10 Common Printer Issues & How to Fix Them

10 Common Printer Issues & How to Fix Them main image 10 Common Printer Issues & How to Fix Them image

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. 

Specific troubleshooting solutions will vary depending on your printer model, but once you understand some common issues, you can quickly search and find fixes specific to your unit. Manufacturers offer online resources to help you work through your most troubling printer issues and we’ve got some basic tips covered right here! 


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 jam after repeated use and eventually may need to be replaced. 

When your printer says that there’s a paper jam, and there isn’t, chances are it’s because there’s a mechanical problem afoot. Don’t immediately smash your printer in a field though! Often real paper jams could leave residue behind that interferes with printer operation long after the jam is gone.  

Small amounts of shredded paper junk lodged between gears that move your rear duplexer may leave your printer thinking there’s something lodged in the duplexer, not the gear. Examine the mechanical parts surrounding your ghost jam and make sure they operate cleanly (some models give you a more precise idea where the jam is located, especially for more complex office units). Here’s one approach posted on Fixya that can help: 

**A side note: this is explicitly for the HP® OfficeJet® L7680, but the general principles apply across printer models and brands**  

  • Remove the rear duplexer and grip any of the four rollers. Do they move freely? If not, your next step is to . . . 

  • Touch two of the brass contact points with a paper clip. Bridging this contact makes the printer think the duplexer is still installed, and you’ll want to maintain this contact all the way through the final step. 

  • Press OK on the control panel. 

  • Take a look at the white plastic gears on the left-hand side. Do they move freely, or do they stall, skip, freeze, or jam? If it’s the second scenario, you have paper shards, which you will need to clear from the gears. 

  • Grip the furthest rubber roller and rotate. Check for shards of paper in the gear teeth. 

  • Once the rollers and gears spin freely, you’ve cleared the ghost jam, and you can remove the paper clip and reassemble. 

Unplug your printer to reset the sensors if you are still getting a paper jam notice after cleaning. 


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.   

How to Print a Self-Test Page 

If you are having trouble diagnosing your printer issue, printing a test page or printer status report can help narrow down what the problem is.   If the test page prints successfully then your issue is likely the printer driver, printer software or cable connection.  If it doesn’t print properly then there is likely an issue with the printer itself and may require repairs. 

How to Print a Test Page in Windows 10 

To print a test page in Windows 10, go to Settings > Devices > Printers & Scanners.  Then select your printer and select Manage>Print a Test Page. 

How to Print a Test Page in Windows 8 

To print a test page in Windows 8, press the Windows key on your keyboard, then search “printer” on the start page.  Select Settings > View Devices and Printers, then right click the printer icon and open up “Printer Properties” and select “Print Test Page” 

How to Print a Test Page in Windows 7 

To print a test page in Windows 7, click the “Start” button > Control panel > Devices and Printers.  Then right click the printer icon and open up “Printer Properties” and select “Print Test Page” 


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 the 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 been 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 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 not, here are some common questions you should ask when you suspect your Wi-Fi 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. 


Clogged Printhead 

If you don’t use your printer often, sometimes ink in your printer head will dry and lead to clogging. When you start to see lines, streaks or bands on your printouts, or if some parts of your document have lighter prints on it, this could also indicate that it’s time to clean your printhead. 

A clogged printhead may trigger the change cartridge signal on your printer or could simply prevent ink from making its way onto the page. Unclogging your printer head can be messy and tedious, but maintaining your printer to prevent clogs is easy. A popular way to address a clogged print head is the paper towel method: 

Paper Towel Method 

If your printer uses only two cartridges–black and tricolor, that means your printer uses ink cartridges with an integrated printhead. 

Only printers that use ink cartridges with an integrated printhead can use the paper towel method. 

Some popular ink cartridges you can do the paper towel method on are the following: HP 60, 61, 62, 63, 65, 67 ink cartridges, and the Canon PG640, CL-641, PG-645, PG-645XL, CL-646, 646XL, PG-512, CL-513 ink cartridges. 


To do the paper towel method, you will need to have a damp paper towel and a dry paper towel ready.  

  • Take the warm, damp paper towel and blot the cartridge with the printhead side down onto the towel. The printhead is located on the end of the cartridge where the ink comes out and is typically a gold or copper strip.   

  • Tap down the cartridge a few times. Slide the cartridge down on the paper towel and repeat the process until you see solid lines of ink on the paper towel. If you’re doing this on a tricolor cartridge, repeat the process until you see all three colors on the paper towel. 

  • Reminder: Be careful not to confuse the printhead with the gold and copper contacts or dots.  I know they sound awfully similar, but if you don’t see ink on the paper towel then you are probably blotting the wrong part of the cartridge! 

  • When you clearly see ink on the damp paper towel, hold the cartridge against the dry paper towel for 30 seconds to a minute.  This process wicks out any dried ink that may be preventing you from a quality print.   

  • Once complete, slide the cartridge back in the machine and run a test print.   

  • Often times this does the job quite nicely.  If not, repeat the process again.  If the second time doesn’t cut it move on to our next tip, printhead cleaning! 

Printhead Cleaning from the Printer Display Screen 

If you have a printer that uses individual color cartridges, then this means the printhead is built into the printer. 

Most common culprits for a clogged printhead are microscopic dust particles, air bubbles or dried ink.  Running a printhead cleaning on your machine will clear the print nozzles of excess or dried up ink.  Though the setup might be different for each printer, this is a typical cleaning function built into the printer’s software. Print a test page to see if the clog is gone, print a second one to be sure (sometimes two will do the trick).  If that does not clear up the issue, try running it again, sometimes 2-3 cleans may be needed to flush the system (your printer may even offer a “deep clean” option for a more thorough cleaning. If you still see no improvement you may need to manually clean the print head. Consult your user’s guide to find the cleaning process that will work for you. 


