the page. 'Draw' is another command in which the carriage will be moving but the pens will be positioned down on the page.

There are 4 different kinds of plotters: drum plotters, flat-bed plotters, cutting plotters, and Inkjet plotters. Drum plotters are more frequently used for prints that contain heavy detailed and intricate content such as architectural and engineering blueprints.

The formats which plotter printers can read are vector formats like DWG, CDR, and AI. Additionally, images can be magnified, and yet they would still retain their resolution - it is resolution-independent.

Plotters are output devices that can either be used as a peripheral component that you may attach to your computer or as a singular device containing its very own internal processor. Regardless, there is no denying that the printing quality of plotters is better and higher than that of regular printers. Precisely because of that, plotters are relatively costlier.

Format Printer

All printers are raster scan devices that are capable of only printing a solitary line at one time. Plotters, on the other hand, can sketch out continuous lines from one point to another at the same time. Unlike plotters, printers use a single needle or pen to carry out their functions.

Printers can read formats that are in JPG TIFF, BMP, and PDF. Instead of single A4 or A5 sheets, format printers work on rolls of media that are sliced off at desired lengths.

As we know by now, format printers - more commonly known as Wide-Format printers - have trumped over plotters since their invention. Unlike plotter machines, the time format printers take to get the work done is comparatively less.

Moreover, there is no limit to the width of the paper you can print on with these guys, as long as it fits through the carrier, you can print whatever you want! However, one drawback to these machines is that whenever an image is enlarged, the pixels get enlarged as well and its resolution decreases.

Just like plotters, these are also external output devices that you can connect to your computer. There are two kinds of format printers: inkjet and laser. Both types can be used to create large posters, banners, maps, charts, etc. on almost any and every media, even cloth and metal.

There are pros and cons when it comes to both of these printing devices - as with every other device, honestly - and a handful of apparent differences. However, regardless of their distinctions, they mostly carry out the same function and purpose.

The machinery of printing has come a long way since its genesis, but it would be more than safe to say that that the modernization of the printing press has always been and still is one of man's greatest emblems of progress.

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