Special Needs of Pen Plotters

john's Avatar


27 Jul, 2020 05:49 AM

A small but vibrant community uses NodeBox to drive pen plotters. Many of them post mesmerizing videos of their plotters toiling away on Instagram.

I have recently been engaged in a fascinating thread with florisdejonge about some of the special needs of this community:


Images created in NodeBox by overlaying filled shapes are often not practical or even drawable by a pen plotter. Others, especially resampled paths, are drawable but force the plotter to needlessly raise and lower its pen a jillion times. There is a special art to crafting an image which is not only engaging but also plotter-friendly.

I have not yet succumbed to the lure of the plotter myself so am ignorant of many of these special needs. If I knew more I might be able to craft some plotter-friendly nodes to make things easier. It also occurs to me that pen plotter aficionados probably have many tips to share with each other.

Would any of you pen plotter experts or newbies care to start a discussion? All questions, complaints, and tips are welcome!


  1. 1 Posted by florisdejonge on 14 Nov, 2020 08:24 AM

    florisdejonge's Avatar

    I also enjoyed that discussion a lot and the results still prove to be useful (the mask node in particular). This thread had escaped my attention, because I didn’t have time to either visit the forum or playing around in Nodebox in regard to pen plotting.

    So, I find the use of Nodebox to generate designs to plot quite interesting and would therefore be happy to contribute. For a start, there are indeed some things to take into account when plotting drawings.

    First of all. A plotter draws lines, not shapes in particular. Which means that only the contour of a shape will be drawn. This is especially relevant when making overlapping, combined or occluded shapes. Even though it can look good with a particular colour fill, that’s not the way the plotter will interpret it (similar to Adobe’s Illustrator ‘outline’ view).

    Secondly, there is the matter of movement, both up and down and sideways. The more a plotter needs to move, the longer it takes to draw something, but is also adds to the wear and tear of the motors (or even the pens). Therefore you want to join segments of lines that are visually connected to form a continuous movement. In addition, you want to reduce the travel time by efficient ordering the elements.

    So, it isn’t so much of a problem of the resampling of paths (let’s say a curve) as long as it is single continuous line. This would not cause the pen to raise and lower, unless the resampling causes the line to break up in different segments. I does make the travel time a bit longer in my experience because it needs to travel to more points, instead of making a fluent motion from one to the other point. I hope this is clear enough.


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