Plotter printers

History of Large Format Plotters

Since their emergence in the 1980s, large format plotter printers have dominated the printing industry with their ability to generate high-quality vector drawings. They have allowed multiple professionals, particularly those operating in AEC firms, to seamlessly produce large-scale prints of designs, maps, architectural plans, and beyond. Through their versatility, they've carved their own place in printing history.

However, only a few know about the origins of large format plotter printers, such as when they were first manufactured, what printing looked like before plotters were introduced, and the magnitude of their impact on the printing industry. It is a fascinating journey of technological advancements that have transformed how printing is done today compared to the mid-90s.

The History of Printing

Printing history started around 200 AD when woodblock printing was developed in China as the earliest form of printing. Woodblock printing involved engraving and inking wooden matrices before pressing them onto a sheet of paper. This was the first time in printing history when a design could be created and accurately replicated.

In the 11th century, Bi Sheng invented the movable type, allowing individual letters to be placed in any order and printed. Fast-forward to the 15th century, when Gutenberg created the first printing press, which used movable metal type. It was more robust and used oil-based inks instead of water-based inks.

In the 19th century, Richard March invented the rotary press, which used a revolving cylinder instead of a flatbed. At first, the system was hand fed with single sheets before a paper roll invention sped up the printing process. Around the same time, Robert Barclay invented the offset press, which printed onto metal before it was later adapted to print onto paper.

The 20th century saw the invention of screen printing, inkjet printing, laser printing, and digital printing, which changed how printing was done. Printing history and the printing industry are still evolving, as seen by the invention of 3D printing, whose popularity is rapidly growing.

The Early Beginnings of Large Format Printing

Since its inception at the end of the last century, large format printing has significantly advanced. Let's look at how it all began, from the use of electrostatic technology to the invention of inkjet technology.

What Is a Large Format Plotter?

A large format plotter is a specialised printer that generates high-resolution prints on large-sized paper ranging from two to six feet wide or more. This allows the creation of posters, blueprints, maps, and other large-scale visuals. Large format plotters emphasise accuracy and clarity to create vibrant, attractive visual documents. Therefore, large format plotters are crucial in various industries, including architecture, construction, and engineering. The history of a printer like large format printers is particularly relevant today.

What Did Large Format Printing Look Like Before Plotter Printers?

Plotter printers are among the most important inventions in printing history. Before plotter printers, large format printing was costly. The prints were of poor quality and only lasted for a short while. However, plotter printers added durability, vibrancy, and quality to printed pieces while increasing print speeds and efficiency.

The Very First Large Format Plotter Technologies

During the early beginnings of large format printing history, wide format printers used the following technologies to produce prints.

Pen Plotters

Pen plotters work by having an ink pen, including coloured pens attached. They are raised, lowered, and moved over the printing material to draw point-to-point lines that produce graphics or text with precision. The movement is controlled using XY coordinates and a motor to raise and lower the pen.

Electrostatic Plotters

Electrostatic plotters used positively charged toner or inks which were attracted to the negatively charged paper. As the paper moved through a digital ink bath, the ink would stick to the negative charge on the paper, eventually producing a print.

Drum Plotters

A drum plotter is a type of pen plotter which draws on paper wrapped around a drum. As the drum rotates the paper, the pen moves across it to draw the image. This allowed continuous rolls of paper to be fed into the plotter, allowing for the creation of larger or continuous prints. Depending on the type of drum plotter, the paper may be wrapped on the external or internal surface of the drum.

The Rise of Inkjet Technology

The early large format plotter technologies produced blurry images and prints of lower quality. This led to the rise of inkjet technology in the 2000s period of printing history.

What Is Inkjet Technology?

Jointly developed by Canon and HP, inkjet technology uses tiny ink droplets to produce prints. The large format plotter propels ink droplets from small nozzles onto paper to produce high-resolution photos, graphics, or images. Ink technology became popular due to its lower price and high-quality output. It can create brightly coloured designs by mixing colours.

How Did Inkjet Technology Revolutionise the Large Format Printing Industry?

Inkjet technology had a huge impact on the large format printing industry. Not only was it affordable, but it also offered the following:

  • Non-impact printing: The printer doesn't come in contact with the printing surface to produce an image or print. This made printing easier on various surfaces, including moving, sensitive, and uneven surfaces.
  • Support for different materials: Since the ink was directly applied to the surface, printing was not limited to only paper. This technology allowed printing on various surfaces, such as wood, ceramic, and glass.
  • Different types of inks: It supported different inks, allowing large format printing to be utilised in a wide range of applications.

With a high-speed printing rate, inkjet technology allowed the adoption of large format printing in different industries.

Inkjet Large Format Printers vs. Early Plotters

Compared to early plotters, inkjet large format printers offered the following benefits:

  • They provided high-quality images and text with finer, smoother details.
  • The printers are quieter in operation and don't cause any distractions.
  • They are relatively cheaper.
  • Their compact design and light weight make them suitable for any office space.
  • They’re applicable across different industries, unlike the early plotters, which had limited applications.

