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How to troubleshoot printer problems

Overcome printer nightmares

You probably get frustrated when your document fails to print. We've identified the five worst printer problems and show you how to solve them, as well as ensuring they don't occur again.

We've all experienced printer rage – that's frustration caused by problems with your printer.

However, before you pick up a cricket bat, take a deep breath. With some patience and attention, you can probably overcome the printer problem that vexes you - and avoid having the nightmare recur in the future. Here's how to address five of the most common printer complaints.

1. Paper jams

Printer jams occur when the paper feeding through the printer goes awry. Sometimes the printer ignores the problem, soldiers onward, and extrudes a crumpled mess into the output tray; on other occasions, the printer stops in midjob, and the crumpled mess - or part of it - remains trapped somewhere inside the machine.

When a paper jam occurs, some printers flash lights at you and scream for help. Others sense where the jam is and provide guidance on clearing the blockage. If your printer offers diagnostic advice, follow it. Also, take time to check the printer's documentation for help in clearing jams. Here are the basic steps you'll follow to correct the problem:

Turn off the printer
If you're going to be working inside the printer, you don't want any trouble with electricity or moving parts. And if you're dealing with a laser printer, you also don't want the fuser to generate additional heat. If the paper is jammed in or near the fuser unit (you'll feel the heat as you come near it), you'll have to wait for the fuser to cool off before clearing the jam.

Open all doors leading to the paper path
If you can't tell which door leads to the paper jam, start by removing or opening the input tray and following the paper path all the way to the output tray, opening every door or panel that you can find along the way.

Carefully pull out paper sheets and scraps
Check for paper sheets that are stuck or askew, as well as for paper scraps. Pull paper out of the path firmly but very carefully and slowly. When possible, pull paper in the direction it is supposed to go in under normal conditions - not backward, which could strain the printer's mechanics. Take care to remove all of the paper: As any scraps that remain could cause further jamming. If you have the misfortune of breaking a mechanical piece in the printer, stop what you're doing and call for tech support.

Close all doors and turn on the printer
Once switched on, the printer should reset itself automatically. If the printer reports that it is still jammed, double-check for stray paper scraps, and then close all the doors again. If the printer continues to complain, try turning it off and then back on. If the complaints continue, you'll have to call for tech support - and hope that a deep-seated piece of paper - rather than a broken mechanical part - is the source of the problem.

How do I avoid this next time?
As in most relationships, good communication and kind treatment will help your interaction with your printer go smoothly. Use only one kind of paper at a time in your input tray. Whether you have a single input tray in your printer's driver or many input trays, tell the printer what kind of paper you have in the tray: Most printer controls include a section or drop-down list where you can pick a paper by name, type, thickness or other quality. If you aren't sure whether your printer takes a certain kind of paper, check its documentation. When you reload your input tray, pay attention to the tray's needs, such as how the paper should be loaded and whether the length or width guides need adjusting.

NEXT PAGE: Stuck in the print queue

  1. We show you how to ensure they don't happen again
  2. Stuck in the print queue
  3. Spilled ink
  4. Power loss in the middle of a print job

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