What is the Difference between a Plotter and Wide Format Printer?

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What’s the Difference?

When you research wide format printers or plotters, you may find the two terms used interchangeably. But know this: no one sells plotters anymore. That technology has gone the way of VHS tapes. Plotters have been replaced with wide format printers. It’s kind of like how you may still hear people talk about a movie “coming out on DVD” when Blu-ray is the current standard. Sometimes old terminology lingers in our vocabulary.


What is a Plotter?

A plotter, also known as a pen plotter, is a machine that prints vector-based line art with permanent ink using drafting pens. Plotters were commonly used by architectural firms and companies for things like blueprints and other technical documents. But in today’s world, pen plotters have been replaced by faster and more convenient technology, known as the wide format printer.

Note: if you hear someone talking about a “plotter” for modern use, they are actually talking about a wide format printer.

a wide format printer

What is a Wide Format Printer?

There are two types of wide format printers:

  • Toner printers
  • Inkjet printers


Toner wide format printers fuse toner to the paper using heat from a drum to transfer dry toner to the print surface.


Inkjet wide format printers spray droplets of ink onto the paper, moving the droplets through a fine mesh head by using heat.

The media in both devices is roll-fed. Wide format printers are now used to print the same type of projects that the old pen plotters were used for, such as CAD drawings or blueprints. They print much faster than the pen plotters and offer greater flexibility.

Ready to make a decision?

If you would like to learn more about wide format printer options, please see our Wide Format Printers Buyer’s Guide. If you are ready to get a free price quote on wide format printers for your business, please fill out our form. We can put you in touch with up to 5 suppliers who will answer any questions you have and offer free price quotes.

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