Updated: Apr 19, 2020
The Axidraw is one of the most popular pen plotters used in the generative art community due to its precision, compatibility with many drawing tools and large printing area. It is capable of holding a pen, but it can also work with chalk, ballpoint pen, and even big markers. Let's dive into the spec and find out why the Axidraw is a frequent feature on Generative Hut's feed.
Highlights of AxiDraw
- Simple, precise, and versatile
- Able to write with any pen
- Controlled through Inkscape plugin via USB port (Mac, Windows or Linux)
- 3 available print sizes: A3, A4 and A6.
- No maintenance
Design & Construction
The Axidraw V3 has a sturdy design that does not require frequent repairing, maintenance, or replacement of parts. You can easily plot with heavy pens without much variation in the way the machine will execute its work.
The construction of the Axidraw features aluminum excursions which make it lightweight, rigid, and durable at the same time. This means you can push the speed up on drawings with many lines. I find myself more often limited by the ink flow from the pens than by the speed the Axidraw can reach.
Most generative artists and illustrators tend to use the Inkscape plugin. Its main advantage is the wide compatibility of vector line formats, a decent level of control over the plotting parameters and the ability to adjust things visually to match your digital artwork with the physical page. The learning curve is not too steep if you have experience with Adobe Illustrator and you should know how to use your plotter in no time.
The AxiDraw also supports control directly from within your own Python or Processing scripts. Head over to our tutorial section if you're interested to learn how to plot with the Axidraw whether you code in Python, Processing, Cinema4D...
The compact design of the Axidraw means you can draw anything on pretty much any flat surface. You can set the "pen up" and "pen down" heights in Inkscape to adjust to any support. I've printed on wood and fabric in the past without much trouble.
There have been a few notable examples of using it vertically on a wall, which only
requires using a rubber band for the pen to apply pressure on the drawing surface. Evil Mad Scientist (EMS), the makers of the AxiDraw, push regular updates and their github forum is very active for the tinkerers out there.
What I like
Its precision. When I want to replot one of my designs, I know that I'll get the same motion, speed, acceleration, which means you can really focus on your choice of pen or ink or paper to create variations.
I've never had to do any maintenance. Every time I want to plot, I don't need to spend time calibrating anything, compared to, let's say, a 3d printer. It means I get to focus 100% of my time on my creative coding, not on the hardware.
Also, the latest firmware update added a path optimization feature which saves a lot of plotting time.
What I wish
Not much to be honest. Dynamic control of the "z" pen height, which would be amazing for the work I do with brushes. But I still don't know of any pen plotter that supports "3D movements". Also when the Axidraw is idle and holding a big heavy pen, there's sometimes a little buzzing sound of the servo holding the position. I simply switch it off and on only when I'm about to plot.
The Axidraw is a really reliable pen plotter which most generative artists come to appreciate as their go-to pen plotter. It’s not the cheapest but will go a long way as you develop your generative art path. I personally own the A3/V3, which I’d recommend if you’re thinking of plotting art you want to sell, as smaller print size might quickly become a constraint.
You can currently get 10% off with coupon GENERATIVE on EMS's website.