AxiDraw: plots on any surface

May 4, 2017 | 10:00
AxiDraw: plots on any surface
AxiDraw: plots on any surface

So what is it?

AxiDraw is a drawing table or plotter, or in classical terms, a drawing robot, capable of drawing on any flat surface, without restrictions on the drawing area, any vector or vectorized design, that is to say formed of lines, in scalable vector graphics format (.svg) as opposed to pixels (jpg, png, etc). It is in version 3, which leads us to expect a mature product. It was launched about a year ago by Evil Mad Scientist, a serious manufacturer which designs and manufactures its products in California, notably the astonishing EggBot, which can draw on egg-shaped or spherical objects, and other graphical-oriented items.

Not a kit

 
Very useful: the supplied USB cable is 1.85 m long!
AxiDraw is not a kit, it is supplied (almost) ready to use. It is not a toy, more a tool for experimentation and (re)production. Its construction of right-angled XY sliders is robust and rigid (extruded aluminum); all the rigid parts are metal, even the pen carrier and the end caps. The impression of great precision is confirmed by the weight (2.2 kg or nearly 5 lb.)

AxiDraw is delivered without any pens, but with a set of keys which will eventually allow disassembly(!) In the packing box is a numbered proof sheet, printed before shipping by this very machine as a sample – very reassuring.
 
The documentation is on the picture of the device!
 
According to the manufacturer, none of the parts are subject to notable wear, but the unit can be disassembled and any part which is eventually faulty is easy to replace. In principle there is no regular maintenance needed apart form a regular dusting.

Once unpacked, although it is supplied fully assembled, the plotter is not operational; you have to plug in a connector that is unplugged for transport, and fix the pen-holder in vertical or oblique position, depending on the type of pen that you want to use. Follow the instructions!

Well, maybe not right away

the type of installation message you don’t read
when you’re in a hurry to get drawing!
The source code for the driver is open, and available for Linux. Mac OS and Windows. Its installation is (almost) as simple as for an ordinary USB printer and…. finished! I said (almost) because in fact, the driver for AxiDraw is incorporated into a free drawing program Inkscape in the form of an extension. I know Inkscape vaguely from having used it eons ago before Illustrator came along.

 
With Pause & Resume one can suspend the
drawing, for example to change a pen.
As I did this review under MacOS, it was also necessary to first install XQuartz, the server for X11 of the office environment which, under MacOS, allows the use of Inkscape. All is explained on the AxiDraw wiki. not much to relate, but in practice it was simpler and clearer than I had expected, once I accepted that the only access to the AxiDraw plotter was via Inkscape. I will spare you the details, but once in the grip of Inkscape, it’s (quite) comfortable.
I didn’t test the installation under Linux or Windows, but it must be (even) more simple. As I quickly got used to Inkscape I did not feel the need to try the driver for RoboPaint mentioned by EMS as an alternative solution.
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