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Joy Gallucci ITGM 705-OL David Meyers Art Review 1: The Plotter I. Origin

Fig 1. CalComp model 565, drum plotter. Source: http://www.science.uva.nl/faculteit/museum/calcomp565_txt.html. (Wikipedia)

The first plotter was groundbreaking in its debut in 1959, the CalComp 560. The first version of the plotter was created by CalComp Inc. technology as a drum plotter. There were many types of plotters to come thereafter by other companies, including the flatbed plotter. The plotter was game changing for computer-aided design, because of its ability to output computerized tasks. After CalComp debuted the plotter in 1959, they did not expect the product to be as successful as it was, and by 1961, the sales of CalComp’s plotter model 565 were so high that it


actually “allowed the company to go public with $300,000 Regulation A stock issue.”1 CalComp expanded their plotter sales beyond military research and development, and began selling to other companies like IBM. With revenue increasing rapidly for CalComp solely due to plotter sales, the company continued to make drum plotters and began selling them for personal use. In the 1960s, IBM adopted the CalComp 565 Plotter and resold it as the IBM 1627 Plotter, which technically was the first product not created by IBM that they allowed to interact with IBM computers. In the late 1950s, Hewlett-Packard also created a model of the plotter, as a stepping-stone into their later known domination in the printing business.2 Though the plotter was developed by a several companies, programmers continued to use the CalComp library for programming commands to their plotters of the years. Programmers who were fluent in Fortran and Basic used bits of the independent code from Calcomp to manipulate the plotter to do exactly the task they wanted it to do. II. Purpose and Intended Use Though it was originally created for technical use to print technical document plans and blueprints for military use, it was eventually adopted by both technical and creative designers alike. A plotter is a vector-based printer, originally intended for designers who specialized in computer-aided design. The plotter works by feeding paper through the pass, until the correct place on the paper is centered that needs to be printed on. The printer head then uses a series of dots, line by line, to print the necessary items onto the paper3. The plotter’s process can be likened to a printer, however the plotter actually uses a different technique for printing than inkjet and laser printers, taking the full image data from the computer and calculating the shortest possible path for the printer head, ensuring that the full image won’t be smudged at all for technical designs. At the time of its invention, the plotter was not created to print text, as it’s traditional programmed commands of “lift”, “place”, “draw” would not suffice for this, but eventually HP and Houston Instruments began creating ASCII based languages that allowed programmers to use plotters for fully capable printing purposes.

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Funding Universe. Company History: CalComp Inc. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/CalComp-Inc-Company-History.html. 2006. 2  Hewlett-­‐Packard.  HP  History:  The  1950s.  http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/abouthp/histnfacts/timeline/hist_50s.html.  HP,  2011   3Wikipedia,  Plotter.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plotter.  January  2011.  


Fig 2. CalComp model 565. Computer Museum, http://www.ibm1130.net/functional/Plotter.html.

III. Developments since origin Since the original plotter design in the 1950s, HP continued to develop more plotter mechanisms, using CalComp based technologies. HP’s current plotter implementations are still widely known as plotters among designers, however they perform as the well-known inkjets and laser printers. After the drum plotter, the flatbed plotter was invented, than the “grit wheel� mechanism, which worked more similarly to printers that we currently use today, and can in some printers still be found. Moving its grit wheels back and forth, the pen of the plotter rest in between the grit wheels to draw the image sent from the computer. At this point in the mid 1980s, plotters became popular as home use devices, but when HP began to create laser and inkjet printers the plotters became obsolete because of how slow they were in comparison. Designers had the capability to rastersize their images and text on the computer before sending the image to the printer, which sped up the process from the vector based plotter. Though plotter parts are still available, many are no longer mass produced since the plotter has been widely replaced with the inkjet and laser printers. However in recent years, many designers have begun


using plotters as customizable output devices4, taking the little bit of source code that is left from HP and customizing it for artwork. The plotter was the stepping-stone for graphic and print design; it makes sense that we continue to pay homage in art to this day.

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 Hackaplot,  Collaborative  Pen  Plotting  Art  Project.  http://www.hv-­‐a.com/hackaplot/.    


Works Cited

Beyls, Peter. Discovery through Interaction: A Cognitive Approach to Computer Media in the Visual. Leonardo, Vol. 24, No. 3 (1991), pp. 311-315. The MIT Press. "CalComp's Bet on Smart Plotters," Business Week, May 19, 1980, p. 124B. Funding Universe. Company History: CalComp Inc. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/companyhistories/CalComp-Inc-Company-History.html. 2006. Hermanitos Verdes Architetti. http://www.hv-a.com/hackaplot/. 2010. Hewlett-Packard. HP History: The 1950s. http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/abouthp/histnfacts/timeline/hist_50s.html. 2011. IBM. IBM 1627 Plotter Documentation. http://www.ibm1130.net/functional/Plotter.html. 2006 Plotter, Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plotter. January 2011. WorldNews. CalComp 565 Plotter Working. http://wn.com/calcomp_565_plotter_working. June 2007.


Art Review 1