Printing technology displays a fantastic breadth of capabilities which range from the ability to print on different surfaces, to the use of specialty inks to produce amazing visual effects. However, printing also serves many industries in practical and critical ways. Nowhere has this been truer than with wide format printers and their closely related cousins, the wide format plotters.

Wide format plotters are not nearly as common as they once were, but it is a term which still occasionally appears. Discover what a wide format plotter is and the role it plays in printing today.

What Is a Wide Format Plotter?

A wide format plotter is a very specialized type of printer which generates printed documents ranging from two to six feet wide. Businesses which design or construct things have historically used a plotter rather than a traditional printer because only plotters were capable of unparalleled degrees of precision. Today, wide format printing has caught up technologically, making plotters less common than they used to be.

Printing with a Pen

Inkjet printers use drops of ink mixed on the paper. While laser printers use static electricity and heat to fuse toner to pages. Plotters do neither – historically, they used an actual pen to draw the output. This pen was attached to a metal arm which moved according to a set of hyper-accurate coordinates given by a computer running CAD software. This made it capable of producing sophisticated drawings with a high degree of accuracy.

Vector Not Raster

The nature of pen plotting meant that it rendered drawings in a vector file format rather than the pixelized raster, or bitmap, which is common in digital graphics today. Pen plotters made dots along coordinates which were then connected with a line. The result was a highly scalable image which did not lose clarity or detail as it was enlarged — this is a critical advantage of vector. Industries which demand precision need to be able to print in vector.

Who Uses Plotters

Plotters emphasize accuracy and clarity over beautiful, highly saturated images. Therefore, they have traditionally been common in industries which design or construct things. It might still be possible to find a plotter in:

  • Architecture
  • Construction
  • Product design
  • Mapmaking
  • Manufacturing
  • Some craftsmanship

Choosing Precision with Modern Technology

Pen plotters did have a few drawbacks, which led to their ultimate demise. First, the pen needed to be capable of drawing the entire output in a single session. If the pen ran out of ink, the drawing had to be redone. Second, pen plotters were notoriously slow and had an almost nonexistent ability to fill solid areas, create gradients or different line shades. Pen plotters have primarily disappeared today as a result of these deficiencies, although it is still possible to find them.

Additionally, printing technology has evolved to the point where laser printers can deliver the same precision. Indeed, modern plotters take advantage of laser printing technology to produce printed documents at higher speeds. Wide format plotters and printers have gradually begun to look more alike — to the point where many firms, which may have once used a plotter, now opt to use a wide format printer instead.

Wide Format Printing

Today, wide format printing delivers the same high-precision printing that architecture  and manufacturing industries rely on to build accurate, sound products. Furthermore, wide format printing introduces greater flexibility because it is capable of running other print jobs as well.

This makes a wide format printer much more valuable in the day-to-day operations of an office. Not only can a wide format printer produce the blueprints which drive creation, but it can also bring a greater range of printing needs back in-house.

Wide Format Printing for the Next Generation

Wide format printing is not optional for businesses which produce blueprints, layouts, or any other highly technical document which governs manufacturing or construction. Historically, these industries have relied upon devices known as plotters because they were able to deliver the precision needed to ensure stable, accurate development.

However, advances in printing technology in the last decade mean that wide format laser printers rival plotters in their ability to deliver high-quality blueprints. Plotters have been gradually replaced in favor of this faster, reliable, and more flexible technology.

RJ Young specializes in helping architecture and engineering firms select the best wide format printer for their unique needs. Contact an imaging specialist today to get started.

Choosing the best wide format printer for architecture is no easy task. Architectural firms need top-performing specialized equipment to achieve the crystalline level of detail required for blueprints, charts, and other highly technical documents. Complicating the challenge is the fact that many of these documents are printed on sheet sizes larger than what the standard professional printer can handle.

Therefore, architectural firms turn to wide format printers to meet these needs. Not only are these printers specialized, but they open the door to many more capabilities than the average printer. Here are a few things to consider when narrowing down the choice of best wide format printer for architecture.

1. Detail and Precision

Wide format printers are able to print in immaculate detail and stunning resolution. Such presentation is not merely to impress — blueprints require flawless legibility to guide builders and engineers. In other words, smudges or low-resolution — which may cause blurred lines — create costly delays or mistakes which may ruin a project entirely. At RJ Young, our team of technicians and support staff are always there to ensure optimum performance from your device each and every time.

2. Speed and Efficiency

Many printers can produce photographic-quality color printing, but it takes time. In addition, architectural firms often operate under demanding, time-sensitive conditions which require high speed and high-quality printing to keep the office workflow smooth. Some projects need multiple copies, which can lead to frustration if each takes a significant amount of time to print.

3. Imaging Technology

Architectural firms may wish to choose from a range of imaging technologies according to the type of projects most frequently printed. A wide format printer with fewer frills, gets the job done efficiently and professionally. However, firms who need to produce high-end displays and presentations may look for more advanced imaging technology. Such technology delivers superior half hones, ultra-smooth gradients, and even the ability to print in spectacular colors without hampering efficiency.

