Handwriting suck? Build a machine to do it for you


Children of the information age are doomed to have the worst handwriting just for lack of use if nothing more. But some students at Olin College harnessed technology to find a solution to that problem. Meet Herald, a CNC machine that can produce beautiful calligraphy.

The machine uses a gantry to move the writing tip along the X and Y axes. The flexible-nib calligraphy pen is mounted on a sprocket which rotates the tip onto the writing surface, taking care of the third axis. The rig was beautifully rendered from their CAD drawings, then tweaked to ensure the smoothest motion possible before the quintet of Sophomores began the physical build.

The drive hardware is very simple yet it produces great results. It uses an Arduino along with three stepper motor drivers. There are also limiting switches to protect the hardware from runaway code. The software interface designed by the team lets the user cut and paste their text, and select a font, font size, alignment, etc. It then converts the text to G-code and pushes it to the Arduino where the GRBL package takes care of business.

Don’t miss the device in action, writing out a [Langston Hughes] work in the clip after the break.


  1. Justin says:

    The awesomeness is overwhelming.

  2. lmn says:

    All doctors must buy this

  3. xorpunk says:

    I can still write, I had a old school professor who was nice enough to point out computers were for automation and work… The quote he kept on the wall from Alan Turing predicting information would stagnate the intelligence and cognitive skills of most of man kind also helped…

    • xorpunk says:

      P.S. I bet America is glad most homes had nintendo and internet over a decade before other nations…

      • xorpunk says:

        Like the use of cancer causing microwave and preservatives, not just in the US; convenience over logic and health…

        • Dr. DFTBA says:

          When do we encounter any form of microwave radiation that is strong enough to cause cancer?

          • Greenaum says:

            Microwaves are non-ionising. It’s impossible for them to cause cancer.

          • Ryan7777 says:

            Yeah, when people hear “radiation” or “radiate” they don’t tend to understand it doesn’t always mean “radioactivity” as in plutonium or ionizing radiation like X-rays. Most microwaves will do is burn you or fry your eyeballs.

          • Luke says:

            The cellular damage caused by microwave burns could conceivably increase the risk of cancer. But then, on the short term, you’d have vastly bigger problems to worry about than getting cancer some time down the line.

          • xorpunk says:

            I like when members of IEEE did testing for the US government “accelerated cell growth” wasn’t considered cancer, that’s exactly what all types of cancer are…

        • smee says:

          Every damn time.

          xorpunk Modus Operandi:

          1. Post something vaguely relevant to the subject, generally early in the thread like he has nothing better to do than press F5

          2. Reply to himself in order to post bigoted comments

          3. He is great at everything, everyone else is not.

          • Alex says:

            I remember when hackaday promised to clean up the community. I believed it for a while… Now it seems like half my responses are just snarky retorts. I spend a lot of time on reddit, too. Why am I attracted to internet shitholes?

          • Caleb Kraft says:

            commenting on the internet is generally a horrible place to be. We do delete a lot. Personal attacks, racism, sexism etc. Seems like people are out in force this month though.

          • xorpunk says:

            Yeah lets all not criticize anything and support incompetence through political correctness, just like America…

            It’s not like America… kill it or censor it

          • Caleb Kraft says:

            people made a cool robot that mimics handwriting. There’s no reason for your rant, it isn’t even criticism of their project. You can be civil and on topic or be tossed in the spam list.

          • xorpunk says:

            They say it was made because entire nations lack the ability to write… first-world nations, not some village in a third world nation or rural part of Europe…

            Sorry if I see a epidemic of primitive thinking and skills, a bad thing…

      • aliveoneee says:

        I sure am, I loved my NES….

      • Alex says:

        Oh, the humanity! Why didn’t we listen to the wise ones! Look what our IGNORANCE has WROUGHT!

        That’s the response you were looking for, right?

