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If you are thinking of picking up an AxiDraw pen plotter, you can take 10% off an AxiDraw pen plotter and accessories with discount code DIRTALLEY10 when you buy directly from Evil Mad Scientist, the makers of the AxiDraw!
It’s been two years since I bought an AxiDraw pen plotter and began plotting my code art! This is an update to an older blog post detailing my AxiDraw pen plotter setup, and my favorite pens.
Plug and Play: Setting Up an AxiDraw vs3
The Axidraw pen plotter is expensive, which means it is mostly ready to go out of the box with minimal setup. Keep in mind that the AxiDraw will need a large dedicated area to operate as the arm of the AxiDraw needs space to extend back behind the plotter (along with out front over the drawing area!)
For this reason, my AxiDraw sits on top of a flat file (they are rather spacious!) which means quick access to paper for plotting! I ended up attaching my AxiDraw to a thick piece of MDF board as well, as the surface is smooth for drawing, and I was able to draw lines on the board for paper placement with a pencil.
If you are interested in this setup, and would like to plot on larger paper (say 14 inch paper with an 11 inch design in the center), the legs of the Axidraw will overlap the paper! I ended up using 3d printed cylinders to raise the legs, but you could also use nylon washers/spacers that you can pick up at any hardware store.
With this setup, I use artist’s tape to attach my paper to the MDF board as it can be removed cleanly (be gentle!) and reused. I mostly went this route as I have a lot of leftover artist’s tape from my painting days, but I have seen other setups that use magnets to keep the paper in place!
All Setup?! Time to Plot! But How?
Again, if you are like me and just want a plug and play setup, Evil Mad Scientist has you covered (yet again!) by providing a plugin for Inkscape (a free open source vector software program kinda like Illustrator) to run the AxiDraw. Following the manual, in a couple quick steps, you can get the AxiDraw setup to begin plotting (you will need to do things like select the plotter from the plugin, set your pen height, etc.)
There is also an amazing hatch fill plugin for shading in solid areas! (There are also command line tools for running the AxiDraw as well!)
Workflow: From Generative Design to Pen Plot!
All of my code art designs are generated from a Processing sketch. I export the designs as an SVG file or PDF. I then use Illustrator to generate separate files for each layer (useful for multicolor plots!) I like to test out what the plot will look like at different line thicknesses, colors, etc. You can use the “multiply” mode to test what a CMYK plot might look like!
Pen Height: Keep Things Consistent
For consistency, I have some 3d printed doo-dads for pen height so that I am always placing my pens at the same height. You can find the model at the end of this blog post if you would like to have your own 3d printed pen height doodad too!
Gelly Roll Pens (Fave Pen, Also the Most Evil!)
One of my favorite pens to use are gelly roll pens as they are archival, light-fast and come in a multitude of sparkly colors. They are also the most frustrating and difficult as ink flow from these pens is very inconsistent.
To work with these pens, I have a 3d printed doo-dad that goes on top of the pens (download the model at the end of the blog post!) A little extra weight works wonders but I also run these pens pretty slowly (and as to not have to do a second pass…although you can always do a second pass!)
Since the ink on these pens gathers at the pen tip, I rest the pens on a piece of cardboard. When the AxiDraw runs, the pen drags on the cardboard which gets rid of the ink blob before the pen is placed on the paper to draw. Voila!
If during the pen plotting process, the pen skips sections, I will copy out those areas in Illustrator, save as a new file, and do a second pass (make sure to leave the pen where it is until you run the new file!) This extra effort though is only really worth it if there are a couple missed spots, otherwise, I recommend getting a new pen and starting over.
Medium Gelly Roll Pens (08) are the way to go, ultimately! I have tested the thinner 06 gelly pens and they are terrible for plotting.
When I first started plotting, I picked up an ultimate set of 74 Gelly Roll Pens, which I still use as a color reference! There are also Moonlight Gelly Roll pens which will fluoresce under UV light, and packs of grey pens for all your monochrome needs!