How Did This Lead to Printing Advancements?

The adoption of inkjet technology has largely contributed to the new advancements in the printing industry. It influenced the growth of printing by providing the possibility for new design styles and workflows that allow companies to cut costs while improving production efficiency. Therefore, inkjet technology was a huge game-changer in the history of printing.

Recent Advancements in Large Format Plotters

With the high adoption rate and advancement in printing technology, large format plotters have continued to grow and evolve. From increased use of automation to developing sustainable solutions and continuous adoption in different industries.

Large format plotters have seen rapid innovations that streamline printing operations, shorten production runs, and create sustainable printing environments. This has allowed print production companies to produce work of the highest quality in less time.

How Have Large Format Plotters Changed Over Time?

Advancements in large format plotters have seen them develop in various aspects, including:

Increased Speed

Large format printers are now faster and can tolerate heavy usage. They can produce a large amount of quality prints at high speed. This allows businesses to meet deadlines while still maintaining quality.

More Precision

Modern large format plotters offer high-quality printing with more precise details and ultra-high resolution. They are also highly accurate, allowing the production of high-quality images and crisp text with exceptionally sharp details.

More Versatility

Modern plotters offer unlimited application possibilities. Therefore, different businesses can utilise this technology regardless of size or industry. They provide multiple functions and options, allowing you to print on whatever material you desire.

Modern-Day Printing Technologies and Their Benefits

UV Curable Printing

UV curable printing is a process where high-intensity ultraviolet light instantly cures or dries inks and coatings. This process offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased production speed as it only takes a split second to dry the ink
  • More environmentally friendly production as it generates fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Greater efficiency because it uses less energy and less ink and reduces reject rates
  • The facilitation of superior bonding
  • Ink that retains its depth of colour and quality

Dye Sublimation Printing

Dye sublimation is a printing process that uses heat transfers to print on a material. The printer heats the dye to a specific temperature, causing it to sublimate from a solid state to a gaseous state. When the temperature drops, it solidifies, infusing directly into the surface fabric. Some of the benefits of dye sublimation printing include the following:

  • Creation of more durable prints
  • More diversity in sizes, shapes, and texture
  • Slow fading
  • Suitability for polyester and polyester resin-coated materials

Aqueous Solvent Printing

Aqueous solvent printing is the most common type of printing. It uses water-based ink, which the print media absorbs during printing. When it dries, the water evaporates, leaving a high-quality print. Some of the benefits of aqueous solvent printing include:

  • Fast drying times
  • Support for additional imprinting
  • Environmentally friendliness

The Latest Technology in Plotter Printers

Integrated Cutters

Plotter printers are becoming more integrated with cutters, allowing them to precisely cut graphics, lettering, and various shapes from different materials such as paper, magnet sheets, and adhesive vinyl. You can also use plotter printers integrated with cutters for different cutting processes to increase productivity and optimise your workflow.

Higher Software Capabilities

Software is an essential part of printing history. Plotter printers have become compatible with different software that improves efficiency and overall quality. This has made automation, precision, and massive printing possible in plotter printers.

Why Do Large Format Plotters Need to Continue Evolving?

Like any other form of technology, large format plotters must continue evolving to meet ever-changing needs. They can't stop evolving, or they risk being left behind in printing history. The need for companies to meet deadlines, increase efficiency, customise products, and maintain excellent quality can only be achieved with new advancements in printing technologies. Therefore, the large format printing industry will continue evolving with innovative designs, features, and abilities.

What Are Plotter Printers Used For?

Plotter printers offer limitless options for what you can print. You can use it to print the following:

  • Posters
  • Banners
  • Maps and blueprints
  • Brochures
  • Construction plans
  • Engineering drawings
  • Billboards
  • Vehicle wraps
  • Floor graphics
  • Trade show displays
  • And more

There are virtually endless printing possibilities when it comes to plotter printers.

Which Industries Are Reliant on Large Format Printing?

Large format printing helps produce high-quality products with intricacy and precision. Therefore, all types of businesses can benefit from this innovative technology. Some of the industries reliant on large format printing include:

  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Graphic design
  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Real estate
  • Publishing
  • Healthcare

Large format printing can benefit any application that requires top-notch prints with crisp text.

Reach Out to HP to Meet Your Plotter Printer Needs

With the continuous technological advances in the world of large format printing, plotter printers are becoming an integral part of business operations. They open new revenue streams and allow your business to print deliverables exceeding customer expectations while keeping your business efficient, competitive, and productive.

So don't compromise on the features crucial to your business when buying a plotter printer. At HP, we can help you utilise plotter printers to generate value. Contact our experts today to find the best large-format printer that suits your needs.

Download our eBook now and discover how innovation is streamlining workflows, producing prints of unmatched quality and increasing IT efficiency like never before.

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