Printers are an essential part of modern life, which means it can be incredibly frustrating when they break or fail to print something the way you want them to. Even worse: have you ever had a printer run reliably for years, only for it to suddenly malfunction or stop working entirely – with no apparent cause?
In this article, we will take a quick look at some of the most common printing problems – and what your best course of action is.
Start with the basics
If your printer has a problem you can’t immediately diagnose, it is a good idea to have a quick checklist to run through to spot anything easy and obvious to fix. Is there a warning light or error message appearing – either on your computer or on the printer? Is it still there if you reboot both machines? Is there paper in the tray? Is it positioned correctly? Does your printer have a good connection to whatever device you are printing from? Check that the USB cable is firmly in its slot or, if it’s a wi-fi printer, check the connection is strong and consider using a cable as a backup.
Are your ink cartridges empty? Sometimes a printer will stop printing if even one of its cartridges is out of ink. If your colour ink has run out, but you really need to print something, you should be able to set your printer to print in black and white – which might just solve your printing issues.
It is also worth checking your device has the right printer selected. Even if you have never changed this setting, there is always a chance that someone else has – or that you have installed some software that might have changed it on your behalf. There should be a dropdown list of devices to choose from in the print box that pops up on your device when you try and print.
A final ‘obvious’ check – have a good look inside your printer to see if anything has fallen into it – a misplaced paper clip, hair band or… anything really… can cause havoc if it’s in the wrong place. A bright torch may be needed!
If you have an inkjet printer that won’t print, and you haven’t used it in a few months, a fairly common issue is blocked nozzles. This occurs at the opening of the ink cartridge, where any ink residue from the last time you printed has dried from a liquid into a solid – therefore blocking the hole and preventing any more ink from emerging.
If it looks like a serious blockage, try soaking a cotton bud in some warm water and rubbing it gently across the nozzle. The advantage of this is you will be able to see immediately when the ink begins to flow again. Make sure you dry the nozzles thoroughly before closing your device – you don’t want any moisture in there if you can help it. Pro tip: use a paper towel or a lint free cloth.
If a nozzle is only partially blocked, this can mean your printer still prints, but that the ink comes out streaky. The solution is the same: clean those nozzles.
You are probably already aware of Microsoft’s built in troubleshooter. Even if you have tried it before in the past without success, it is still worth running every time your printer stops working or malfunctions in some way. You can run the troubelshooter by choosing Control Panel, Devices and Printers, right clicking the printer icon and selecting Troubleshoot. It doesn’t always help, but it is always worth trying.
It’s also worth googling the specific problem you’re experiencing. There are lots of helpful videos online from printer companies like HP and Canon that might have the right solution for your issue.
Another fairly common problem with printers is paper jams. We’ve all been there – trying to coax that crumpled A4 sheet out from the belly of the beast. The problem is, just yanking that bit of paper out means you are not really solving the problem and your printer will probably go right ahead and keep jamming – particularly if you tear the paper while you’re trying to get it out.
Instead, try opening up the printer as much as possible. There might be an access panel underneath that will allow you to see if there’s anything stuck in the paper feed. It is also worth checking your printer wasn’t picking up multiple sheets of paper to print on. Sometimes, old paper can absorb moisture and sheets can stick together.
If your printer continues to jam and you can’t see any reason why, try using thinner paper. The vast majority of normal printers can only handle photo paper thickness at a maximum.