Drawing Robot Penmanship

Not a robotic pen holder

Not a robotic pen holder

Until very recently, I had only considered a drawing robot’s pen holder maintaining the pen at an angle to the drawing surface as an obvious and positive thing.1 I have now been cured of such illusions and understand that when the pen is mounted at something other than perfectly perpendicular to the drawing surface, it is possible for the pen tip skip or stutter across the drawing surface.

I’ve already droned on at length about the various ideal attributes I considered while designing a pen holder.  In light of this new important attribute of pen tilt other than perpendicular causing pen skipping, would I modify my design?

It probably depends.

First let’s consider what causes the skipping itself.  It seems to occur when the pen holder moves faster than the pen tip “wants” to be dragged across the drawing surface.  The result is that the pen tip tilts slightly with an upward movement instead of drawing upward for a short distance, then the pen holder swings a little to compensate for the upward jerk, then the pen tip skips upward – leaving a gap the pen tip skipped over. (I feel like I”m not explaining this well…)

Once I read that post by Dan, I did some half-scientific tests.2 I dragged the pen holder around on the drawing surface.  This is not even close to an operational simulation because I’m sure I didn’t keep the pen steady and the pen holder would almost never move that quickly.  I found that when the pen was moved very quickly upwards, the entire pen holder would indeed skip.  I tried the same “experiment” again after having adjusted the pen so that it was perpendicular to the drawing surface.  This time the pen still skipped – just a little less than when it was at a 15 degree tilt in the pen holder.  However, the pen I was using was a big marker.

Setting aside the pen tilt for a moment, I can’t think of any other benefits besides skip-reduction behind putting the pen perpendicular to the drawing surface.  The next thing to consider is whether all pens skip equally.  Not having actually performed a specific test to determine this, and speaking only from experiences in using different pens, I would suggest that not all pens skip equally.  Specifically, good ball point gel based pens do not appear to skip when operated very quickly.  In fact, running a gel based ball point pen seems to work quite well since it seemed to keep the itty-bitty ball inside the pen tip moving, which keeps the ink flowing.

I would suggest that the desirable pen holder tilt would depend upon (a) pen holder speed and (b) type of pen possibly as follows:

Marker, perpendicular Ball Point Pen, perpendicular Marker, tilted Ball Point Pen, tilted
Fast Pen Holder I would hypothesize a fast moving marker is going to skip whether it is mounted perpendicularly or not.However, from a semi-scientific test, I a tilted marker would skip a little more.  It is important to note that a marker will draw equally well whether it is perpendicular or tilted. First, gel ball point pen will quickly stop being able to draw ink if it is not held at a tilt.  A non-gel ink ball point pen might not have this problem since at least some of the ink comes through via capillary action.Either way, drawing perpendicularly is a problem for ball point pens.  However, since their tip makes a small point of contact with the drawing surface, they don’t seem to suffer from skipping problems, even at high speed. I don’t think a marker held at an angle is going to draw lines any better or worse than one that is held perpendicularly.However, my limited testing suggests that markers drawing at an angle quickly will skip a little more than quick drawing markers held perpendicularly. I suspect a ball point pen of almost any kind would work well if drawing at an angle.  Almost every single drawing made with my first drawing robot was done with ball point pens operating at about a 30-45 degree angle.Admittedly, that robot never drew very quickly, but then again I never seemed to have problems with skipping.
Slow Pen Holder If a pen holder with a marker is moving too slowly, the result will be ink bleeding all over the drawing and through the paper and pens that dry or run out too quickly.  It’s really quite a mess.I suspect that running any marker too fast is going to cause skipping problems – whether it is at an angle or not.  A marker’s tip either starts out much wider than a ball point pen, or it will end up that way after hours of drawing and being dragged across a large sheet of paper.  In my experience, using a marker in this fashion will basically make the marker unsuitable for any other purpose. With the caveat that pretty much any kind of ball point pen is going to have a difficult time drawing perpendicular to a vertical drawing surface, I would posit that moving the pen slow-to-medium would result in gaps in the drawings.  However, I think those gaps in the drawing would likely be more due to the ball point pen not have sufficient friction to keep ink flowing consistently. A slow moving marker makes about as much of a mess as an oil spill.Even assuming a medium-speed marker, I don’t think skipping would be that big a problem as long as the pen was not tilted at too severe an angle. A ball point pen could probably be operated anywhere between slow and fast.As long as the pen is moving relatively continuously, a ball point pen should be able to provide a continuous stream of ink.

Taking into account the potential for skipping, I would suggest based on the analysis above, that skipping is a problem for markers no matter the angle and largely irrelevant for ball point pens.  I would also suggest that a very slight pen holder tilt of 15 degrees is extremely helpful, if not crucial, to ball point pens and mostly irrelevant to markers.

Hey Dan, what do you think?

Last but not least, this is post #80 in this DrawBot Adventure Series!  And there’s still so much to cover!

