Posted by Kevin Vaughan on Wed, Apr 13, 2011 @ 01:24 PM

In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon declared that "knowledge is power." Back then, he was only armed with a handful of books. Today, if you want to gain a mountain of knowledge to empower your business, you should tap into the information monster that is GIS.

3D layers - Printing GIS Maps

GIS stands for Geographic Information System. This is a computerized system that blends images and data from cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology.

In layman's terms, GIS is a way to visually represent data on a map or aerial photo. Then you can filter that data to produce a type of visual report. Some good examples of this are:

  • Mapping high crime areas for city planners and police forces
  • Displaying election results by region
  • Visualizing rainfall and watershed information

Really, what makes GIS so dynamic is the fact that it can serve a wide range of industries and disciplines including:

  • Spatial Analysis and Research
  • archaeology
  • Geography
  • Cartography
  • Land Surveying
  • Oil and Gas Exploration and Production
  • Public Utility Management
  • Urban Planning
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Plus many more!

The GIS system is controlled through software applications such as ArcGIS and ArcView, both created by ESRI. Though computer-based, GIS is a basically a map at heart. So, often you will want or need a hard copy of your work.

So, what is the best plotter for printing GIS maps? Rather than focusing on a particular band, consider some physical and technical aspects important to producing a high-quality map quickly.

  1. Printing Width of Plotter - Remember, you will be printing maps. The larger the better. Most companies will need at least a 44 inch printer to print 40x40 aerials. Plus, big maps are just plain cool.
  2. Processing Power - GIS files can be HUGE. Sometimes they are in the GB range. So, you better have the processing power to chew through those large files. Also, if you file contains layers, the processing power needed increases exponentially. 
  3. On board Hard Drive - Be sure your unit has one. This will help greatly with file spooling as well as help you relieve stress on your network resources. It is not uncommon to find plotter with 80GB or larger hard drive now.
  4. RAM - Random Access Memory is important, but sometimes it can be a bit of "smoke and mirrors" spec. That is because some plotter manufacturers use virtual memory as a type of RAM. This is when the machine uses a portion of the hard disk to "swap" data as a way to manage memory. The upside to this is a huge amount of room for data, but it takes a severe speed penalty. As a rule, as long as you have a hard drive on the plotter, 256 MB of physical RAM is usually enough to get the job done.
  5. Pigment Inks - Generally, GIS images tend to be displayed for a while. If you use a printer with regular dye based inks, then the image will begin to fade rather quickly. Dyes are affected by both ultraviolet light and oxygen. On the other hand, pigments are fade and scratch resistant. They will give you much better quality and durability.

The thing to remember when looking for a GIS plotter is to get something that will perform best for your needs--not only now but in the future as well. Be sure to use some foresight when planning your technology deployment. Paying a little more upfront may save you many headaches down the road.

what is the best plotter for GIS maps

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Kevin Vaughan

Written by Kevin Vaughan

Kevin Vaughan is the Manager of Sales and Marketing at TAVCO. His wide-format industry experience spans over fifteen years, benefiting a wide range of client industries including architectural, engineering, construction, GIS, and petroleum companies. You can often find Kevin locked into conversation about plotters, 3D printers, wide scanners, software, or whatever new trend is on the horizon. Look for Kevin to share the latest wide-format and 3D technology scoop on the TAVCO blog.