Should you happen to have an HP7440A or similar plotter hanging around, you could have a quick game of Flappy Bird — or Plotty Bird as [WesleyAC] calls it. Just be sure you have some blank paper. The whole thing fits in about 200 lines of Rust code and — according to the author — gets to about 20 frames per second.
Watching the thing go, it appears that it draws a random set of pipes and then traces your flight path on the same page in real time.
There is a dedicated community of plotter enthusiasts who keep their often-aging X-Y axis pen drawing devices going decades after they were built, and who share plotter-generated paper artwork online. [Dhananjay Balan] was seduced by this, so acquired a second-hand HP7440A through eBay and set about bringing it to life.
Bringing it to life was in the first instance the usual progression of cleaning the mechanism and checking all was in order, before doing a bit of research to find that the missing power supply was a 10-0-10V AC item. Then some adapters and a USB-to-serial port had it talking to a modern PC, and thanks to the wonders of HPGL it was working once more. This could thus have been a very simple tale worthy of the dreaded Not A Hack moniker, had the focus then not changed from the hardware into the software.
Back in the day, a 60-byte buffer in a plotter must have seemed huge. But in 2019 a plotter can be sent data at a rate that will swiftly fill it, after which the commands are not stored and are never drawn. Introducing a delay between sending commands solves the problem, but at the expense of very slow plotting. This was solved with a very clever use of the HPGL command to send the pen position, which waits until the pen has finished moving before sending its return value. This became a handy way to detect when the plotter was ready for more, allowing speedier printing without buffer overruns.
The plotter has an expansion port into which an optional module containing trigonometric drawing functions could have been plugged, but was missing in this example. HP’s idea was that the buffer was so small that a programmer would have difficulty writing their own, but the buffer hack in the previous paragraph put paid to that. Python code for all this and more is in a handy GitHub repository.
The build gains X and Y axes by virtue of two salvaged DVD drives. The tray mechanisms come ready to go with stepper motors and lead screws already assembled, and make a great basis for a compact plotter. A wooden frame is constructed to hold everything together. The pen is held against the paper with a rubber band which helps the ballpoint to draw a nice dark line, with a servo used as a pen retract mechanism. An Arduino Uno with a stepper driver shield is then employed to run the show.
We’ve always had a soft spot for omni wheels and the bots that move around somewhat bumpily on them. Likewise, CNC pen plotters are always a welcome sight in our tip line. But a CNC plotter using omni wheels is new, and the results are surprisingly good.
Built from the bottom of a spring-form baking pan, [lingib]’s plotter is simplicity itself. Four steppers turn the omni wheels while a hobby servo raises and lowers the pen. The controller is an Uno with a Bluetooth module for smartphone control. Translating wheel rotations into X- and Y-axis motions was not exactly trivial, and the video below shows the results. Lines are a bit wobbly, and it’s clear that the plotter isn’t hitting the coordinates very precisely. But given the somewhat compliant nature of the omni wheels, we’re surprised [lingib] got results as good as these, and we applaud the effort.
With the cost of 3D printers dropping rapidly, we’ve started to see a trend of hackers re-purposing them for various tasks. It makes perfect sense; with the hotend and extruder turned off (or removed entirely), you’ve got a machine that can move a tool around in two or three dimensions with exceptional accuracy. Printers modified to carry lasers, markers, and even the occasional rotary tool, are becoming a common sight in our tip line.
Last year [Matthew Rayfield] attached a marker to his 3D printer and had it sketch out some pictures, but recently he decided to revisit the idea and try to put a unique spin on it. The end result is a throwback to the classic dot matrix printers of yore utilizing decidedly modern hardware and software. There’s something undeniably appealing about the low-fi nature of dot matrix printing, and when fed the appropriate images this setup is capable of producing something which we’ve got to admit is dangerously close to being art.
To create these images, [Matthew] has created “Pixels-to-Gcode”, an online service that anyone can use to turn an arbitrary image into GCode they can feed their 3D printer. There’s a number of options available for you to play with so you can dial in the specific effect you’re looking for. Pointillist images can be created using a tight spacing of dots, but widen them up, and your final image becomes increasingly abstract.
The hardware side of this project is left largely as an exercise for the reader. [Matthew] has attached a fine-point pen to his printer’s head using a rubber band, but admits that it’s far from ideal. A more robust approach would be some kind of 3D printed device that allows you to quickly attach your pen or marker so the printer can be easily switched between 2D and 3D modes. We’d also be interested in seeing what this would look like if you used a laser mounted on the printer to burn the dots.
Like many of us, [Benjamin Poilve] was fascinated when he took apart a broken printer. He kept the parts, but unlike most of us, he did something with them, building a neat little plotter called the Liplo. Most pen plotters work by moving the pen on two axes, but [Benjamin] took a different approach, using the friction drive bars from the printer to move the paper on one axis, and a servo to move the pen on the other. He’s refined the design from its initial rough state to create a very refined final product that uses a combination of salvaged, 3D-printed, and CNC-milled parts.
If you’re anything like us, your success with the opposite sex at the bar wasn’t much to brag about. But imagine if you had only had this compact CNC polar plotter and could have whipped up a few custom coasters for your intended’s drink. Yeah, that definitely would have helped.
Or not, but at least it would have been fun to play with. This is actually an improved version of [bdring]’s original “Polar Coaster”. Version 2 is really just a more compact and robust version of the original. The new one has a custom controller for the steppers and pen-lift servo, and everything is mounted neatly to the main PCB. Where the original used a timing belt to drive the platter, the new one uses 3D-printed helical gears, and the steppers have been replaced by slimmer motors. It even has an SD card and smartphone UI, and the coasters look pretty good.
There’s no video of the new one, but you can see its predecessor in action below and imagine the possibilities. Snap a picture and have a line art rendition of someone plotted while you’re waiting for drinks? Just remember not to take any laser engraved wooden nickels.