The Axidraw Pen Plotter and Creative Code Art

Posted by Michelle Chandra on

My big business "investment" this year was in a pen plotter - the Axidraw by Evil Mad Scientist Labs! I ended up getting a pen plotter in order to draw a project I started in grad school many years ago - generative spirograph prints. The prints will be available in small quantities as a limited release in October (join my email list to find out when.) Anyway, back to pen plotters!


What is a Pen Plotter?

A pen plotter can be thought of as a drawing robot or drawing machine. Take a look at the video above straight from my Instagram to see the pen plotter in action!

The machine holds a pen and draws a design on a flat surface of paper. Pen plotters have been around for the past 60 years. They are popular in modern times with generative artists i.e. creative coders - artists and programmers who are creating visual art programmatically, and then using the pen plotter to draw the designs as prints. 

Why Use a Pen Plotter?

Well, besides the fact the pen plotter is mesmerizing to watch, and a joy to work with, you can use the pen plotter to create finely detailed artwork with fun pens. There is a more handmade, human quality to a print made with pens over a laser jet printer. You can use metallic pens and white pens on black paper. And you can render very fine lines quickly.

What are the Downsides of a Pen Plotter?

It takes a decent amount of time to plot one drawing, and the printers are not cheap. If you are interested in making many copies of a design, you would probably be better off with a professional printing service or screenprinting your work!

Reviewing the Axidraw

I have found the Axidraw relatively straightforward to work with! My designs are created using Processing, which is a Java programming environment for visual artists. I output the final designs as PDF files, then use Illustrator to prep the designs for drawing (such as resizing the designs, and manually separating out areas that will be drawn with a different colored pen, etc). 


I then use Inkscape to plug into the Axidraw and render the design as a drawing. If I want to draw areas of the design with different pens, I separate those areas out as separate files and render them with different pens on the same print. 

Thinking about Picking up a Pen Plotter?

I love working with my Axidraw, and if you have the cash to spare, I highly recommend picking up one to play with. I have had no problems working with the Axidraw, and have greatly enjoyed creating beautiful pen plots. Besides being used by generative artists to create art prints, the pen plotter is great for making fun handmade cards, business cards, or whatever you can dream up! It can also be used as a signature machine, and can be used with a variety of pens such as fountain pens, brush pens, regular ink pens and even watercolor and pencils.

About Dirt Alley Design

michelle chandra dirt alley design


Dirt Alley Design was founded just off a dirt alley in San Francisco in December of 2016 by artist Michelle Chandra. Inspired by the beauty of street grids, Michelle invented maze maps in which she transforms street grids into mazes. In 2019, she began a new project - generative spirograph prints created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign where she posts new spirograph designs daily.



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