“Non-Genuine” Cartridge Message

On occasion, your printer will directly call you out for using a third-party ink cartridge. Especially common with HP printers, this kind of message will pop up on your screen, telling you that you’re using a used, refilled, or counterfeit* cartridge, but usually won’t do much else beyond that. Third-party cartridges usually have chips installed that circumvent this message, but when it does pop up you can easily diffuse it by clicking “okay.” If not, consider removing your cartridge and ensuring the chip is clean, then reinstall and try again. 

Cleaning the gold contact chip is easy, just wipe it gently with a lint-free cloth! 

*Counterfeit cartridges are those intended to look like an OEM cartridge. Compatible cartridges that come in their own packaging are not fake contrary to what OEM manufacturers are leading consumers to believe.  

New Cartridge Not Working 

Every once in a while, you might come across a new cartridge that gives you trouble. If you have recently installed a cartridge and an error machine pops on your printer’s display, take these steps to try and fix this issue: 

  • If you still have your old cartridge on hand, try reinstalling it back into your unit. Often, your printer will start right back up, and in many instances, you’ll find there was still ink left in the old cartridge!  Once the old cartridge is acknowledged by your printer, remove it and replace it with the new cartridge again.  Sometimes a quick cartridge swap can convince your printer to accept the new cartridge. 

  • Double check to ensure you removed protective seals. New cartridges come sealed at the ink nozzle to prevent the ink inside them from drying out. For some brands, a piece of tape with a tab will create this seal, for others, it’s a plastic piece. If you try to install a new cartridge into your printer without removing the seal, it may register the cartridge as installed but not allow ink to flow. 

  • Check the vent. Some cartridges come with a vent that allows ink to flow smoothly. When this vent is blocked, it can prevent ink from leaving the cartridge. Check on the top back of the cartridge for an orange pull tab, and if this has been removed, you can clear the vent with a pin. 

  • Run an extended cleaning cycle. If your printer has been sitting around for a while, the ink resting in the printhead can dry up and clog. Running an extended cleaning cycle will remove any unnecessary ink blockages and get your ink flowing again. If your prints are coming out smeared or extra faint, a cleaning cycle can help fix that as well. 

  • Perform a power reset to help clear the error and force the printer to re-read the new cartridge. Remove the printer cartridge and shut down the printer, then switch it off at the wall (or unplug it). Leave it off for 5 minutes then switch it back on and boot it up. When the printer prompts you, reinsert the cartridge. 


Replace the Cartridge / Low Ink Message 

Sometimes, your printer will give you a message saying you need to replace your cartridge, or you have low ink, even when you know you have enough ink. Perhaps you installed a fresh compatible cartridge full of ink, but your printer still thinks that the old cartridge is in place. You have a couple of options available to get your printer, well, printing again: 

  • Reset the cartridge counter. Some printer models feature a cartridge counter that may need updating when you install a fresh cartridge. Epson Stylus printers in particular have a cartridge counter that can be reset by holding either the “Cleaning” or “Load/Eject” button for three seconds. Check the owners manual to see if there’s a reset cartridge counter option available for your model. 

  • Disable low ink messages. Another option is to override your low ink message. Different operating systems and printer models may vary slightly on how you achieve this end, so check your owners manual for specific details. 

  • Right click on your desktop screen and click the “All Apps” icon. From there, click the icon that launches the print application for your printer. 

  • Here, your options may vary, but click an icon that reads “Configuration,” “Tools” or “Utilities.” From here, you’ll be able to access the Estimated Ink Levels application. This will hopefully update your computer to the ink levels in your cartridges automatically. If not, you can turn off notifications by going into Advanced Settings and enabling “Do Not Show Me Low Ink Level Warnings,” or a similar option, and clicking “OK”. 


Printer Hardware Problems 

a. Check Your Power Cord 
The problem may not be your computer or your printer at all. Connector cables such as USBs will decay and burn out over time, requiring replacement. Unfortunately, they don’t have indication systems your printer and computer have so that they can die, and you’d never know otherwise. Try swapping your printer out with another cable. Keeping an extra connector cord on hand will help you troubleshoot instantly and get you printing again faster if your USB is to blame. 

b. Ran out of RAM / Memory 
Modern printers are highly sophisticated devices. Most units today have some form of memory to store print jobs, whether it be a couple of megabytes or several gigs worth in a large office risograph. If your printer is connecting, but printing at such a slow rate it may as well not be, you’ve likely run out of memory. 


Why My Printer Won’t Print 

There are a number of reasons why your printer might not be printing even if you just installed a fresh cartridge of ink. Try checking through this list to eliminate the possibilities: 

  • Try printing a test page to see what colors are missing. If there are any missing colors, you might have clogged printheads. Here’s how to fix clogged printheads. 

  • You left the yellow tape on the new cartridge or maybe the cartridge is not installed. 

  • You have an outdated printer driver 

  • Clear the printer queue. 

  • Do a hard reset on your printer. To do this you just need to turn off your printer, unplug for a few minutes and then plug the printer again. If that still doesn’t work, try turning the printer and your computer off, and then start it back up again. 

  • Try uninstalling and then reinstalling your printer driver. 


If all else fails… 

If you’ve cleared each of these options, there is one more: your printer might just be on its last legs. Like all other machines, printers wear down with time, at which point you’re left to consider repairs or to replace your unit. If replacement is your better option, there are a wealth of resources out there to help you select the best new model for your needs. A new printer is an immediate cost, but over time you can save money replacing your old unit with one tailored to your printing habits. 

However, before you find yourself at the store, always try shutting off your printer and computer and turning them back on. It’s ridiculous how many unconquerable problems can be solved this way. Good luck! 


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