Posted by Kevin Vaughan on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 @ 09:35 PM

In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon declared that "knowledge is power."  Back then, the world was a lot smaller, and he was only armed with a handful of books. Today, we can all instantly get a mountain of knowledge, with a single mouse click. But, if if mapping lots of data is on your "to do" list, you should tap into the information monster that is GIS. But, the real challenge arises when you need to print the data collected. After all, GIS files can very very large, complex, and detailed. You better have the right map plotter for the job. 


3D layers - Printing GIS Maps


What is GIS?

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 and will have a "wow factor" that will get you remembered. 
  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. Pro-Tip: It is a good idea to flatten layered files before printing using an application like Adobe or Bluebeam Revu. This will greatly speed up the pre-printing processing time and will reduce the chances of mistakes. 
  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. Many graphics printers or map plotters like the Canon PRO Series, include a large, onboard hard drive for print spooling. 
  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. Making a wise decision upfront may save you many headaches down the road.


Consider the new Canon PRO Series when looking for a new Map Plotter

More info


Photo credit: 

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.