Top Requirements for Map Plotters for Printing GIS Maps & Images
In 1597 Sir Francis Bacon declared that "knowledge is power." Back then, the known world was a lot smaller, and he was only armed with a handful of books.
Today, anyone with an internet connection can get a mountain of knowledge, with a single mouse click.
Both of these applications operate as web-based conglomerations of data sourced from both data and images, sourced from satellite imagery, aerial photography, and GIS.
But, if you need a way to actually print this data in the form of GIS maps, aerials, or images, you need a printer that is fully capable of handling the task.
Photo credit: stackexchange
What is GIS Exactly?
GIS stands for Geographic Information System. This is a computerized system that blends images and data from cartography, statistical analysis, and database technology.
ESRI, the global leader in GIS software, defines GIS as:
"A framework for gathering, managing, and analyzing data. Rooted in the science of geography, GIS integrates many types of data. It analyzes spatial location and organizes layers of information into visualizations using maps and 3D scenes.
With this unique capability, GIS reveals deeper insights into data, such as patterns, relationships, and situations—helping users make smarter decisions.
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." - ESRI
Photo credit: ESRI
Some examples of GIS 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
- Land Surveying
- Oil and Gas Exploration and Production
- Public Utility Management
- Urban Planning
- Landscape Architecture
- Plus many more!
So, what are the best maps plotters for printing GIS maps?
Rather than focusing on a particular band of map plotters, consider some physical and technical aspects important to producing a high-quality map quickly.
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.
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.
On-board Hard Drive
Most newer printers have them included, but 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, on-board hard drive for print spooling.
On Board Available RAM
Random Access Memory is important, but sometimes it can be a bit of "smoke and mirrors" specification.
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.
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 GIS plotters is to get something that will perform best for your specific 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
Anti-clogging technology: The PF-10 print-head with FINE technology generates fast print speeds and reduces the possibility of clogging.
New LUCIA PRO Ink: an all new ink formulation with a new microencapsulation process tht allows the inks to be even more densely laid down on the media, resulting in increased smoothness of the printed surface.
PRO S-Series Plotter Printer Models:
PRO-4000S: 44-inch printer
PRO-6000S: 60-inch printer
Learn more about Canon's innovative technologies in our Definitive Guide to Canon Plotters.
Editor’s note: Originally published in 2016 and updated in 2019.