Announcing a major new capability: CylinDraw makes for an excellent paper plotter!
The hardware needed to enable this capability only requires the addition of a large tube to wrap the paper around and two rubber bands to secure the paper in place.
We won’t sell tubes but you can use any tube 3.5-4″ (89-100mm) outer diameter & 10.5″ long, like this acrylic tube on amazon. Cardboard shipping tubes also work!
We also just released a new software update (V2.01) to facilitate the paper drawing option along with some other nice to have features. (Details listed later).
There are of course a variety of consumer grade paper plotters out there, so let’s use the most popular one as a basis for comparison, the AxiDraw by Evil Mad Scientist Lab
Tabletop Space Required: What desktop footprint does the machine need.
- AxiDraw = 17 × 3.5 inches (430 x 90 mm). The open frame by design has to be twice as deep as the paper.
- CylinDraw = 23″ x 6.5″ (584 x 165mm). The depth of the machine is noticeably smaller on my desk and I can use the bed of the machine to store pens/paper without them being in the way. (Winner)
Maximum Paper Size: The usable drawing space on both machines fits a standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper. This one is a (Tie) for the base version of the machines, though AxiDraw does offer a separate larger version.
Max Drawing Speed: How fast can the machine move.
- AxiDraw = 380 mm/s. (Marginal Winner)
- CylinDraw = 85 mm/s.
Note that pen drawing is typically done at <25mm/sec on both machines, so the top speed is only differentiated while the pen is lifted. Faster moves here shave off a tiny percentage of the overall job time. To CylinDraw’s credit, the rigidity of the machine enables you to make very fast drawing strokes without fear of machine wobble showing up on the paper. Though you would almost never want to draw pen strokes at high speeds because pens can only lay down ink so fast without fading.
Versatility: How many different ways can the machine be used.
- AxiDraw: The open frame design can draw on literally anything flat. Paper, an open notebook, a closed laptop cover, etc. Can use normal pens or fountain pens. Cannot engrave without significant modifications.
- CylinDraw: Can draw on any type of paper you could wrap around a cylinder, but not something like a notebook. It cannot hold a fountain pen currently, but with a new part it easily could. It can readily engrave and it works on any type/size of cup of course! (Call it a Tie as this is unquantifiable)
Drawing Resolution: The smallest controlled move the machine can make.
- AxiDraw: Has a resolution on both axes of .0125 mm/step. (Winner)
- CylinDraw: On paper it has .01 mm/step on the linear axis & .1 mm/step on the rotational axis on the 4″ diameter tube that I used for paper. The resolution on the rotational axis increases proportionally with smaller diameter tubes. Since pens typically draw with a stroke width of 0.1-0.5mm, the resolution is imperceptible is most cases anyway.
Reproducibility: How well successive identical lines overlap.
- AxiDraw: ‘Typically better than 0.005 inches (0.1 mm) at low speeds.’
- CylinDraw: At least as good. The closely packed closed-frame designed for the rigidity needed to engrave makes for extreme reproducibility with a pen. (Call it a Tie because it is hard to measure.)
Price: (prices as of this writing)
- AxiDraw: $475 with free shipping, no assembly required.
- CylinDraw: $260-$500 with free shipping, total out of pocket price depends on if you want to assemble yourself or buy it fully assembled. Most folks have opted to build it themselves from a kit. (Tie, Depends)
AxiDraw: Open Source ‘Inkscape + extensions’, or a small selection of alternatives like AxiDraw server. Works on Mac, Windows, and Linux computers
CylinDraw: Open Source ‘CylinDraw Control Suite’ only. Currently only works on Window computers but a Linux option is in development. No apple support.
All options are free, open source, & do not require a paid subscription for any level of software access. Both software stacks allow you to convert bitmap images into drawable vector paths, or let you import SVG files purchased from a 3rd party. That AxiDraw functions on more operating systems is a big win though it doesn’t matter to the people who only use windows anyway. Also, being built in Inkscape there is a very deep level of image manipulation control built into the system. In my opinion the AxiDraw workflow is better suited for a tech savvy audience.
