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How to Troubleshoot Common Printer Problems

The cult movie Office Space features an iconic scene where a group of office workers take their unfortunate printer / copier out into the field and begin their revenge while an explicit rap song plays in the background.

For many, this scene is a form of wish fulfillment. If only we could take the printers that make our lives a misery into the field for a quick execution. Unfortunately, this is not an option in real life, so it’s best to find and fix printer problems as they arise.

While printer problems can seem like an infuriating mystery, once you know where to look and how to narrow down the causes of your problems, much of the pent-up anger will go away. Unfortunately, we cannot help you with any other serious problems. Let’s start with quick and easy troubleshooting checks.

Power off and back on

Turn it off and on again

Yes, this is a bit of a joke, but so many random problems will go away if you just restart everything. In this case, it means restarting the computer and printer. Dropping your gear is always a good first step.

If it is a wireless printer, be sure to restart the wireless router to make sure the network is working properly.

But the printer won’t turn on!

But the printer does not work!

If your printer is working fine and then suddenly no longer plays ball, the first thing you should check is to turn on the power. Yes, it seems like a simple problem, but even the most tech-savvy of us can overlook something as simple as a faulty power outlet / extension cord, a loose cable, or a faulty printer power supply.

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Therefore, check to see if the outlet is working properly by plugging the printer into a known good outlet / extension cord, or by plugging a known good device into a suspect outlet.

If everything is ok with the outlet, the next step is to check the cable itself. It may have flown out of the printer or a damaged cable. If you don’t have another cable to replace as a test, you can also use a multimeter to make sure the power is running through the entire cable.

Some printers have two power switches. One controls the power supply. It is usually hidden on the back of the device, next to the power connector. The other is the one you will use to turn on the printer during normal operation. The front power switch is not a power switch, but a standby switch. In any case, if the power switch is off, nothing else will work.

Data Link

Data connection

Your printer needs more than just energy to print pages. It also needs data from the host system so that it knows where the ink should go. Previously, this data was transmitted over a parallel port connection. However, this connection standard is now outdated and almost every printer on the market will use the ubiquitous USB standard.

In addition, more and more printers have Wi-Fi modules that turn them into printers for the home network. Printers can also come with an Ethernet connection, but this is more common in enterprise grade equipment.

Whichever type of connection your printer is using, making sure all connections are working correctly is one of the basic steps to troubleshooting your printer.

For wired connections, make sure the plugs are connected correctly on both sides. If this does not resolve the issue, test the cable on another device, or replace the cables with a known good cable from another device.

With printers connected to Wi-Fi, things are a little more complicated. See the Guide on how to connect your printer to Wi-Fi and try connecting manually. You can also go to your router’s control panel to check the list of connected devices You can quickly determine if the printer has successfully connected to the network.

It is also recommended to temporarily try a wired connection if Wi-Fi is not working. If that fixes the problem, then the problem is somewhere on the Wi-Fi network.

Error messages can help (sometimes)

Error messages can (sometimes) help

If your printer still works, but there is a different problem, you are on a different troubleshooting path.

Believe it or not, printers have become much smarter over time. They can often tell you exactly what is wrong, or at least help you move in the right direction. If your printer has a warning light or screen, you can refer to the user manual for that model to understand what a self-diagnosed error is.

Documents please

The papers please

One of the most common reasons the printer refuses to budge is lack of paper. On small home inkjet printers, it’s easy to see if there is paper left in the input tray.

However, you can still get the error message even though the paper is visible in the tray. In this case, the problem is usually solved by removing the paper, aligning it neatly, and placing it back in the tray correctly so that the transport can properly pick up the next sheet.

In laser printers, sheets of paper are usually stored in a tray that slides completely into the machine. Therefore, if the printer says it is out of paper, it usually means just filling the tray.

However, there is one wrinkle here. Some printers have multiple sources of paper. For example, one tray is for A4 sheets, and the other is for A3. You may have selected the wrong paper source if you check the tray and find paper there.

For example, when printing on envelopes or card stock, you usually have to use a much smaller tray that slides out separately. Sometimes it is difficult to find this tray, so if this is the case, refer to the printer’s instruction manual.

How to get out of a jam (paper)

Exit (paper) Jam

Paper jams occur when paper literally gets caught in the roller mechanisms that move the paper through the system. This could have happened for several reasons. For example, a printer can load more than one page at a time. The sheet of paper may be pulled in at an angle, wrinkle or break.

To clear the paper jam, you need to open the printer. All printers have an access panel from which you can access the rollers and the rest of the feeder. Open this panel and carefully remove the paper.

Using good quality paper will help prevent paper jams. The printer manual should list the recommended paper types.

Ink & Toner

Ink and ink

If your prints come out faint or not as they should, you may be running out of ink or toner. Depending on the type of printer you are using, not all printers can measure this directly, especially in the case of inkjet printers.

They rely on the fact that you tell them when a new ink bottle will be installed and then guess how much ink is left based on how much was used up. Sometimes this calibration is reset, so the printer reports ink when it is out. If your prints look a little discolored, consider replacing the ink cartridges.

Problems with Windows

Windows Will

A common source of printer problems is not the printer itself, but the computer and its operating system. We’ve come a long way from the dull printer software and drivers that plagued the early days of personal computers.

On Windows 10, the first stop is to check your printer settings under Printers & Scanners. Just open the Start menu, type Printers and click Printers & Scanners.

Here you see a list of connected printers. If your printer is listed, it means Windows can see it normally. Click the list of printers.

Three options will be dropped. Click “Open Queue”

Here you can see all print jobs that have stuck or ruined your prints. You can cancel them right here and clear the pipes.

You can also read our other posts on how to manually clear the print queue if you can’t do it using the GUI shown above.

Software, times are tough

Software, hard times

When your printer upsets you but appears to be physically okay, the first step is to update your drivers and software. Check the support website for your printer model for the latest software and drivers for your printer. We recommend that you uninstall your current drivers and software just in case anything gets damaged.

If the issue persists after a clean reinstallation of drivers and software, you need to look elsewhere.

One quick way to fix problems with your printer is to uninstall it and then try reinstalling it. You can read our previous guide on how to set up a wireless or network printer in Windows 10.

If your printer worked perfectly not too long ago, you can use System Restore to return to that date. If that fixes the problem, then you know that it was a new software package (such as antivirus) or another change, such as a Windows update, that failed everything.

Most printer manufacturers also have their own troubleshooting software. I wrote about HP Print and Scan Doctor to solve common printer problems.

Use a different computer

Use a different computer

If you want to rule out the computer as a problem, the easiest way is to connect the printer to another computer. If the problem goes away, then it’s to blame.

If the problem is on your computer and none of the above tools work, you might consider resetting or reinstalling your operating system. This is a last resort, but after fixing the most common problems, it might be the quickest way to get back on track.

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