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What is a Plotter Printer

What is a Plotter Printer?

Linsey Knerl
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Reading time: 8 minutes
Plotter printers are a specific category of printer technology that varies from what we use in a typical office setting. These printers are made for industries that use specific software for highly-detailed prints. They’re often larger and cost more than a standard inkjet or toner printer.
What makes a plotter printer special? And how can you pick the right one for your needs? Learn more about the benefits of this printer class before you buy.

What is a plotter printer?

A plotter printer is traditionally known as just a “plotter.” In the past, it worked by using a pen or marker to draw lines onto a long sheet of paper to render a design from computer-aided design or other schematics programs.
Today, this type of printer has undergone a makeover, combining the detail of a plotter with newer office printer tech. It’s widely used in industries like architecture, engineering, and GIS and when printing for marketing and art uses.
Plotters also print on a much larger area, which is why some companies refer to them as a "wide format printer.”

What is the difference between a standard printer and a plotter printer?

The traditional printer you find in an office works by depositing tiny dots of liquid ink or toner onto the paper as it passes over the printhead. Because it’s not a continuous line, like that made by a plotter printer, the end results aren’t as precise.

More precise

Precision is key when creating intricate printouts for building designs or engineering schematics. Plotter printers use a more precise method to put the marking on the paper, usually by not lifting from the page. They can also print on different surface types and at sizes much larger than the traditional printer.

Bigger footprint and price

Because of their size and accuracy capabilities, plotter printers take up more space and cost more. However, thanks to advancements in printer technology, plotters continue to become more compact and affordable.

More accurate

Plotter printers can make identical copies of the same design with much higher accuracy than an inkjet or toner printer. Expect little to no detectable variation in printouts of the same image when you use a plotter.

Other important info

It’s difficult to find the original plotter design today because most modern plotters have since been upgraded. They use plotter-type accuracy with more tech-friendly business printer features, such as an inkjet ink supply.
When shopping for a printer, don’t rely on the product name alone. Look to see what technology is used, who it is marketed to, and what technical specifications you’ll get when you buy it. Regardless of the name, you want to ensure that anything sold as a plotter truly offers the detail needed for engineering, architecture, or scientific industry work.

What is a wide-format printer?

Wide-format is a name used when referring to some plotter printers, but not all plotters are wide format. Wide-format means that the size of the printed sheet is much wider (usually 24 to 36 inches) than a typical office printer.

Rolls of paper

Wide-format printers (WFP) typically use rolls of paper like the rolls used to print newspapers. These wide spools unroll paper as the job prints, which allows a project to print entirely on a single page.

Popular with design and marketing firms

The longer prints make WFPs popular among design firms and marketing agencies. Posters, merchandising displays, and large building designs look better on a single sheet of paper, and wide-format printers offer that option.

Flexibility

The more sophisticated wide format printers allow you to switch between rolls of different types of paper, cut the paper, and keep paper projects from falling onto the floor as it prints. With these hands-free features, it’s possible to print large jobs without watching over the device the entire time.
Note that not all wide-format printers are truly plotter printers, just as some plotter machines can be very small – and not wide format at all.

Ways to use a plotter printer

Plotter printers are typically associated with engineering and architecture, but what other uses do they have? Today’s modern printers bring much more to the table than monochromatic lines for HVAC systems and geology surveys.
Plotters are used for all kinds of construction and MCAD applications, including technical drawings, maps, orthophotos, and renders. Any application that benefits from crisp text and precise lines on a larger, single-sheet output can see value in a large format HP plotter printer.

Best plotter printers

HP large-format printers combine the best of both worlds from traditional inkjet printers and plotters. They create outstanding line quality, with up to 31% more precise lines and 24% more line density than traditional inkjet printers but with HP’s bright dye-based color inks. These colors have 65% more gamut, up to 85% higher chroma, and up to 73% more saturation, making the output easier to read than a traditional black & white printout.
One other notable feature of the HP printers and ink is sustainability. Ink cartridges are recyclable, and the printers themselves use up to 95% less ink in the service and maintenance than other large format printers.
Here are the top picks from the HP large-format printer line.