There Are Always More Pens: Sakura Microns
Another go-to pen in your pen plotting toolkit should be any Sakura Micron pen (available in a multitude of thicknesses and colors!) These pens can be used for multiple prints and are affordably priced. You can start out with an assorted pack to try out all the different available line widths.
If you need a very thin pen, I also like Copic multiliner pens in their 03 thickness, you can test these pens out with a 9-piece set of different widths from Amazon. Copic multiliners don’t last long so make sure you use them within 6 months!
Le Pen Technical Drawing Pen are another great pen option for fineline designs. Make sure to use these pens up pretty quickly as well, as they will dry out over a year (gelly roll pens will keep much longer!)
CMYK Pens: Stabilo Fineliners!
If you want to explore the magical world of CMYK (where the overlap of cyan, yellow and magenta inks creates all the colors of the rainbow), then Stabilo Point 88 fineliners are a great starting point.
These fineliner markers are affordable, and easy to track down. However, these dye-based pens are not lightfast and may fade over time.
Use yellow, azure and pink for CMYK plotting!
Lightfast CMYK Pens
Two other pen options for CMYK if you are concerned about lightfastness include…
Not as rich colors as the Stabilos, but very pretty in their own right. Use light blue, fuchsia, and yellow for CMYK pen plotting.
Lightfast, available in bright colors, but a thinner line weight! Use light blue, pink and yellow for your CMYK pen plotter artwork.
Faber-Castell Artist Pitt Pens
Faber Castell Artist Pitt Pens are another amazing pen option that uses India ink (archival, and lightfast!) Available in a variety of pen tips, although a very limited selection of fineliner color options are available.
More Pens, Too Many Pens!
Pilot Juice Up
pretty pastel shades, also one of the thinnest white pens I know of!
Pental Dual-Hybrid Metallic Pens
Gorgeous two-toned metallic pens, but may not be lightfast.
Love the vintage colors of the Zebra Sarasa! Another lovely fineliner option.
Beautiful metallic gel pens available in a variety of line widths, lightfast!
Just Say No to Disposable Pens
A year ago, I would have told you to run out and buy all the pens. I managed to amass a rather ridiculous collection of pens during the pandemic!
Recently, I decided it was time to forgo disposable pens and explore an easier and more sustainable option: acrylic inks (review incoming so stay tuned!) Acrylic inks can be used with refillable pens, fountain pens, or technical drawing pens cutting down on waste and storage!
Inks are great for saving space, however metallic gel pens are still the way to go if you are interested in metallic inks for fineline designs!
Where to Buy Pens
Jet Pens: this online shop is based in the bay area, and carries an amazing selection of pens with test photos
Blick Art Materials: great if you are based in the US, have an amazing selection at the brick and mortar stores, and you can test the pens in the store. Online shipping is slow, but they carry some products I can’t find anywhere else in the US.
Amazon: a great option if you need a pen quickly, such as gelly rolls.
Michael’s: terrible in-store selection but online shipping is fast, and they do carry a range of pens.
Jackson’s Art: amazing online shop based in the UK, carry pens I haven’t seen anywhere else including Artline 200’s (which are hard to find in the US!) Pay for that extra DHL shipping and your order will show up in a few days tops.
What Paper?! Try French Paper Co!
Back in my screen printing days, I bought paper from French Paper Co in bulk (and made in the USA!) I have found this paper to be fairly robust in standing up against multiple pen passes. I also have a lot of it so that is what I use but there is a whole range of artist papers out there to explore. I recommend 100 lb card stock paper for your work.
3D Models: Pen Height, and Gelly Roll Pen Weight
Interested in my pen workflow?! Find below the 3d models you can 3d print!
Pen Height Tool: to keep your pen height consistent, place the pen on the top of the pen height while securing the pen to the Axidraw pen holder.
Gelly Roll Weight: place this weight on top of the gelly roll pen with a few US pennies before you plot, thank me later!
About the Author
In 2019, Michelle Chandra began a new project – geometry art created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. She hasn’t stopped plotting since! Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign. She is also curator of all the pen plots on Instagram @penplotart.