How many times has this happened to you?

You go to print out an urgent document that you need RIGHT NOW, and the printer throws up a Cartridge Empty warning. Or you’ve run out of paper. Or the computer isn’t talking to the printer. Does that kind of thing drive you mad? Learn how to keep your printer running smoothly and trouble free with the tips I’ve gleaned from my experiences..

Keep a set of spare cartridges

Supply LevelsKeeping an extra set of cartridges on hand is probably one of the most effective stress reducing things you can do. If you have an extra set of cartridges on hand, it won’t matter if you run out of ink or toner halfway through a print job because all you need to do is pop in a replacement.

hp_ink_levelsOf course, some cartridges are quite expensive, so sometimes it’s hard to justify the cost of keeping them on hand on the off chance you might need them. Luckily, most printers will give you a status report on how much longer the consumables will last. Usually, this information is available through the Devices and Printers tab in your operating system or one of the menus on the control panel of your printer. Check the levels periodically to see when the cartridges are getting low, so you know when to buy them in.

Some printers, especially laser printers,  also require other consumables such as waste toner bottles, drums, transfer belts, fusers, and rollers so make sure you keep an eye on those levels too. Modern network connected printers have a web page you can connect to through your web browser and display the consumable levels. Others have a supplies report page that can be printed out either from your computer or the printer control panel.

Check your printer manual for the best way to check the levels of your supplies, and if you’ve lost your manual, just Google [your printer model] check supply levels.

Keep a cable handy

Your printer may be connected to your wireless network or wired network. What if your network goes down? You can’t print. The smart thing to do is to usb-cablekeep a suitable USB cable handy in the bottom drawer. Nearly every printer can be connected to a computer via USB. If there’s a problem with your network just plug the printer directly into a computer, install the driver and you will be able to print that important document.

Need to print from another computer? You can share the USB connected printer over the network, or just email the document that you need to have printed to the connected computer.

Even if your printer is via USB, we’ve seen cables fail, so it’s a good idea to keep a spare. These cables are quite inexpensive, so spending a few dollars now might save you from pulling your hair out in frustration late one evening when you are trying to print out that urgent document.

 Keep a good supply of printer paper

And by printer paper, I mean whichever paper you usually use to print on. That may be plain A4 office paper. If that’s the case watch out for when it’s on special or you can get a deal, and buy enough to keep you going until it might come on special again. Some companies even offer free delivery if you purchase a certain amount so if you have space, and you can afford it, it’s a great idea to buy in bulk.

If you use a particular type of specialty paper, make sure you have enough in stock to last you should a supply problem arise.

Protip: Manufacturers gear up their paper plants to manufacture one type of specialty paper at a time, so the paper you need may only be produced in 12 monthly cycles. If the manufacturer runs out at month 9, it could be another three months before they manufacture that line again. In that case, every supplier will run out of the paper you need. Be prepared for delays, especially if the paper you use isn’t that common.

 Keep your printer clean

compressedairIt pays to keep your printer clean. Turn off the printer and unplug it from the wall. Clean the outside with a just damp cloth (don’t use any harsh cleaning chemicals or excess water). Use elbow grease rather than cleaning compounds. Lay out some newspaper and take the cartridges, and paper tray if it has one, out of your printer and use a can of compressed air to blow the paper dust out of your printer. Don’t use the compressed air at the petrol station as the pressure is far too powerful and may damage internal components.

Note: If you have a laser printer, also remove the other consumables if it has them. If you notice a lot of spilled toner in your printer, put everything back in and call a professional laser printer repair company. Attempting to use compressed air on a big pile of toner will make a huge mess. Also, note that trying to use a conventional vacuum cleaner to clean up spilled toner may ignite the toner dust and cause a dust explosion! Here is an article on the hazards of dust explosions.

Clean the paper tray, and obvious parts inside the printer. Don’t try to get in too deeply or disassemble the printer in any way. If there are leakages or excess grunge in your printer, it’s best to call in or take it to a professional.

