Plotters & Their Types

A plotter is a special output device used to produce hard copies of large graphs and designs on paper, such as construction maps, engineering drawings, architectural plans and business charts. The plotter is either a peripheral component that you add to your computer system or a standalone device with its own internal processor.

Image of an architectural plan.
credit: Zoonar/N.Okhitin/Zoonar/Getty Images

Drum Plotter

A drum plotter is a pen plotter that wraps the paper around a drum with a pin feed attachment. The drum then rotates the paper as pens move across it and draw the image. It was the first output device used to print graphics and large engineering drawings. There are two types of drum plotters, external and internal. With an external drum plotter, the paper is wrapped around its external surface, while the internal drum plotter uses a sheet of paper wrapped around its internal surface.

Flat-Bed Plotter

A flat-bed plotter is a mechanical drafting device used with many CAD programs for designers. The paper remains stationary on a flat surface while a pen moves across it horizontally and vertically. This plotter may use several different pen colors to create the graphics. The size of the graphic is limited to the size of the flat-bed plotter's surface.

Inkjet Plotter

The inkjet plotter creates an image by spraying small droplets of ink on to paper. A popular choice for advertising agencies and graphic designers, inkjet plotters are used generally for large outputs, such as banners and billboards and large signs often seen along roadsides. They are available in thermal or piezoelectric models. Thermal inkjet plotters use heat to apply droplets of ink, while piezoelectric plotters use charged crystals to apply the ink. Inkjet plotters typically produce better quality graphics than other plotter types.

Cutting Plotter

The cutting plotter is a large scale cutting device that produces ready-cut mylar or vinyl lettering and graphics. Automated plotter knives cut into a sheet of the material lying on the plotter's flat surface area, carving out the design stored in the attached computer. Used for sign making, billboard advertising and vehicle graphics, the devices offer far greater speed and precision than can be achieved with the traditional method of creating sign lettering and logos by hand.