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Common Printer Problems and How to Fix Them

Few things lead to frustration quicker than when you need to print something in a pinch, and your printer doesn’t want to cooperate (and it won’t tell you why either!) While streaky lines across your images or faded text is one hassle, dealing with a printer that won’t even acknowledge you exist is another. Whether you’re getting an error message that doesn’t sync up with reality or your printer is giving you the silent treatment, knowing where to start when your printer won’t print can relieve some of that frustration.

Paper Jams and Ghost Jams

If your printer says you have a paper jam, there  are a couple of potential culprits.  First, make sure the paper is properly aligned in the paper tray. If your paper is askew even a little bit, it can quickly turn into a jam. Usually, removing the paper from the unit and lining it up better to the feeding elements will clear up the problem. Paper trays are designed to hold a specific paper capacity.  For some, it could be just 100 sheets, while others can hold an entire ream.  Check your printer’s user guide for the recommended paper capacity – an overstuffed paper tray can instantly flag the paper jam warning in your machine.  You should also make sure the paper or media type setting on the printer menu matches your current print job.   Printers include settings for many different paper types like card stock, photo paper or presentation paper.  Thicker paper can cause a  paper jam if the settings are off and a quick change of the paper type can resolve your paper jam message right away. 

Pick up rollers are the rollers that pick up the paper from the tray and feed it to the printer.  These parts have also been known to cause a jams after repeated use and eventually may need to be replaced.

Printer Driver Problems

Hardware isn’t always to blame. Your printer driver acts as the translator between your computer and your printer.  Like other software, drivers can also go out of date, or lose compatibility with your operating system after an update. If your printer isn’t responding to basic commands or is constantly crashing, a driver update may fix the issue right away.  You could also have the wrong driver downloaded on your computer to work with your printer. Uninstalling the driver you have on your desktop, then replacing it with an up-to-date version, often will get your printer and desktop chatting again.  To find an updated version of your printer driver, visit the support page of your printer manufacturer and type in your printer model number.  Then follow the steps on the page to download the most up to date version.  We’ve included links to the most popular printer brand support pages below!

Loaded Queue

When your print job finishes, your queue is supposed to clear itself automatically. That doesn’t always work out as planned, especially when some print runs are put on hold, postponed, or stopped due to data connection issues. If your queue gets all blocked up, it can cause your driver to grind to a halt. Often, in an attempt to print something, you’ll end up selecting print several times over, further overloading your queue. Sometimes your printer isn’t the reason your jobs aren’t printing. A stuck print job can logjam your queue, which prevents jobs from being received by your printer. It also won’t go away when you click delete most of the time. So, what can you do to clear your queue and get your printer, well, printing again? Here’s how to get started:

A side note: this is explicitly for the HP printers paired with Windows, but the general principles apply across printer models and brands.

  • Turn your printer off completely and unplug it from your power source.
  • Be sure to save the document you are planning on printing, in the form you want it printed. When you clear your queue, all print jobs that haven’t saved will be erased—it will disappear as well.
  • Open Windows Services by searching “Services” in your search toolbar or clicking the Window button on your keyboard.
  • Halfway down your list of Services, you’ll see one called the “Print Spooler.” Right click on the Print Spooler option and look at your options. “STOP” will halt any stuck print you have bogging down your queue.
  • Once you’ve halted all print jobs using the spooler, use the Windows Explorer browser to search: C:\Windows\System32\Spool\PRINTERS
  • Delete all existing files in your queue and shut down your computer unit from Windows.
  • Turn on your printer using the power button, then turn on your computer again.
  • Restart the print spooler service.
  • Print your document. If it works, you’re done!

If your print queue gets bogged down and freezes again, you have a couple of other options. HP offers a free software called HP Print and Scan Doctor which you can download for free. Running this program will automatically troubleshoot common issues with your printer and resolve them. If you are still having trouble with your queue jamming, uninstall and update your printer driver. Sometimes, an older driver may not be compatible or can corrupt, which will prevent your prints from processing.

Wi-fi Connection

Wireless connectivity is a double-edged blade. On the one hand, you can connect your printer to devices anywhere in your home. On the other, your connection is something that you can’t see. If your printer has dropped its Wi-fi signal, often you won’t be able to tell unless you troubleshoot the connectivity. If your printer’s Wi-fi is down, unplug it and reconnect it to your modem. It’s a bit of a trope these days, but powering down electronics can do wonders for fixing problems. If your device isn’t connecting to your printer, check to see that your Wi-fi and Bluetooth capabilities are up and operational.

A weak (or nonexistent!) connection between your computer and printer will prevent you from getting the documents you need. And because the issues lie between the two, often it can be tough to diagnose. If your printer was connecting wirelessly to your printer and then stopped, try restarting your computer and printer to see if they will reconnect. If no, here are some common questions you should ask when you suspect your WiFi connection may be to blame for your issues.

  • Is your printer connected to your network? Printing a Wireless Network Test Report is the easiest way to check and see on HP printers. Go to your control panel and select Wireless Network Test Report (on some models, you can access this directly by hitting the wireless button). This report will give you insights into connectivity, the units connected to the network, and the Network Name (SSID address)—from which you can see if your unit is connecting to the network. Consider restarting your router and printer to reconnect.
  • Is your computer connected to the network? For Windows users, select the HP Print and Scan Doctor discussed above to check. For Apple users, click on the Wireless logo in the top right-hand corner of your screen. Is your network checked?  
  • Was anything on your computer changed recently? Updates to your security software, firewalls, browser, and operating system can result in connection issues with your printer. You may need to reconnect your computer to the network, reconfigure your protection settings to include printers, or install an updated driver, depending on the nature of your updates. If you updated software, consider restoring your system back to the original settings/version to see if that reconnects you.
  • Was your router replaced recently? Chances are you’ll need to reconfigure your printer and computer to reconnect with the network. Check to see if your new router is assigned a different ISP address, which will need reconfiguration.
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