        • xorpunk says:

          Yeah when entire nations drastically decrease their education statistics and accumulates trillions in debt inside twenty years, all because citizens aren’t qualified or willing to fill domestic industries and the country becomes foreign dependent, there clearly isn’t a problem introduced around that timeline…

          • Ren says:

            Oh, the citizens ARE willing AND qualified, but unqualified, starving workers at $0.25 USD/hour are why the domestic industries left! The industry owners can now sell their products to their former employees for less, and still make a handsome profit, until their former employees have no more jobs to pay for those trinkets.

          • JB says:

            Ren has it right. It is this “global economy” crap that has caused problems. Tear down the checks and balances so the few can take all the money until no one has any money left to live.

            Kids today don’t remember that imports were luxury items as they paid tons of taxes and customs fees, not subsidized cheap crap from China. Let’s go back to those checks and balances “globally”. Let every country charge tons of taxes on imports so companies are forced to go local. It is time someone starts dismantling this “global” crap. It only benefits the few. They want a global economy because they don’t want to pay taxes to any nation.

      • Eirinn says:

        Nintendo is Japanese which makes your statement a bit odd

        • scottmcd74 says:

          It’s the usually the most stupid that seem to think everyone else is stupid. Ever notice that? I’ve noticed over the years in my career in technology that the most incompetent people are the ones that complain the most and tend to think everyone else is stupid compared to them. Most likely because they think anything they don’t understand is stupid.

          Just remember: the guy in the trailer park that knows how to send an email is considered a computer guru. It’s all a bit relative.

          “Stupid Computer!” One of my favorite phrases. Makes me laugh every time I hear someone say it.

          Mortals are so funny. lol

      • truthspew says:

        Yep, I’ve had computers since the 70’s. Game platforms since the 80’s.

        That being said my handwriting is atrocious. I tend to block print a lot when I write with pen and paper. And even that is terrible.

        Something that doctors and engineers have in common I guess; terrible penmanship.

        For me the keyboard first as typewriter and then as computer keyboard were a god-send.

  4. Jerz says:

    I was amazed to learn that they stopped teaching cursive writing my kids schools.

    • kgilbnmnklni says:


    • J.Eriksson says:

      Even if your kids could write cursive, not many today can read cursive..

      • pcf11 says:

        What seems to give them the problem? Is it the cursive, or reading in general?

      • Greenaum says:

        I learned cursive at school. I soon forgot it. Now I have to make an effort when I write printing-style, to be sure I’ll be able to read it again later. Cursive I’ve got no chance.

        OTOH I’m a demon typist. Which has served me much more usefully than doing posh-person’s handwriting. Although cursive is faster to write, if I need to record that much data I’ll either type it or make an audio recording. Along with steam-engine drivers and Dodo-egg omelettes, cursive handwriting has had it’s day. Good.

    • scottmcd74 says:

      There really isn’t a need to learn to write cursive. Other than my signature, I don’t think I have used cursive my entire adult life. And I have even stopped using it for my signature.

      • Trav says:

        Being left-handed, cursive never really flowed for me. Although cursive is supposed to be faster than printing, it never was for me. And of all the smudged pages I’ve seen…..

        I like this build. I wonder how long it actually takes it to generate the G-code and write it out. Maybe I need to read the article.

  5. sarnu says:

    Cool stuff, but similar things have been done before: http://at.zkm.de/node/186

  6. electronics says:

    Wow this is wonderful :-)

  7. Ren says:

    Now to be suspicious of beautiful handwriting on cover letters…

  8. aliveoneee says:

    Olin clearly does not provide enough lab space. This group did great work and from the photos, they did it everywhere BUT in a proper workspace.

  9. technodream says:

    nice! a new app for my drawbot! so glad my bot eats standard gcode…

  10. Pete says:

    See also the history of the autopen: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopen as used to duplicate official signatures.

  11. How about stop being a lazy good for nothing and actually LEARN how to write on your own like any responsible human being with self-worth and pride would do. Practice writing in order to make it better.

    The laziness of today’s society just astounds me.

    • Mike Skoczen says:

      Do you grind your own grain to make bread?
      Or use a scythe to mow your lawn?
      It’s not being Lazy to use a machine to do difficult or tedious tasks.

