Printers can present consumers with a series of exasperating problems. They run through the ink too quickly, their print quality can be imperfect, they can print at a snail’s pace, the paper can jam regularly. Sometimes, they refuse to print and sit there while smoking. Fortunately, many of these situations are solvable. Here we describe 10 common printer problems and provide suggestions on how to solve them or, at the very least, we inform you about when to throw in the towel and call technical support.
- My printer won’t print.If there are no error messages indicating the problem, verify that the printer is still connected, either via USB or Ethernet cable or, if it is a wireless model, that Wi-Fi is enabled and that you are connected to the right network . The printer driver and software must be installed on the computer from which you want to print. It is possible that the driver has been damaged; it should be reinstalled; check the manufacturer’s download page for the latest version. If the problem persists, refer to the troubleshooting section in the Printer User’s Guide and, if necessary, contact Technical Support.
- My printer claims it’s running out of ink, but I still can print. Should I?You do not need to rush to replace the cartridges if you receive a weak ink warning. Almost all recent printers have some sort of ink tank level indicator and will send alerts when the ink is low. The accuracy of these alerts varies greatly between manufacturers and models. Sometimes you will receive low ink alerts well before the ink level is extremely low. The only way to determine if this is the case is to continue printing beyond the warning and see how long it takes before the output quality starts to get worse or the printer goes off, forcing one or more cartridges to be replaced. So you’ll know if the warnings are legitimate or premature and you have a better idea of how long it will take until you really need to replace that ink. If you are starting a large and important print job, however, it is recommended that you bypass the caution side and still change the relevant ink tank (s).
- I can’t print from my mobile device to my printer.Even if your printer is old or a non-Wi-Fi model, you can probably print from a phone or tablet. Exactly what you will be able to print depends on your particular situation.
Most new Wi-Fi printers support AirPrint, which allows users of iOS devices to print on them (as long as the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and the printer are on the same Wi-Fi network -Fi). Almost all the major printer manufacturers have released apps so that iPhone, iPad, Android and in some cases Windows Phone and BlackBerry users can print from their devices to the recent models of that manufacturer and some third-party apps allow you to print on a wider range of printers. Many vendor and third-party apps offer a wider choice of print options than AirPrint, and many can even start scans.
You can print to a non-Wi-Fi printer, as long as your network has a wireless access point, using one of the programs that requires you to install a utility on a networked computer. Printopia requires a Mac, while Presto! (formerly Fingerprint 2) works with both Mac and Windows machines. Cloud printing services like the Cortado ThinPrint Cloud printer and the Google Cloud printer work on platforms and device types and even with non-Wi-Fi printers. These solutions tend to be limited to printing from a selected group of apps.
Some new wireless printers support printing via Wi-Fi Direct, a protocol that allows two compatible devices to make a direct wireless connection without the need for a wireless access point. Although many recent Android devices support Wi-Fi Direct, the iPhone does not.
Some HP and Kodak printers support e-mail printing. In either case, an e-mail address is assigned to the printer and e-mails can be sent to you and the printer will print them automatically. Unlike the other methods here, this does not require a WiFi connection, just an Internet connection.
- Wi-Fi printing takes too long.Placing the printer very close to the router should increase throughput and reduce printing time, but there are other ways to improve Wi-Fi performance while maintaining the flexibility of printer placement that wireless printing promises. Make sure your router is adequate, it should support 802.11n and offer the 5GHz and 2.4GHz band and that its firmware is up to date. You can add a wireless extender or repeater to increase performance if necessary.
- My printer’s too slow.Some printers are cheetahs and some are sloths, but it’s possible that even a slow printer can accelerate a bit. Unless you need high quality output for a formal or similar report, print in draft mode (or whatever the lowest quality setting). Avoid duplex (double-sided) printing, as the printer must flip the document to print on both sides, which can slow it down significantly. If you can choose between printer drivers, print from a host-based or PCL-based driver; although PostScript drivers can print higher quality photos, this can happen at the expense of speed.
- It costs too much to print.Believe it or not, the cost per page printed (based on the costs and yields of ink and toner cartridges) has decreased in recent years, but this is a small comfort for someone who has to pony for another set of cartridges. But there are ways you can reduce ink costs and even save paper. First of all, think before printing. Do you need to print the complete document, or just a page or two? (And do you also need a hard copy?) Print only those pages you really need. And unless you need presentation quality output, print in draft mode, which uses less ink. If your printer supports duplex (double-sided) printing, using this card will save a lot of paper. Remember to go back to simplex printing and quality mode when you need it.
For many printers, you can choose between lower capacity and high capacity ink cartridges (or toners). High capacity cartridges cost more in advance, but have higher yields (can print more pages) and lower costs per printed page.
If you are buying a new printer, be sure to take the running costs into account. We include information on costs per page for monochrome and color printing for the printers we review. Generally, the more you pay in advance for a printer, the lower the running costs, so investing in a higher-end printer could save you money in the long run. (but be sure to crunch the numbers first).
Another uncertain method of reducing costs is using third-party inks. These can cost much less than the manufacturer’s branded ink, but can vary greatly in quality. The most common complaints about third-party inks are degraded print quality and clogged nozzles.
- The printed text looks lousy.Printers vary greatly in text qualiy; Inkjet printers typically offer text suitable for professional use at home, at school or in the office, while most lasers can print crisp text for more professional looking documents. We evaluate the quality of the text for each printer in our reviews. But assuming you have noticed gradual or sudden degradation in quality, there are many things you can try to solve it.
Be it inkjet or laser, make sure the print settings are correct. If you are in draft mode, switch to higher quality mode (even if it will slow down printing). Make sure the type of paper listed on the screen matches what you are printing.
With laser printers, it could mean that the toner has stabilized; remove the cartridges and shake several times from one side to the other. Often, a cartridge responds to this, even if it eventually runs out of toner and needs to be replaced. For inkjet printers, you can try out nozzle cleaning and printhead alignment, which can be started from the printer maintenance menu. If that does not help you, you can even try to replace the cartridges (although you’ll probably get a warning if they’re low).
- My inkjet’s photos look lousy.If you are not satisfied with the print quality of your photos, be sure to print on the right paper. Typically, the printer manufacturer’s custom photo paper will be better than other manufacturers’ paper and may recommend a specific printer paper. In the software settings, make sure you have selected the paper (or type of paper) you are using and that is set for photo printing. If there is a high quality photo setting, try it. Also, perform a nozzle cleaning and alignment of the print head.
If you are running out of one ink color, you may experience discoloration in your prints: it is time to change the ink tank in question. In addition, the particles in the ink are deposited and can cause clogging, so it is advisable to replace the old tanks, even if partially or mostly full of ink.
- I get a lot of paper jams.Fortunately, paper jams are much less common than even a decade ago, but they can still happen. By far the most common cause of jams is misalignment of the paper. Be sure to remove the stack of paper before inserting it into the tray, make sure the guides are flush with the paper and avoid overfilling the tray. If this does not solve the problem, consult the troubleshooting section of the printer user manual and, if necessary, contact the manufacturer’s technical support.
- My MFP won’t scan anymore.If the scanner in your multifunction printer (MFP) stops working, the scanner software may be damaged; try reinstalling the printer software package. If this does not work, it is best to check the user’s guide and, if necessary, the manufacturer’s support page. It is not uncommon for the scanner of a low-end MFP to fail and the entire unit may need to be replaced.