Posts in the DrawBot Adventure Series
  1. Wanna make a DrawBot?
  2. DrawBot, the Adventure Begins
  3. DrawBots for the slow learner
  4. DrawBot - Parts Ordered!!!
  5. DrawBot - The Breakdown
  6. DrawBot - Parts Shipped!!!
  7. DrawBot - What would you draw?
  8. DrawBot - The Plan!
  9. DrawBot - The Hacks
  10. DrawBot - Giant Unicorn?
  11. DrawBot - The Delivery?
  12. DrawBot - The Delivery, Part II
  13. DrawBot – The Delivery, Part III
  14. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part I
  15. DrawBot – The Software, Part I (and an existential conversation)
  16. DrawBot – The Delivery, Part IV
  17. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part II
  18. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part III
  19. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part IV
  20. DrawBot – The Face Palm
  21. DrawBot – The Delivery, Part V
  22. DrawBot – The Silver Lining of Failure
  23. DrawBot – The Delivery, Part VI
  24. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part V
  25. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part VI
  26. DrawBot – Printed Parts
  27. DrawBot – The Assembly, Part VII
  28. DrawBot – The Operation, Part I
  29. DrawBot – The Breakdown, Part II
  30. DrawBot – Printing!
  31. DrawBot – Printing, Part II
  32. DrawBot – Calibration
  33. DrawBot – Pen Selection
  34. DrawBot – How to Recover from a Stalled Print!
  35. DrawBot – Drawing Success(ish)!!!
  36. DrawBot – Pen Selection, Part II
  37. DrawBot – Onwards and Upwards!
  38. DrawBot – Another Successful(ish) Drawing!, and an Update
  39. Restarting a Stalled DrawBot Drawing
  40. TSP FTW!
  41. Speedier DrawBot Drawings
  42. Two new DrawBot links! And an update!
  43. Excellent DrawBot Slides
  44. Another Drawing Robot!!!
  45. DrawBot Practice Tip: A Watched Pot
  46. The biggest inkjet printer ever
  47. Why do DrawBots draw on walls?
  48. Maze Code + Polargraph?
  49. All New Polargraph on the way!!!
  50. Ideas for improving my DrawBot
  51. DrawBot Aesthetic Re-Design Ideas
  52. The Eagle Has Landed
  53. Every Body Needs a Skull
  54. This project is not going to overengineer itself
  55. Overengineered Spools
  56. Overengineered Stepper Motor Mounts, Filament Guides
  57. Overengineered Bolt Endcaps, Case Holder
  58. Sourcing DrawBot Parts
  59. DrawBot - A Tour!
  60. DrawBot - A Preview
  61. Arduino Powered Drawing Robot Poll
  62. Building an Arduino Drawing Robot - On The Cheap
  63. DrawBot - Printed Parts Tour
  64. Unidentified Foam Object
  65. Arduino Powered Drawing Robot - Take 2 (Or 3)
  66. DrawBot, now ACTUALLY wall mounted!
  67. Drawing Robot Pen Holders, Calligraphy Pens, and Thought Experiments
  68. Ideal Qualities in a Drawing Robot Pen Holder
  69. Enough talk! Finally a pen holder!
  70. DrawBot Pen Holder Post Mortem
  71. To Maker Faire!!!
  72. Skipping! How could I forget the skipping?!
  73. Drawing Robot Penmanship
  74. PlotterBot at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013!
  75. PlotterBot.com - a new site dedicated to drawing robots
  1. Photo courtesy of Creative Tools []
  2. Which, I suppose is not much better than not-scientific… []

5 Responses to “Drawing Robot Penmanship”

  1. That Dan says:

    Well… I use a sharpie that’s kept as horizontal as possible. Maybe 1 degree down tilt to keep ink flowing.
    I adjusted my speeds to get the fastest possible speed without skipping. I don’t find ball points to be any good at all, there often isn’t enough friction to roll the ball.

    One important caveat is that I’m mostly drawing on easels with a slight tilt, which really helps keep good contact.
    I’m planning a huge drawing for the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire June 1st & 2nd so I’ll be running some tests on a truly vertical surface and I’ll blog how it goes.

  2. MakerBlock says:

    @That Dan: I’ve actually had really good results with a ball point pen – it was a Uniball, I think. ( http://makerblock.com/2012/02/drawbot-drawing-successish/ ) Admittedly, when I did those drawings, the robot was mounted to a sheet of plywood that was leaned against a wall at a 15-20 degree angle. There’s a pretty wide variation in the quality of ball point pens, and only a very few of the ones I tried worked well. That’s just another thing for me to experiment with, really.
    I’ve tried to design my pen holder so that it would work on a vertical surface. I figure if I tilt the surface a little, it will just work that much better.
    I’ll look forward to hearing about your results from vertical tests!

  3. Nifty project!
    Good luck on the chalenge (yes i voted)

  4. KBill says:

    How about a space pen? They can write in any orientation, they’re smooth rolling and don’t dry out.

  5. MakerBlock says:

    @KBill: I bet a space pen would work well. However, I’ve come to realize that Sharpies actually work a lot nicer than I thought. My goal is to find a set of cheap and ubiquitous pens, rather than a specialty kind of pen, that works in most scenarios.