A plotter is a very versatile tool. It is sometimes confused with a printer, but a plotter uses line drawings to form an image instead of using dots. A common type of plotter is one that uses a pen or pencil, usually held by a mechanical “arm,” to draw lines on paper as images are typed. It may be a component that is added to a computer system or it may have its own internal computer. It can be used to create layouts, diagrams, specs, and banners.

A plotter may use multiple pens and pencils, which can be easily be changed out in order to create drawings of a different color or drawings that contain more than one color. A plotter is preferred over a printer in many commercial applications, including engineering, because it is far more exact.

Another type of plotter provides the ability to remove pens or pencils and replace them with other tools. This type of plotter is frequently used for commercial sign making. A penknife may be substituted for writing instruments, while pressure sensitive vinyl is frequently substituted for paper. As the sign maker types in letters, numbers, or symbols, the plotter cuts them from vinyl to create lettering for signs, billboards, vehicles, and many other applications. A plotter can generally cut both very tiny and very large images, cutting through the vinyl and leaving the paper backing intact, so the letters can easily be peeled away and applied to a surface.


Another tool that can be used with a plotter instead of writing instruments is a pounce wheel. The pounce wheel moves along the outline of the image creating tiny perforations. A pounce pattern is often used in layouts for large signs or in applications that require hand painting instead of vinyl lettering. Once the paper is perforated, it can be placed on the surface and chalk can be pushed through the tiny holes, creating an outline of the image. The outline can be filled in with paint, or it can be used as a layout for placing vinyl lettering.