Choosing one of the best pen plotters, or x/y pen plotters, can be a little daunting if you're new to this unique digital-meets-traditional art form. Pen plotters are computer-controlled machines that, through a series of code-based communications, draw or write your digital images with impressive quality, speed and accuracy. Using software, such as the widely loved InkScape, you can watch your digital creations appear before your eyes with your favourite pens and pencils, or even engraved using a laser.
By reading vector files, your pen plotter can create paths from a set of points, piecing together your drawings, and can even bring them to life through colour, layering the basics of CMYB (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to produce any colour you could imagine. These machines create in a similar way to the best Cricut machines and the best laser cutters, but they specifically create complex and unique works of art. Visit Generative Hut for some beautiful examples of this distinctive digital art form.
Whether you need one with a large frame to fit your prints, one with incredible speed, or just something for a beginner, below I outline some of the best pen plotters currently on the market, and help you choose which one will suit you best.
The quick list
In a rush? Find your bearings with our quick list, then click through the links to find out a little more about some of our best pen plotters.
The best pen plotter overall
Functioning as both a pen plotter and laser engraver, and with new, faster servo motors, this is the all-round best pen plotter that will cater to all of your needs.
The best budget pen plotter
This self-assembly pen plotter is great for a tight-budget, with an A4 drawing area and G-code based system. It's not anything fancy, but good if you like a project.
Best for students
The best for students
With an extending arm that can draw beyond the machine body and backed by software capable of imitating realistic handwriting, this is perfect for students needing a more flexible plotter.
Best for A3
The best for larger prints
This A3 sized pen plotter is the best for larger prints, with a high-speed stepper motor system that supports a wide range of file formats, you can take your creativity to the max.
Best for multi-purpose
The best multi-purpose pen plotter
You get more than you pay for with this pen plotter, which also works as an engraver and laser cutter, and comes with its own laser head, all for a fraction of the price of the iDraw plotters.
The best pen plotters we recommend in 2023
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The best pen plotter overall
For speed, precision and adaptability, it's hard to find a better pen plotter than the iDraw 2.0, offering everything that you could ask for with a fair price. iDraw has become a household name in the pen plotting community, and for good reason, as their machinery is continuously high quality and manages to surpass itself each time they release something new.
This newer model, the 2.0, has been replaced with servo motors, allowing for higher speed whilst maintaining impressively close precision. The changes allow the machine to only get better, and it can be used as both a pen plotter and laser engraver.
Despite arriving as a kit that needs to be assembled, the guide is quick and easy to follow, and once set up the plotter can be used through InkScape which offers a wide range of graphic editing tools.
The best budget pen plotter
Despite its low price, the LY Drawbot is nothing to be sniffed at. This cheap pen plotter comes as a kit which you assemble at home, and though it takes a little while to put together, the process is surprisingly simple and brings the added benefit of giving you an insight into the inner workings of a pen plotter.
Regarding the software, the Drawbot is less advanced than the more pricey pen plotters, working almost entirely from G-Code, which you create from your artwork, then feed to the machine, which requires installing CH40 drivers and the latest Universal GCode Sender. But once installed, the process is similar to that of other G-code-based plotters and can be used from your Mac, Windows or Linux PC.
The DrawBot may not be particularly fancy, but if you're on a tight budget, familiar with using G-code and like a project then this may be the best pen plotter for you.
The best pen plotter for students
It's difficult to say a bad word against the Axidraw V3, manufactured by the family-owned company Evil Mad Scientist, a brand firm on supporting the arts and education. This plotter is not only lightweight and precise, but has an arm that extends beyond the body of the machine, meaning that you can create prints that are larger than the machine itself, up to A3 size. It can draw with any given instrument, imitate realistic handwriting and has a maximum speed of 38cm per second, making this the best pen plotter for students.
A small downfall of this plotter is that it is only compatible with SVG files, but converting to this is relatively easy and allows you to simplistically plot your works of art. The Axidraw V3 allows your creativity to flow in any direction you may wish. If you have the budget, this pen plotter is worth the high price, and has all the flexibility that somebody finding their feet with pen plotters could need.
The best pen plotter for larger prints
The iDraw H A3 is for people who want a serious pen plotter for creating art, and this is possibly the most impressive that you can get. It's the best pen plotter if larger prints are what you need with an A3 frame and a reputation for being the fastest plotter on the market at 12,000mm per minute. Working at such a high speed with a larger plotting area allows you to really get your teeth into printing high-quality artwork at an unbeatable pace with your favourite instruments.
Like the other iDraw plotters, this one is very easy to use, compatible with InkScape on Windows, Mac and Linux and supports all instruments and file formats. You can also purchase laser heads that can be used with the plotter to engrave a variety of materials, with a list available on its website.
