Chris Caldwell

Beginner Tips for Pen Plotters

Tips from my first day plotting generative artwork.

Get the Gravity Assist Working

Problem: The Axidraw V3 relies on the weight of the pen to drop the pen holder assembly from the up position onto the drawing surface when the servo releases the pen slide.

Unfortunately, the Pentel Energel 0.7 mm Metal Tip pen (Black) didn’t have enough mass to overcome the friction created by the vertical slide—the pen would stay in the up position.

Solution: Strap a couple of AA batteries to the pen using a rubber band.

Clean the Pen tip

Problem: Ink can buildup on the tip of the drawing instrument. A droplet will buildup, eventually brushing against the artwork's surface ruining a run.

Mitigation: Increase the height of the pen in the up position to provide more clearance.

Solution: Check for buildup and clean the pen tip with a paper towel before and after running a print.

Ink spillage was the №1 cause of ruined prints.

Cleanup your SVG

Problem: Plotting takes time and there are ways you can set up your artwork that increases plotting efficiency. This process can save more than just time, it can reduce the mechanical wear on your plotter’s motors.

Solution: Pay attention to groupings in your SVG Layers. Group objects in close proximity to reduce the time your plotter spends with the pen in the up position. I use Adobe Illustrator as an editor, which lets me easily make groupings from the original SVG output that my computer code creates.

I’m pretty confident route optimization will become a major area of research.

You can read more about the route optimization problem here.

Double Check Your Artboard Size

Problem: My plots were consistently off-center on letter-sized paper.

Solution: Double-check the artboard size. The default artboard size I was using in Inkscape looked like it was the correct size but it was slightly smaller and needed adjustment.

Remove Unwanted Geometry

Problem: Vector artwork that doesn’t have a stroke will be plotted. My exports from the computer-generated code included a hidden rectangle that was the size of the digital canvas. This would get rendered when I ran the plotter.

Solution: Check for invisible shapes and remove them from the SVG.

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