Printer not Working?

Lasa Logo By Lasa Information Systems Team

In the troubleshooting league, printer issues are somewhere near the top. And whilst it could be something simple to track down like a loose cable or just running out of ink, it might be something more complex like a corrupted driver or network problem. This article looks at some of the areas which will need to be looked at if you hear the cry... "I can't print"!

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Concerning the printer itself:

Read the manual

First, find and read the manual that came with the printer. If you can't find it then you may be able to download an Acrobat pdf file of the manual from the manufacturer's website. This could save you a lot of time!

Is the printer switched on?

Make sure the printer is turned on. Are any lights flashing that could indicate a problem? Can you clear the problem by turning the printer off and on again? Have any settings been changed - consult the manual before changing them.If the power switch is on but there's nothing happening and no lights lit check the power supply and transformer if there is one. Is there paper in the tray? Is there a paper jam? If there is, try to extract the paper gently - forcing the paper could damage the mechanical parts or the drum. Open up all the available doors, inspect the paper tray and duplex area if there is one, and remove the toner cartridge.

Poor print quality?

If you are getting poor print quality, is there ink or toner in the printer? Some printers have software utilities to remind you when the ink is getting low and laser printers will often have an LCD panel which will issue a warning. You may be able to run a cartridge or head cleaning program. If you have installed a new cartridge, check that it is seated correctly - take it out and put it back in again. But beware - some printer utilities will misreport the level of ink left in the cartridge if you take it out and replace a partially used cartridge.

Self test

Most printers have a "self-test" diagnostic facility which could be started by holding down the main button on the printer - check the manual.

Is the printer making strange noises? This could indicate that it's a mechanical failure and that a specialist printer repair company will need to be called in. Check with them how much they charge for a call-out and the likely cost of repair and relate this to the value of the printer - if it's done a few years service then it might not be worth repairing.

If the printer is still under warranty, then call up the manufacturer or supplier. You could also check on the manufacturers website for information on mechanical problems.

Check the cables

If the printer is attached directly to a PC, check that the cables are all in place and are firmly seated. If the cable looks poorly, try a cable from another printer, if you have one. It's just possible, although unlikely, that the port itself might be damaged.

Back to the computer...

Still no joy? Then it might be time to check the software (this article refers to Windows XP Pro operating system but earlier versions of Windows have similar properties). Remember that if you can print from another machine then you can eliminate the printer itself as the problem... Also make sure you document your work - if you making any setting changes then it's worth noting down the original settings so you can go back.

Check the printer queue

If a document has got "stuck" in the queue then you might see the printer icon in the system tray on the far right of the taskbar. If so, click to view the printer and the current jobs will be displayed. Delete out the queued jobs and try sending the document to print again.

Check the printer properties

If the printer is printing out strange characters then it is likely that the PC is printing to the "wrong" printer or the driver is incorrect. Even a slight difference in the model number could make all the difference - if you have a HP DeskJet 640C then make sure the printer is installed as a 640C and not a 650C.

If you have more than one printer installed on the PC make sure that the application (e.g. Word) is selecting the correct one - click on File > Print and check the Name box. If it's wrong, select the printer by using the drop down list.

Can't see the printer icon in the system tray? Open the printer properties by going to Start > Settings > Printers and faxes. The printer should be listed there. If it's the printer that you normally print to then it should be marked with a tick to indicate that it's the default printer. Right click on it and click "Set as default printer" if it isn't.

Right click on the printer name and select Properties. Try printing a test page - click the "Print test page" button. Check all the properties you can see - is it printing to the correct port? Modern printers will have both a parallel port or a USB port connection. Make sure the port indicated is the correct one (parallel cables have a wide connector, USB is slim). If it's a parallel connection then the port will normally be LPT1.

Also check you are printing to A4 paper; sometimes having the American "Letter" setting, which can be the default upon installation, will upset the printer.

If the printer's not listed then try reinstalling it - click on "Add a printer" and follow the wizard. You may need the installation disk that came with the printer. If Windows can't find a suitable driver (software that the computer needs to be able to talk to the printer) then you can usually find one on the manufacturers website - see their support pages or alternatively drivers or downloads.

The joys of networking...

If your printer is on a network, either a peer-to-peer or client-server, then there are some other areas which will need checking. If you have a systems administrator then you may need to contact them to help sort out the problem as it could be related to a server issue. Or it could be necessary to call your support contractor.

However, it's worth looking at the possible resolutions described above before this. If the printer is attached to a PC and shared, then is the PC turned on and logged into the network?

It may be that only certain users can print to that machine so permissions will need checking - these are under the security tab in the printer properties but you may need to be the system administrator to check these.

If the printer is connected directly to a network point or hub, be sure to check that the network cable is firmly inserted into the printer's network port and the network socket.

Once you are sure the printer itself is in working order, try printing again. When checking the Properties of the printer (as detailed previously) you will need to make sure that it is printing to the correct network port - this might be described as a Standard TCP/IP Port.

Client-server network printers are usually controlled by the server so if your server is down you may not be able to print. If you are using print server controllers such as a HP JetDirect box which converts a normal printer into a network printer, then make sure the box is powered up and working - there's usually a reset button.

Still not working?

Time to call in the professionals! If your support contract includes remote support then the engineer may be able to fix a software or server issue without a visit. Check your support contract covers mechanical printer issues - otherwise you might have to pay extra.

Further resources

The links below will take you to the most common printer manufacturers' sites and there are also some other printer troubleshooting resources.

Printer manufacturers sites:

Copyright © 2004 Lasa Information Systems Team

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