4. The Cost of Consumables and Maintenance

High-end may also mean a high price tag on consumables such as ink, paper, spare parts, and even maintenance. This becomes even truer as materials or parts become more specialized. However, this cost can be balanced by understanding the type of printing which the firm mostly undertakes. Selecting a wide format printer, which provides the features needed without going over the top, helps to balance professionalism and price to keep the firm competitive.

5. Network Capabilities

Modern office technology is built to integrate with an organization’s workflow, and that includes architectural firms. Workflow increasingly relies on cloud and network connectivity to allow documents to flow from one device to the next seamlessly. Therefore, a wide format printer with Wi-Fi capabilities can be operated across many devices or web-based applications allowing users to design and print from one consolidated station.

6. Printing Volume

Printing volume varies from firm to firm according to size and specialty. An architectural firm with a demanding print environment will benefit from a different class of printers than a small firm which only prints a few, high-quality charts each month. In other words, a smaller firm may find it beneficial to invest in a device with more specialized capabilities, while a larger firm which needs to print more, may appreciate a more efficient workhorse.

7. Ease of Use and Reliability

A robust printing system is only useful if the user knows how to use it, and it can be guaranteed to work when it is needed. As with any piece of office equipment, the best wide format printer for architecture is powerful enough to produce the required print quality in a timely fashion. In addition, it also needs to be accessible enough that users do not get bogged down with a learning curve or get stuck fiddling with advanced settings which aren’t fully understood. With RJ Young, users never need to worry about that. We have a team of training and onboarding specialists who are dedicated to ensuring the user is familiar and comfortable with their device.

8. Versatility

Printing blueprints may be a critical business function for an architectural firm, but it is not the only thing this business will print. It is worth it to track printing habits prior to investing in a new printer to get a better sense of the types of paper sizes, stock weights, inks, and custom settings which are most frequently used. 

A firm may need to print other business documents. A wide format printer which can also handle regular paper sizes will prove invaluable in these circumstances.

Choosing the Best Wide Format Printer for Architecture

Architects have specialized needs when it comes to printing, which makes the selection of an appropriate printer beyond vital. Wide format printers can meet many of these needs with their ability to handle larger paper sizes and unblemished detail. These eight considerations serve as a starting point for the many things which a firm must consider when choosing the best wide format printer for architecture.

RJ Young works with architects and engineers regularly to provide custom hardware and software solutions for their printing needs. Read about the common printing and document problems these firms face and the solutions we provide.

At RJ Young we offer a full range of wide format printers, copiers, and scanners – from industry leaders like Oce, Canon, HP, Mimaki, Ricoh and Contex. Contact us to speak with an expert product advisor who can help you narrow down your options and select the perfect device for your needs.

Guest Blog by Brian Eastin, RJ Young Wide Format Equipment Specialist

“Wide Format” is a term that to most people has almost no meaning. But mention “plotters”, “blue prints” or “poster printer” and most people will have an idea of the type of products covered by the term “wide format equipment.”

Generally speaking, wide format equipment is any device used to print, copy or scan documents larger than 11 x 17 in size. But in that definition, the two main types of wide format documents are “small format” and “large format”.  To put it another way, most Excel spreadsheets would get printed on 11” x 17” paper (small format) and most posters need to be printed on something bigger, such as 2’ x 3’ paper (large format). For my purposes and this blog, when referencing wide format, I will speak to large format printing.

Examples of Wide Format Documents

Wide format documents, and equipment, have practical application for a wide range of businesses. If you’re an architect, engineer or contractor, you routinely use construction drawings or “blue prints”. These documents are also commonly used in manufacturing and in government agencies for mapping or GIS (“Geographic Information Systems”).

Many businesses, educational institutions and government entities often use wide format equipment to print posters. Messages, information and graphics displayed on large format posters, and in color, can make a much bigger impact than other forms of communication. Included in the broader category of “posters” are vehicle wraps, indoor banners, outdoor banners, retail point-of-purchase materials and even billboards.

Wide Format Equipment Options

Like wide format documents, the equipment permutations to produce wide format prints, copies and scans is available in an array sizes, capabilities and costs. Several of the top wide format printer manufacturers are Océ, Canon, HP, Ricoh and Contex. These machines typically range from 17” to 60” in width. The capabilities of current wide format printers are vast, ranging from basic functions with standard paper mediums, to flat bed printers capable of printing on rigid materials (think wood!) up to 48” x 96” in size.

Support for Wide Format Applications

Equipment is only part of the equation when it comes to achieving high quality wide format printing documents. The software used in manipulating and generating documents is critical to a successful workflow. Proper supplies such as ink and media type must also be tailored to produce the desired output.

Your technology provider should have specialists in each of these areas to assist you in getting the right equipment, software and supplies to maximize the amount and quality of output from your wide format printer. They should also have a service team, which has specialized training to support wide format equipment, providing a total solution for your needs.