If you’re ever wondering if you need a plotter, head to Twitter and take a look at the hashtag #plottertwitter. You’ll discover a community creating amazing images on both vintage pen plotters and modern machines.
The EleksDraw, by EleksMaker, is a kit which sits firmly at the budget end of pen plotters (around £115–£140 currently online) and consists of two sets of rails, to form an X and Y axis, with a belt system to move around a pen affixed to a lift mechanism.
The EleksDraw arrives extremely well packaged, and with all parts to complete present.
A few extra of each type of bolt and nut are included, which is welcome for the ‘I’ve dropped one and it has disappeared’ scenario. Inside the box there is a small printed card, with a link to the EleksMaker Wiki, where the build instructions are to be found. The instructions consist of a series of pictures of each build step, and each picture is annotated with how many nuts and bolts are used in that step, and which size they are. A little tip is to have a ruler present to double-check you have the right length component. For example, there are some 8 mm standoffs and some 10 mm ones, and they are easy to confuse without measuring.
We found we had to go back a few times as we put things together incorrectly. It took us around three hours to build, and there were a few areas we found more tricky, and a couple of problems we had to research. The EleksDraw forum (hsmag.cc/hdtDcK) has advice from other people who have been through the same process.
Getting the belt tension on this machine takes a little time. As the belt is a toothed GT2 type, it’s easy for it to leave some slack in just one section of the belt, and you only realise when you move the axis by hand. The tension needed to be tighter than we first imagined but, once it was correct, the clamp that traps the belt on the rear of the machine locks it well, and it has required no further adjustment in use.
Connecting the electronics and motors was an easy plug-and-play affair. The next step was to download and install the software and drivers. The link to a folder of Windows software is on the instruction Wiki page. After installing the driver, instructions are given to select which of the EleksDraw machines you have, as the ‘EleksCam’ software is built to control the whole range of EleksMaker products. We then turn on the machine and are nearly ready to draw something. The software is reasonably intuitive. There is a ‘jog’ control, allowing you to move the pen plotting head and a set home button, so you can zero the machine when it’s in the desired start position.
One thing to note is that this machine has no end stop switches, so it is possible to crash the machine into its endpoints. As it is belt-driven, the belt will eventually slip, meaning that it doesn’t damage itself much in a crash, but it’s worth being aware of as it will ruin the image it is working on. To check the area the plotter will operate in, there is a preview button which moves the head, with the pen lifted, to show the area it will cover for the design currently loaded. Pressing the ‘Laser ON/OFF’ button in the software should lift and release the pen-lifting assembly, but this revealed that the assembly was far too tight to actually fall under its own weight. We stripped it down and rebuilt the assembly many times, trying to make it as free as possible. In the end, we used some fine wire wool to polish the metal slide rods, using some fine oil to eventually get them free enough. It’s also possible to hang a couple of nuts or washers onto the assembly to add a little weight to help push it back down to the page when the servo releases it.
The EleksDraw will deal with a range of file formats, including SVG, which is a great vector format widely used by Inkscape users. We’ve thrown a range of files and vectors at this machine and it is really good and accurate and capable of brilliant work. We have found, however, that it erroneously scales vector images – we’re exploring workarounds and solutions in the community and discussion forums. It’s an addictive machine: there is something brilliant and compelling about watching a pen draw an image under robot control!
Pen assembly frustrating to get correct, software and instructions a little vague, but a great machine capable of producing really high-quality work.