Printers, plotters and plotter printers all serve the same basic function. Printers designate a broad device category of which plotters and plotter printers comprise a subcategory. In other words, plotters are printers, but not all printers meet the specifications to be considered plotters.
The primary function of printers is to generate documents from data that includes photos, text, graphics, labels and spreadsheets. A computer or data card provides the content for the printout. Most everyday printers limit paper sizes to 8.5 inches wide for letter- and legal-sized documents and may have additional functions, such as scanning and faxing. A wide-format printer used as a plotter has a single function: printing. Plotters and wide-format printers can generate large-sized documents such as architectural blueprints or posters that are greater than 8.5 inches wide.
According to Work.com, plotter printers range from impact or dot-matrix printers for basic schematics to high-resolution inkjet printers that produce detailed photographs as oversized prints. Most plotter printers use impact or inkjet printing technology with top-loading or roller-fed paper slots. Types of regular printers include impact printers, inkjet printers and laser printers, and paper may feed from the top in slots or from prefilled paper trays.
A plotter printer can produce printouts larger than 8.5 x 11 inches, or letter size; large-format printers can also generate large prints. A plotter printer and a wide-format printer may be on a stand and include a roller accessory on the back to hold a roll of paper that feeds into the machine. Depending on the size of the unit, everyday printers may not require a special stand and can be placed on a table, shelf or cabinet with easy access to paper supplies.