When I first got “Trevor”, the pen plotter, I ran a test plot of 400 parallel lines crammed onto a sheet of A3 paper. Which revealed that Trevor had a kink, and that kink ran down the whole A3 page at a couple of inches in from the margin.
It’s worth noting at this point that I am terrible at DIY; I can’t do anything which involves putting things together at all. That was one of the main reasons for getting a more expensive AxiDraw plotter over some of the cheaper build-it-yourself models, I wanted it to just work.
One option was to send the whole plotter back, and another was to go back-and-forth with some troubleshooting.
I went with the third option, a bent paperclip and some sticky tape. This did the job well enough. If I avoided certain designs, it wasn’t really a problem. However, one area of art I do particularly enjoy is just that, building up textures with many precise lines, a whole area now shut off. Instead, I stuck to curves and various tricks to work around the problem.
Sometimes the paperclip would come loose, and whatever I was plotting would be wonkier than usual, at which point I’d grab some new tape and fasten things up again.
This brings us to the other day.
About a month ago, I decided to sell some digital art as an experiment, and in a very “me” way, I’ll write more about that whole thing soon. But the short version is that I created some animations out of 240 frames of SVG files. If someone bought one of my digital art pieces, they would also get a pen plot made from one of their choice frames or mine if they didn’t specify. Seemed fun.
Until I sold one, well seven, but only one concerns us for the moment.
For various dull reasons, part of the _new_ process of making one of these plots involves Adobe Illustrator, mainly for placing the design into the middle of an A3 sheet, something my code does typically, but not in this instance.
I placed the design, exported it, and sent it to the plotter.
It was wonky. The lines weren’t evenly spaced, and there was the odd kink here or there. Things I’d definitely seen before with Trevor. So I picked a different frame, one that I thought may hide the kinks a little better.
Same thing; odd spacing, wobbles and kinks. This was getting pretty frustrating now.
I dug out some instructions on fixing the issue; a PDF buried deep on the AxiDraw website. I even had to use a spanner!
One test plot of straight lines later, everything seemed to be working much better. I’d fixed it! All this time and I could have sorted it out with five minutes of work; I am, of course, an idiot.
Elated, I sent the design to Trevor again, only for it to once more come out all wonky, which didn’t make any sense. The test plot was good, but this one was bad, again.
At this point, I was super frustrated; I _needed_ this plot to work. I checked a few websites and found one (pimoroni.co.uk) that had a single AxiDraw in stock (everywhere else was sold out), and it’d arrive the very next day. I hit that buy button so fast.
A short while later, I looked at the wonky plots again. The pre and post-fixed plot versions were the same — the same mistakes in the same places.
That’s when I checked the actual files I was sending to the plotter. There it was in the file itself, all the kinks and wobbles.
And that was the day I learnt that Adobe Illustrator exports SVG files with a default of two decimal places, which was doing all sorts of rounding up and down, creating the wonky plot. I changed the export settings, and everything was perfect.
By which point the new AxiDraw was dispatched and on its way.
I can’t say I’m upset to have a second plotter; it just happened sooner than I expected.