1. HP DesignJet T830

HP DesignJet T830
The HP DesignJet T830 printer comes in a 24- or 36-inch print size and works wirelessly to receive print jobs from your computer or mobile device. It’s considered the most compact large-format printer and includes print, scan, and copy functionality.
Like other HP large-format printers, the HP DesignJet T830 supports documents in HP-GL/2, HP-RTL, TIFF, JPEG, CALS G4, and URF formats. It also prints on a variety of materials of up to 11.8 millimeters, including bond and coated, technical paper, film, photographic paper, and self-adhesive.
Key features:
  • Prints in as few as 26 seconds
  • Prints in color, and black and white
  • Scans at 1.5 inches per second in color and 4.5 inches per second in grayscale
  • Supports small-format sizes
  • 2400 x 1200 optimized dpi
  • Small size of just 43.2 x 23.4 x 45.5 inches
  • Weighs 103 lbs

2. HP DesignJet Studio

HP DesignJet Studio
The aesthetically pleasing HP DesignJet Studio comes in 24- or 36-inch sizes and one of two stunning finishes (wood or steel). But it’s more than just a looker. This plotter automatically switches between roll and tray for hands-free productivity during even the biggest jobs.
The HP DesignJet Studio is the first net carbon neutral HP DesignJet printer too, and you can set it up completely from your smartphone. It supports document files HP-GL/2, HP-RTL, CALS G4, JPEG, and URF.
Key features:
  • Prints at up to 25 seconds per page and 82 D printer per hour
  • Prints in color, and black and white
  • 2400 x 1200 optimized dpi
  • Holds 1GB of memory
  • True print preview for accurate printing
  • Small size of just 51.9 x 21.9 x 36.7 inches
  • Weighs 91.9 lbs
  • Handles multiple jobs in one click

3. HP DesignJet T250

HP DesignJet T250
When you want to take your plotter with you on the road, the HP DesignJet T250 is your best option. It’s currently the world’s smallest wide-format printer, and it lets you send multiple files with a simple click.
This printer-only device works wirelessly or with an ethernet cable, and it’s compatible with JPEG and URF files. It’s also priced to be as affordable as some traditional business printers. You can also save on ink when you buy original HP inks and set it to use 95% less ink during routine maintenance processes.
Key features:
  • Choice of 24 or 26-inch print width
  • Print speeds of up to 30 seconds per page, up to 76 prints per hour
  • Prints in color, and black and white
  • 500GB internal memory
  • Small size of just 39.9 x 17.3 x 11.2 in
  • Weighs only 47.4 lbs
  • 2400 x 1200 optimized dpi

HP plotter printer software

One other benefit to buying an HP plotter printer is the software. HP® makes it easy to create and print jobs in a number of common file formats used by various industries. The software is simple to set up and allows you to work wirelessly from your smartphone and collaborate with coworkers.
HP Click aims to give you more printing versatility with the simple click of a button. The software works with wide-format printers and includes the following perks:
  • Auto-rotate and resizing helps you get the most out of every page and save money on printing costs
  • Error alerts and print previews let you know what your project will look like, so you can fix any issues before you send it to the printer
  • Drag-and-drop multiple files of various file types in a single print send action
  • One software does many more job types, including point-of-sale posters, colorful maps, and building blueprints
With an HP plotter, you should experience the same simplicity as using a traditional office printer, but with the technical accuracy of a plotter printer.

Bottom line

If you worked in engineering, construction, or design decades ago, you had just one choice for the accuracy and detail needed in a print job. Those older plotter printers were intricate, but they lacked the range of inks available in today's HP DesignJet printers. They also forced you to run from station to station, manually delivering print jobs or sending them from just one computer.
With the mobile printing technology available today, everyone on the job site or in the office can share and collaborate on the same documents with the press of a smartphone button. The new plotter printers are also smaller, lighter, and budget-friendly, with a range of options to fit into your specific office space.
When researching your next plotter printer, consider how the HP DesignJet line assimilates easily into your existing workflow and potentially improves the way your business operates.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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