Windsor Geek
Some commonly encountered Printer Problems and how to Fix Them

Printers: They are, of course, very useful and, when working well, typically produce superb results.

All too many of us have been in a situation where, through frustration, we feel like chucking a misbehaving printer out of the window. But we do need our printers, despite their failings.

What I've done here is to list some of the commonly encountered printer problems and what to do about them in the hope that it'll help relieve some stress.

Concern: Printing is a slow process.

Response: It's possible to speed up printer performance and to reduce ink consumption in the process by reducing the print quality for draft or everyday output. This is typically achieved by selecting the appropriate setting in the print options for whatever it is that you're about to print. Another suggestion for improving printer performance is to print pages from websites without graphics.

Concern: Ink and/or toner costs too much.

Response: It's quite well publicised that printer vendors employ sneaky practices. Specifically they'll entice us into buying unbelievably low cost printers only to then sting us with ultra-expensive ink and/or other consumables.

This is a great example of why it's important to choose wisely before buying a printer. A little bit of time invested researching the associated running costs of a printer up-front can quickly result in big savings.

Based on my own experience I'm happy to use recommended third party vendors' remanufactured or refilled ink cartridges in my own printer. However I'm also aware of others who've had a less successful experience with this. So it's very much a personal choice as to whether you want to go down this route. That said I believe Cartridge World will offer a money back guarantee if not satisfied with the results you get from the cartridges they sell. Another possible cost-saving suggestion is to buy high-capacity ink cartridges. If you print a lot, you may be able to buy and use ink cartridges with a higher capacity.

Concern: Windows is sending print jobs to the wrong printer.

Response: It's possible that Windows has unexpectedly changed the default printer - the one it automatically sends print jobs to. To check and fix this in Windows 7, click on the Start button and select Devices and Printers. Under Printers and Faxes, the current default printer will have a green tick against it. If it's not set correctly right-click on the printer you want to make the default, and select Set as Default Printer.
If you're using earlier versions of Windows, these steps vary only very slightly.

Concern: Printed output is faint, inconsistent, or has horizontal lines.

Response: You may have a clogged print head, a problem that can occur if you use an inkjet printer infrequently. Your printer's utility program should provide a print head cleaning option which will most likely cure this by cleaning out any dried ink, and print a test page for inspection. The step-by-step instructions on how to do this vary by printer. From the Windows 7 Start menu, click Devices and Printers or Control Panel, and look for your printer's utility app. (Again, these steps will vary slightly for Vista and XP users.) It may also be that if the cartridges have stood unused for several months or more the ink within the cartridges has become congealed and may need replacing.

Concern: My printer says my ink cartridge is empty but I've only just changed it.

Response: You may be right. Printer out-of-ink messages can be unreliable. Here's an article which describes how to get around this issue for certain HP ink cartridges. There's also a suggestion lower down the article related to other HP, Lexmark and Dell printers. Please note. I haven't tested the instructions in this article so can't confirm how successful they are.

Concern: My wireless printer is too slow.

Response: To get the best performance from a network attached printer, you're most likely to get the best and most reliable connection using a hard wired (Ethernet-cable-to-router) connection. Wireless printing may be more convenient in many homes and offices, but it has its limitations. Since Wi-Fi data transmission speeds slow down if the signal strength isn't too great, you'll want to place your wireless printer as close as possible to the router, but that may not be feasible. Some of the tips in my other article about WiFi signal strength may also be relevant and helpful to this situation.

Concern: Is it possible to shrink the printed output in order to fit more text on one page. If so how do I do it?

Response: It should be possible to modify the print settings or page layout so that the output has two pages on one sheet. Doing this saves money (uses less paper) and speeds up printing (fewer pages to print). This two-for-one approach works better for some types of output e.g. spreadsheets, receipts, and other documents that are still legible once shrunken. It's also worth checking to see whether your printer supports 'duplex' or double-sided printing. This will also deliver cost savings because you may be able to double the amount you're able to print onto each sheet of paper.

A general guide for how to do this: In any Windows program, select Print and Properties, and then look for print settings and any that relate to layout and the number of pages per sheet and/or double-sided print option.

Concern: I'm no expert but am happy to check some obvious things to try and troubleshoot my "broken" printer. What things can I check?

Response: Is there any life in the printer when you switch it on? If not check that the printer is plugged into a live wall socket and that the other end of the power lead is properly plugged into the printer. If still no sign of life try replacing the fuse in the plug.

Assuming you're past step1 make sure there's paper in the tray and ink cartridges installed. Next step: check the data cable (probably USB or Ethernet) that connects the printer to the PC or router.

Concern: The printer seems really fragile and I'm concerned it'll break when I use it.

Response: To cut costs on some vendors use thinner and lighter gauge materials especially on low-end models in their range. So what can you do about that? This issue is best dealt with by giving the due consideration to this aspect before making your purchasing decision. My advice is, if buying in a shop, examine the printer carefully. If it looks and feels like it's not going to stand much wear and tear, it's probably best to choose another model. If buying on-line look for and take the time to read reviews posted by other purchasers of the product.

Concern: I was getting strange marks on the pages coming out of my printer but couldn't figure out why that was so I investigated and discovered the following problem :-)