It also needs to be assembled, but much like the iDraw 2.0, the instructions are clear and easy to follow, ensuring that this doesn't detract from the overall unbeatable quality of the plotter. The iDraw H A3 has a high price tag, but if it suits your needs, it's definitely worth it.
The best multipurpose pen plotter
The Sovol SO-2 is possibly the best value-for-money pen plotter on our list, as you're not only receiving the plotter, but also a laser engraver and cutter. Unlike many of the other products listed, the SO-2 comes with a powerful 5W output laser head, which has the capability to engrave and cut a vast amount of different materials including glass, plastic, coated metal, wood, ceramics, and much more. There's also the option to purchase a 10W output laser head which can cut deeper and onto more complicated materials.
The pen plotter itself is good quality, though it has less of the speed than the more premium options due to Sovol's use of stepper instead of servo motors. The SO-2 also comes unassembled, and so needs to be put together, but the instructions are relatively simple. Overall, this is a great pen plotter if you are looking for a trustworthy combination of pen plotter and laser cutter.
The best pen plotter for amateurs
Perhaps you'd like to experience the joy of pen plotting, but without the fuss of all of the software, time-consuming assembly, and calibration? Look no further than the Line-us, born from a crowd-funder and grown into a small, but exciting, part of the pen plotting world. The Line-us works through an app that you can download onto your iPad, iPhone, Android tablet or phone, PC or Mac, where you can create and share your drawings before sending them to the plotter.
The Line-us is also unlike other plotters through its body, which does not come as a frame, but rather a stationary robot with a movable arm, meaning that it can only create small prints from your drawings, but the process is still enjoyable and impressively simplistic. This makes it the best pen plotter for those who would like to try plotting, but don't want to worry about learning a new set of skills.
How to choose best pen plotter
Size: It's important to know how big you'll need your pen plotter machine to be as this can have a large effect on both your creative output and the price of the plotter. If you're focussing on smaller prints, perhaps greeting cards or hand-written letters, A4 could be best for you. But if you need to work on much larger prints, you might want to consider spending a little more on an A3 pen plotter, such as the iDraw Home A3.
Speed: Depending on what you're using your pen plotter for, speed can be an important factor on which x/y plotter you'll need. For professionals, speed is essential for output and keeping up with demand, so your best choices could be the Axidraw V3 or the iDraw Home A3, if a larger plotter is also what you're looking for.
Laser cutting and engraving: It may be that you need a machine that does a little more than pen plotting, or you'd like to branch out your skill set. A pen plotter that's capable of cutting or engraving with a laser could be the step, meaning that you can move your creations from paper to plastic, metal, or even leather.
Assembly: The state in which a pen plotter arrives at your door can be more important than many would think, and if you need a pen plotter that is already assembled, it's important to have that guarantee. If this is the case, you may want to consider buying the AxiDraw V3 or even the Line-us, both of which come fully assembled and ready to use.
How we review the best pen plotters
When we test craft machines and art supplies, like the best pen plotters, we not only examine what a product can do, but also the value it represents. We like to review them in the context of how they may be used, the cost, as well as the tech they offer.
Our writers are crafters and artists, some professional, and so they know what's needed from a new machine or tool. Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional yourself you can rest assured we've put these machines through their paces.
Our reviewers test each machine on the basis of how it's intended to be used. This can mean a Cricut craft cutter will be used to make a project, or even multiple projects, from start to finish.
Read more: How we test and review craft machines
The best pen plotters: frequent questions
What is a pen plotter used for?
A pen plotter is a machine that transfers lines directly from a vector file onto paper using ink pens. They were originally designed to create accurate engineering and architectural drawings but are now used by artists to create complex illustrations and graphic works of art.
Is a pen plotter a printer?
No, not exactly. A pen plotter takes the data from a digital vector file (SVG) and draws images from it whereas a printer, well… prints ink to a piece of paper. Pen plotters can also use large sheets of paper, some on rolls, to create enormous, evolving illustrations.
What is pen plotter art?
Artists have adapted pen plotters to create stunning and complex geometric works of art, using a mixture of the best digital art software and pen plotters from AxiDraw and Line-US; see my guide above for these and other brands.
Why is plotter art called generative art?
Using a pen plotter to create art is a little haphazard, while you can create your art in software like Cinema4D and Adobe Illustrator, there are many random factors that can affect how your image is transferred, including pen height, paper type, ink type, how inks flow and merge, and more settings on the pen plotter.
Do I need to learn to code?
Some pen plotter artists use code and randomisation to create their art. This is done with code in Python or Java, for example, and some artists use their code to interpret sound into images.