In contrast, CylinDraw software was designed primarily to be as easy to use as humanly possible. The workflow requires fewer clicks and less understanding of vector conversion & machine control. CylinDraw also includes a built in path optimizer and I don’t believe Inkscape has that feature. Additionally, for the very few users that want to modify either open source software, I think they would find it easier to modify the source code (arduino + Processing3) of the CylinDraw. This is hard to call without my own bias playing a role and I think the verdict depends on the user. A casual crafter would enjoy the simplicity of CylinDraw, but since most plotter users are tech savvy and would probably vote for Inkscape here I should call it that way. (Winner AxiDraw ) (I’ll add that neither software works for the other machine currently.)
AxiDraw: To the best of my knowledge multicolor-all-in-one-jobs are not directly supported in the software, though that doesn’t stop artists from making separate consecutive jobs to apply different colors.
CylinDraw: The software natively supports multicolor jobs to make 1 color as easy as 12. The software consolidates all same-color strokes together and prompts you to change the pen to the next color & shows you which color it wants. It also automatically sorts the color order by brightness so that light colors aren’t smearing around dark colors already on the workpiece. (CylinDraw Marginal Winner)
Both machines bring a completely different approach to the plotting process and their individual appeal varies greatly depending on the user.
People who use Apple products, have stronger tech skills, and/or professional aspirations for making paper plots surely have their needs better met by the AxiDraw. (Their product is great and this article in no way intends to suggest otherwise.)
On the other hand, people who don’t like Inkscape & view software tinkering to be unpleasant, who enjoy building projects from kits to save money, and who enjoy making art on a variety of mediums for hobby purposes will find a compelling value proposition in the CylinDraw.
While the paper drawing capability of CylinDraw is good, it is still of course a tangential benefit to the main attraction of drawing/engraving on cups. Something that no other commercially available plotter on earth can do!
Its fair to say that preferences vary greatly with the end user and both machines have unique qualities, strengths/weaknesses, and that comparison is largely apples to oranges. Doing so was just to provide you with a frame of reference. There’s also no reason a person shouldn’t own BOTH machines.
Software Version 2.01 Update:
Firmware: Caps the maximum/minimum speeds so you cannot attempt to move at a rate that would cause the machine to lose steps. Fixed a bug that improperly adjusted speeds in certain cases. (A non-issue for DePixelized SVGs which is why I didn’t notice, but for SVGs from anywhere else you would notice straight lines turning out curved.) (SW is backwards compatible with arduino firmware v2.00 but we still recommend updating your fw to the current rev)
DePixelizer: Added (see Log_DePixelizer.png in the System folder). Added Resolved a bug that created a ghost effect in the GUI after exporting jobs.
Job Creator: Added the gui selectable option to specify that you are drawing on paper. Auto-detect & remove preview from large job files to improve loading time. (Extremely large svg files were formerly causing some users to not be able to open the program.) Updated slicing algorithm to better remove the number of jumps in a given job. Reduced overall slicing time for extra large jobs! (this wasn’t a problem before but now drawing on paper creates much large jobs and so the need came up). Made the path optimization a selection option available in the Help menu. (Because for non-DePixelizer SVGs found on websites such as https://plotterfiles.com I found that trying to optimize them made the jobs take longer.)
Run Mode: Auto-detect & remove preview from large job files to improve loading time when opening the program. (Clicking on the image in the center of the screen still opens CylinDraw JobViewer so you can still see the entire job if you want.) Added the ‘Jump to Line’ button so you can go to any point in the job you want.
Notes on pens used for illustrations at top:
The Bic 4 in 1 multi-color pen is a fun general place to start. We used a dollar tree version for the Buzz lightyear image, though we’d recommend buying the name brand version if buying a multipen.
Pilot G2 appears to be a good value option for pens and that’s what we used for most of our drawings shown above. We’re picking up a big color variety pack!
Roller ball pens do have trouble drawing lots of consecutive dots because the ball doesn’t get a chance to roll. For the portrait of my wife I used a Promarx UltraFine 0.5mm technical pen which uses a solid tube nib better suited for lots of dots! There’s a wide world of pen types to explore though!