What Is the Difference Between Wide-Format Plotters and Wide-Format Printers?

What Is the Difference Between Wide-Format Plotters and Wide-Format Printers?
What Is the Difference Between Wide-Format Plotters and Wide-Format Printers?

Wide-format printers are almost as common in the modern office as their multifunction counterparts, and for a good reason. In 2020, the technology used by wide-format printers has evolved significantly to make them a more accessible, affordable choice for companies that need significant printing power.

Wide-format printers are ideal for companies in industries such as construction and architecture. These industries have traditionally needed specialized printing devices to deliver the precision and legibility demanded here. Today, wide-format printers have taken over, although other devices are still being used. Here’s a closer look at the types of printing devices that were once common in engineering and similar professions, plus why wide-format printers eventually took over.

The Wide-Format Plotter: A Champion of Precision

Wide-format plotters are a specialized type of printing device that were once widely used in architecture, graphics design, and other commercial environments. They were invented in the 1970s to address the limitations in then-current printing. Unlike printers at the time, plotters could output highly precise images that scaled perfectly without loss of clarity or legibility.

This is because plotters approach image output differently than a printer. Plotters use a pen held in a mechanical “hand” attached to a horizontal bar. That bar moves across the page and is connected to a second bar that moves vertically. A computer running CAD software would then feed coordinates to the hand, which would connect each coordinate with a fine line as it moved.

For a long time, only plotters could achieve the level of detail and precision needed for highly technical documents like blueprints, schematics, or maps. In these documents, even the tiny discrepancies caused by laser printing are unacceptable. However, as laser printing technology evolved, plotters eventually fell out of favor. Today, many professionals use wide-format printers to produce their documents.

Wide-Format Printers: Versatility and Power

Wide-format printers are a class of printers that produce documents larger than 11 inches wide – that is, bigger than the average piece of computer paper (called A4). Some wide-format printers are also known as large format printers. This is because they could output pages that are longer than 8.5 inches, such as legal-sized computer paper.

In contrast to standard printers, wide-format printers typically feed from a roll of paper instead of a tray of cut sheets. This empowers an office to embrace customized printing sizes. Likewise, many wide-format printers on the market today can also print at A4 sizes. This makes these devices powerful and versatile.

It’s possible to find wide-format printers that use both inkjet and laser printing. However, most wide-format printers, especially those destined for the offices of architects, leverage laser printing technology. This time- and resource-efficient printing can deliver the same level of precision and legibility as a wide-format plotter – plus a few other advantages.

Why Wide-Format Printers Took Over

For all their ability to produce crystalline and precise images, wide-format plotters had a few serious flaws. First, they were slow. Outputting a complicated schematic could take hours, if not days. Second, they required monitoring. Problems with the pen, such as a clogged tip or running out of ink could ruin the entire output. Third, they had limited printing applications. They were great for blueprints and not much else.

Conversely, wide-format printers eventually acquired all the advantages of a wide-format plotter, but none of the disadvantages. Instead of hours, print jobs take minutes. The entire print job can be managed and monitored electronically, leveraging automation to reduce the number of touchpoints and, therefore, chances for error. Likewise, wide-format printers are a much more versatile asset in any office. In addition to all the documents that an engineer might need, a wide-format printer can also output everything a standard printer can do. That includes:

  • Presentations and marketing materials
  • Letters and forms
  • Manuals or other documents
  • Color and monochrome materials

These advantages meant that wide-format printers are the more efficient choice for an office. It’s still possible to find wide-format plotters today. Using one, however, is a personal preference.

Get the Right Tools to Succeed with Cartridge World

Wide-format printers are powerful and versatile tools that are at home in various professional environments. Frequently equipped with advanced features, they’re a smart choice for any company seeking to enhance their printing capabilities. Wide-format printing opens up a whole array of new possibilities for marketing, presentations, and even professional applications.

Cartridge World helps companies in the Quad Cities access the right tools to succeed. Start a conversation now to get started.