Vector Graphics: What Is A Plotter? Part 2

Oct 22, 2015

Some industries still use Plotters on a regular basis, but unless your job calls for its use, you may not have ever seen one before. You may be wondering what can a plotter do that a laser or inkjet printer can’t? Besides the difference in size, there are two central differences between a plotter and a laser or inkjet printer: (1) what types of images each can print and (2) how each prints the image. To learn more about types of images, see Part 1. To learn about printer functionality, keep reading!

InkJet and Laser Printers

When most people think of a printer, they think of an inkjet. Inkjet printers pretty much work how you would expect them to, by dropping tiny droplets (50-60 microns in diameter) of ink onto paper. The relationship between this printing method and a raster image is obvious. Raster images are rendered using a series of dots, and they are printed the same way.

A laser printer, on the other hand, is far more complicated. The computer in your laser printer communicates with your host computer using page description language such as HP’s Printer Command Language and Adobe’s Postscript. These languages describe the image in vector form, that is using mathematical values and geometric shapes, but the printer converts that information into a bitmap image in order to print it.


Plotters have lost popularity since color inkjet and laser printers have become increasingly affordable, but many industries still use them. A plotter is a graphics printer that prints vector images onto various media using a pen or other writing utensil. Generally roll-fed, a plotter can be loaded with 24”, 36”, 42”, or 60” vinyl, canvas, various kinds of paper, fabric, card, film, plastic, or even cardboard. Built to print large-scale images, plotters are significantly larger than typical printers, but they are ideal for CAD (computer-aided design) drawings (such as building plans), POS (point of sale) posters, art gallery prints, large photographs, and more. Because plotters can’t convert dots into continuous lines and paths, bitmap images must first be converted into vector.

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