How to Address Typical Problems of Office Printers

You need to print and ship a package of important documents TODAY. All the final edits are made, and the packaging materials are lined up. However … the printer isn’t holding up its end of the bargain and now there’s something blinking on the printer’s LCD display. That’s enough to ruin your day!

If you’ve followed the instructions regarding any error messages displayed by the printer and have turned the printer off and back on again, but still have no luck, don’t lose hope: it may not be time to call printer support just yet.

The first and most obvious step is to look up the error message in the printer manual and follow the troubleshooting instructions it provides.

It’s also important to know that Microsoft has a program called Fix It that can help you diagnose and treat printer problems. If that doesn’t help, know that many printers also have online communities to address problems specific to their model. HP has a print and scan doctor and Canon has a vast database of videos.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common and easily solved office printer problems. Maybe you’ll be able to send that document today after all.

Printer Won’t Print

The is perhaps the most frustrating printer problem. You send the document to print and it disappears into the digital abyss.

Possible Cause: Connectivity Issues

If it is a wireless printer, make sure that your computer and printer are both connected to the same network. Devices connected to Wi-Fi can sometimes surprise you and jump on a neighboring Wi-Fi without you knowing, thus preventing a connection between the computer and the printer. If that’s not the case, connect your computer to your printer via USB and see if that will enable you to print. If so, there is definitely a connectivity issue.

Possible Cause: Outdated (Or Missing) Printer Driver

Luckily, you can usually find the most recent printer driver on your printer’s website.

Possible Cause: Mismatched Paper Size

If paper size is the culprit behind a failed print, that’s because a different size and consistency of paper was specified in the print dialogue than what was placed in the input tray. Double check your settings to make sure that the paper size and, if necessary, coating, matches that paper that you’re using.

Paper Jam

It’s a lot of fun when Bob Marley jams; not so much when your printer jams.

Possible Cause: Paper

Paper, rather than printer hardware or software, is often the cause of a paper jam. There are a few paper-related issues that could be causing the jam:

  • Paper crease – Is there a crease in your paper? Sometimes when there’s a crease in the paper, the crease snags on something inside the machine while printing.
  • Paper input tray – If the paper isn’t aligned flush with the input tray, the paper will be fed to the printer at an angle, which will definitely cause a paper jam.

If you’ve got a paper jam, follow your printer’s prompts to remove the paper; larger laser printers can usually inform you of where the paper jam has taken place and you can follow their prompts; the desktop printers usually don’t have prompts, but since they’re so much smaller, it’s easier to locate where the issue may be. PC World has a great article that goes into further detail on how to remove and address paper jams.

Smudged Ink

When I send a document to print, hear the printer start up a few second later, and walk over to see my document in the paper tray, I can’t help but do a little dance of joy–unless that document has smudged ink!

Possible Cause: Paper Coating

What type of paper are you using? Printing on high gloss paper can be notoriously tricky because it takes longer to dry since the gloss makes it more difficult for the ink to sink into the paper. If you’re printing multiple copies on high gloss and the ink is smudging, post yourself at the output tray and remove each sheet after it’s done. Its very likely that each sheet is smudging the ink on the sheet below it.

Also, be sure to check the print setting in your print dialogue to ensure that you have selected the correct type of paper as this will help the printer anticipate the coating and adjust.

Blocks of Color with Lines

Sometimes you print out a document that was supposed to have nice, solid blocks of color, but ends up looking more like a scene from TRON. This looks great on the big screen, but not so much on your document. The following are a few things that might be causing these unwanted lines and gradation.

Cause: Low Toner

You may be low on ink. In that case, stock up! In fact, keep extra cartridges on hand to prepare for when you’ll inevitably run low.

Cause: Clogged Ink Heads

When the ink head becomes clogged, you’ll start to see lines in the paper where the ink has failed to produce a mark. It’s fairly easy to clean this yourself and this video does a great job of explaining just how.

Low Print Quality

You’ve sent your document to print, the printer successfully connected to the network and your computer, the paper landed neatly in the output tray and … the print quality looks grainy and pixelated. What’s going on?

Possible Cause: Low Printer Quality Setting

Check the setting in your printer’s dialogue box–that friendly little box that pops up before you submit a document to print. You should be able to set the quality for the equivalent of low, medium, or high. The low setting is perfect for a text document, while the medium and high settings are best for images. If you have an image or document that comes out pixelated, I highly suggest you double check the print quality settings.

Possible Cause: Low Image Quality

If the printer dialogue shows that print quality is set to medium or high and the image still looks pixelated, check the resolution of the original image. Low quality settings discard details within an image and high quality settings retain more details.

Possible Cause: Improper Use of Paper

Most paper above the quality of standard copy paper comes with one side that is optimized for printing. The optimized side will easily accept the ink and, because of this, will display much more detail than the other side. How can you tell which side is which? The optimized side will have a finish that the other side doesn’t: the paper color will look brighter or there will be a gloss or sheen to it that the other side doesn’t have. Northlight Images has some great exercises to determine which side of the paper to print on.


We’ve all had the experience of sending a much anticipated document to print, only to retrieve it from the output tray, looking like a completely different language. This garbled text appears when the printer can’t correctly understand the data that’s being sent to it.

Possible Cause: Printer is Confused
Turn printer off and on again…

Possible Cause: Damaged USB Cable

If your device is connected to your printer through a USB cable, make sure that the cable is fully attached at both ends and that there is no damage to the cable or prongs. Small tears and a slight disconnection can cause gibberish in a printed document.

Luckily, there’s a good chance that your printer problems can be solved by one of the above easy fixes. When you’ve solved your printer problem, you may even want to print this page out and keep it near your printer for future reference. Good luck and happy printing!

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