Thursday, August 9, 2012

Comparison of HPGL Viewers

A USB stick containing HPG files came across my desk again today, lets see how to best make use of this unique format.

HPGL or Hewlett Packard Graphics Language is a method of describing large 2D vector files using a small amount of data. This data is usually passed directly from a computer to an HP printer or plotter. The small file size and ease of creation prompted many companies to adopt policies which used HPGL files as a standard method of archiving or sharing drawings. Unfortunately, unless both you and your recipient have HP plotters and software, the file is not as useful.

Paul Bourke shared information on the format of the file in 1992. Bourke mentions that while the format is easy to read and write, there is plotter specific information embedded in each file which you would need documentation provided by HP to decode.

Usually all I want to do is convert the file to a PDF so it can be viewed and shared by others.

CERN currently has the best (only?) free option. Only recently was it made available for free to the public, it used to cost 800 Swiss francs (~830USD) per license for people outside of CERN!

hpglview-543 for Linux, Windows and OSX

(hopefully CERN keeps answering questions about the universe and will offer this long into the future)

And some paid options:

Swiftview has an eye toward the HPGL and PCL file format market with their Swiftview Viewer which has a 30 day trial (adds "unlicensed copy" text to output files) after which you would need to pay 295USD for a single user license.

Aphena makes an interesting software called Plottergeist which costs 99GBP and has no demo. Apparently you can use it in conjunction with a GPIB card to output files to an external instrument as if it was paper.


  1. You can also use GNU hp2xx to view and convert HP-GL files. Artifex's GhostPDL also views/converts HP-GL/2, as long as you embed it in some HP PJL language.

  2. printgl is a very good and precise hpgl viewer from old DOS times.
    There is also a windows version (but not recommended)


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