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The majority of printing problems are caused by seemingly obvious problems such as the printer not being turned on or a cable being disconnected. For this reason it is always best to check the most basic printing functions first before trying to diagnose more technical issues. If a printer does not print, try the following troubleshooting techniques:

  • Check to make sure that the printer is turned on and is online.
  • Verify that the cable is connected on both ends and that it is the correct cable for that printer.
  • Ensure that there is paper in the feed tray and that the tray, feed, and rollers are all in their correct positions. Verify that the correct paper tray was selected when sending the print job.
  • Look for a paper jam. If a jam is found, clear it and then check any feed and roller mechanisms nearby and confirm that they are clean and operating correctly.
  • Check the ink and toner levels.
  • Perform a test print from the printer.
    • If successful, the problem is with the workstation or the connection.
    • If unsuccessful, the problem is with the printer itself.
  • Make sure that the printer is not paused.
  • Verify that the Print Spooler service is started.
  • Check the print queue. Sometimes a large document might be first in the queue and is stalled or otherwise preventing other documents from printing. Move the document down in the queue, or if necessary delete the document from the queue.

It is important to make sure that the following driver issues are addressed when troubleshooting printers:

  • Verify that the latest version of the driver for the specific make and model of the printer has been installed. If the incorrect driver is installed, this can lead to post-script text, garbled text, and other irregular activity.
  • Incorrectly configured network printing often leads to end users installing the wrong driver on their machine. Make sure to configure your network so that end users don't have to install the driver on their machine, especially without supervision.
  • On occasion, driver files may become corrupted. If this is the case, you should reinstall the latest version of the driver from the manufacturer's website.

If the printer prints, but the printout quality is poor, check the following:

  • Check ribbon, ink, and toner levels.
    • For dot matrix printers, printer images become faint when the ribbon needs to be replaced. Most dot matrix print ribbons turn in a continuous loop, causing the ribbon to be used multiple times. Also, ensure that there is not too much gap between the printer head and the paper.
    • For inkjet printers, if letters have missing lines, use the printer's automatic cleaning feature. If this doesn't work, replace the printer cartridge. For missing or incorrect colors, verify ink levels. If the problem persists, you should download and install the latest printer driver, then use the Properties tab of the printer driver to adjust the driver's color settings. Many times, installing the latest driver alone will fix color issues. If not, then you can manually adjust the color settings until they match the original.
    • For laser printers with missing lines, try shaking the toner cartridge to distribute the toner evenly. If lines are still missing, or if extra characters appear, you might need to have the printer cleaned or some internal components replaced.
  • For newer laser and inkjet printers, calibrate the printer (perform a self test). Often the printer uses the self test to check the printed image and make minor adjustments automatically. Calibration fixes blurry text or incorrect colors.
  • If the text appears garbled, make sure the proper printer driver is used. If necessary, upgrade to the latest version or reinstall the driver.
  • If the page only prints part way through (and the rest of the page is blank), you might need to upgrade the memory on the printer or check the print server settings.
  • Check the pickup rollers if paper is not being fed through the printer properly.

Common mechanical problems that printers have are:

  • Non-compliant parallel cables. If you're working with a parallel printer, you should ensure that it has a 1284-compliant cable. Older cables can prevent full bi-directional communication with the printer.
  • Incorrectly configured port settings in your BIOS. Make sure that your printer is configured to use the correct 1284 mode.
  • Too long of a USB cable. Long cables will not work well in some printing setups. Try not to use cables longer than 3-4 feet; the shorter your cable is, the better your performance is going to be.
  • Wrong type of paper.
    • If you're printer isn't feeding paper well, you may want to consider buying higher quality paper.
    • Because inkjet printers require that ink soaks into the paper, do not use slick, glossy, or wax-coated papers that are not specifically designed for ink-jet printers.
    • Be careful when using thick paper or cardstock in a laser printer; they can cause paper jams. The weight of laser printer paper should generally be between 70 and 130 grams per square meter (GSM).
    • On some laser printers, you can change the paper path for thick paper so it is fed through the printer in a straight line (rather than curling the paper up to the top of the printer). Such straight line paper paths can help prevent paper jams with thick paper.
    • On laser printers, do not attempt to print on paper with photocopied or laser printed images already on it. The images can come off onto parts of the laser printer and smear your print jobs.
  • For other problems, consider taking the printer to a service center so you don't compromise your warrantee.