Maintain your printer

Lots of printers have maintenance kits available from the manufacturer. While they generally won’t be available for cheaper printers, many heavy duty printers do have them. Typically they contain new rollers and pads that fix persistent paper jams, or new fuser units (the coatings wear off after time). The maintenance kits may also come with transfer rollers that help improve print quality, or sometimes a combination of some or all of these items.

If there is no maintenance kit available, there are still a few things you can do. If the printer isn’t picking up paper well, you can clean the rubber pickup rollers (which feed the paper into the printer) with a cloth dipped in methylated spirits. Cleaning will remove the waxy deposits that build up over time and make the rollers shiny and smooth – cleaning them will make them more “rubbery” so that they grip the paper more easily. If you aren’t sure where these rollers are located, print several blank pages (or use the paper feed button on your printer) and watch and listen carefully. You will figure it out.

inspection-mirrorIf you are getting intermittent paper jams, there may be a tiny piece of paper stuck somewhere in the paper feed path. Look very carefully at the entire paper path, this will be hard to find! Use a torch so that you can see better, and consider using an inspection mirror (a small mirror on a stick that can be angled and telescoped to get in to awkward places) to get a look at all those little nooks and crannies. Look out for small pieces of paper, usually the result of a previous paper jam which has been removed without enough care, hidden under rollers or caught on corners. Intermittent paper jams are caused by paper being fed at a slightly different alignment resulting in paper sometimes being caught on these stray paper fragments and sometimes passing them.

Stay calm

Often we get frustrated by printing problems, but don’t panic! If your document fails to print, check both the computer and the printer for error messages. If none are evident, shut down both the computer and the printer (and the network hub or wireless network, if that is how the printer connects), unplug them and wait a few minutes. Fire up everything again and see if the document prints. If not, check to see if the document is still pending by looking at the print queue on the computer. If it’s still in the print queue check that the printer is not offline. If the printer is offline, find out how to put it back online using your manual (or Google) and do that.

If the document still fails to print, delete it from the print queue and then try printing it again. If it doesn’t print, check to make sure all cables are pushed in properly and the printer is connected. Try printing a test page to the printer from the printer properties page.

When all else fails, try this

Most modern computers allow you to Print to PDF. If you really need your document printed in a rush, stop fiddling with your printer and use someone else’s!

pdfThis creates a file which looks identical to how the document would have printed. If you can’t see an option to print to PDF on your computer, you can use one of the free online services available. Next, put your PDF file on to a flash drive and take it to a friend, your office, or a local copy shop and ask them to print it out for you. No flash drive? Email it either to your online email account (one you can open where you will be using the printer) or to the email address of the person or company who will be printing it for you.

You can always try to fix your printer later!

Don’t repair, upgrade

Having lots of problems with your printer? Unless you have one of the most expensive printers, it rarely makes sense to repair printers. Inbuilt obsolescence means that parts are rarely replaceable, and if they are, the costs of repair are prohibitive. Your older printer may also be slow and consume a lot more energy than newer, more efficient and faster printers. It may seem a big shame to get rid of a printer that has served you well for years and may only have something minor wrong with it, but that is the price we pay in modern society when products aren’t designed to be easily repaired to keep initial costs down.

Before you get rid of your printer though, make sure it isn’t a simple problem. Use the manufacturers website (or the printers manual) to check for common problems that can be easily fixed. Print quality problems are usually addressed very easily, as are most paper feed problems. Sometimes a problem can be fixed by updating the drivers on your computer or buying a new printer cable!

If you do need to get rid of your old printer, make sure you recycle responsibly. Check with the printer manufacturer to see if they have a recycling program. Some manufacturers offer trade-ins on old printers when you upgrade, so keep an eye out for that. There are charities that collect old computer equipment, such as printers, to be repaired or refurbished for underprivileged children or senior citizens. Local government authorities usually have an e-waste recycling program. Whatever you choose, don’t just dump your printer in the garbage!

When choosing a new printer, make sure it is compatible with your computer and operating system. You don’t want to have to upgrade everything!

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