    • harold ite says:

      “…..And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
      When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
      As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
      The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!……”

      “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, Rudyard Kipling, 1919

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      people made a cool robot that mimics handwriting. There’s no reason for your rant, it isn’t even criticism of their project. You can be civil and on topic or be tossed in the spam list.

  12. Paweł says:

    Wonderful idea and execution!

  13. Mike Bradley says:

    Dont confuse fountain pen for calligraphy. Not just a writing style, but a blunt nib is required.

  14. This is … the invention of … the fountain pen plotter :)

  15. a3 says:

    Can’t you just print with the same font on a laser printer? Seems like a lot of work you know.

    • smee says:

      Not one for the appreciation of subtlety? It is easy to tell the difference between the flat ink/toner/dye of a printer and the overlapping of layered lines with a slight indent on the paper that is created through handwriting. This device obfuscates the machine’s influence, just like the autopen, as someone else has already pointed out.

  16. MrX says:

    What about putting a sign of fast forward and speed multiplier in the video? That would be nice!

  17. Ryan7777 says:

    Handwriting was beautiful way of fast communication in, oh say, 1800… But it’s much like art in that everyone has their own “style”… you veer too far away from the structured proper way of doing it and it becomes almost impossible to read. And of course people love to do things their own way. Printing isn’t as fast, but at least it can be read. I am happy to see a lot of schools these days ditching it in favor of other means such as keyboarding. But the dumb as rocks, dullard state I live in is fighting to bring it back. No wonder we have a serious problem with “brain drain” here. Fossils can’t let go of the past. Same people who want to teach “creationism” as a serious curriculum. I’m surprised there isn’t a cult worshiping computers as people tend to explain away things they don’t understand with “god”.

  18. Fernando says:

    I Had one of this 20 years ago, called plotter 7475A… 2 years ago when I did my 1st CNC I had to use the plotter driver :D and all traces where done exactly as plotter did.

  19. xorpunk says:

    I’d bet money if you are Euro, Asian, Russian, African, Arab, you don’t have this problem, unless you never went to school to learn it…

    All the Americans can go on pointing out how I’m the stupid one(hey at least I can write my own name, and get a job :T)…

    • edonovan says:

      I’m not sure what you are saying. I’m sure somewhere in that statement is a justification for having multiple ways to write the same characters.

      Since I don’t know russian, mandarin, or arabic, I’m not sure what their cursive writing looks like; but in english it looks like a tangled ball of yarn.

  20. echodelta says:

    Not calligraphy, no not even handwriting as the letters are not tied together. Some computing is in order and has been done I believe, to make ligatured writing.

  21. wardy says:

    I was born in the early 80’s and I was one of those few fortunate enough to learn how to write fluidly and quickly in the cursive discipline. However, if memory serves it was called the “Nelson” style cursive that the teachers drummed into us. A style to this day I loathe and detest for it’s lumpen style and lack of individuality or grace. It is ugly, but at least it’s fast and efficient. Given the choice I’d rather write with a fountain pen (nearly frictionless) over a ballpoint (a feeble invention).

    I was crap at it though. My handwriting is absolutely appalling but I still treasure the fact that I can at least do it without any effort.

    Strangely though, my soldering neatness is probably 100x better than my handwriting and I can solder with either hand. What’s up with that?

    Can this machine be modified to do manual soldering? That would be awesome to watch.

  22. Barb says:

    (I apologize if someone already said this … I didn’t read all the comments.) Umm, wasn’t this invented a looooong time ago? I have this relatively small thingy on my desk that writes out whatever curlicues and designer text I want: a printer.

  23. Incunabulum says:

    Hey, maybe we don’t need to spend a quarter million dollars on the three white house calligraphers any more.

  24. ultimateohm says:

    Aleksandr Pushkin Automata handwriting like this post but mechanical only

  25. Grayda says:

    It’s all fun and games until someone loads a Comic-Sans laden file into the machine and all of a sudden you don’t want to live anymore.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,357 other followers