How to fix printer problems

Printers are great when they work, but when they don’t it can be extremely frustrating. Here’s how to resolve some of the most common problems, including clogged nozzles and other problems.

Printers can run reliably for years and thousands of prints, but they can also malfunction or stop working altogether.

Sometimes the reason is simply overuse or overdue. Many people don’t use their inkjet printers regularly and this can lead to the problem of dry ink clogging the nozzles. Abuse is less common than abuse: paper clips, hair ties, and even food can fall into the printer and cause paper jams (and worse).

If your printer can’t be fixed with these tips, check out our list of the best printers to buy and our best printer deals right now.

My printer can’t print

There are many reasons why your printer won’t print, so start with the basics like checking for error messages or warning lights on the printer. Make sure there is paper in the tray(s), check if the toner or toner cartridge is empty, the USB cable is plugged in, or the printer is connected to Wi-Fi.

And if it’s a wireless network or printer, try using a USB cable instead. In our experience, some Wi-Fi printers are unreliable in terms of their connection. So you should unplug your printer and any line network adapters it’s connected to, then turn everything back on.

Choose the right printer!

Sometimes the reason the printer is not printing is because you have installed some software that has a ‘virtual’ printer and this has set itself as default. When you press Print, a file is saved by this virtual printer instead of the document being sent to your physical printer.

To check this, open Control Panel from the Start menu. Then go to Devices and Printers, right click on the correct printer to use and set it as default. (Once there, you can also make sure the printer’s status is set to Ready. Otherwise, this could be the source of the problem.)

Next, make sure the correct printer is selected in the program you are printing to – you will see an option to choose from the list as shown in the image below.

Solve common printing problems: default printer

Microsoft has a print troubleshooter that can help identify the problem. Click the Troubleshoot button, download and run the program, then follow the steps in the wizard.

You can also open Control Panel, Devices, and Printers, right-click the printer icon, and select Troubleshoot. It’s not always helpful, but it’s worth a try.

How to Troubleshoot HP Printers

HP has a Print and Scan Doctor to identify problems, and Canon has lots of great videos on its website – click your printer model and then the Troubleshooting Video link.

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Why can’t I print from my phone or tablet?

Solve common printing problems: Cloud Print

To print from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, the printer must have Wi-Fi and also support AirPrint. The list of AirPrint printers is growing, but there are still a lot of printers, especially older models, that don’t support it.

If you have a Mac with a printer attached, you can turn it into an AirPrint printer using HandyPrint. Printers Pro is an app for iOS devices that allows them to print on multiple wireless or wired printers attached to a PC or Mac.

Some Samsung phones, tablets, and printers are designed to work together, and printing is simple. Samsung also has its own app for printing on its printers, including from iPhones.

To print from any Android phone or tablet to any printer connected to your PC, you can use Google Cloud Print.

Install Cloud Print on your mobile device from the Google Play store. Next, using Google Chrome on your PC, go to the menu, Settings, Advanced Settings and click Manage. You can then add the attached printer to your PC. As long as your PC and printer are turned on, you can print from your Android device.

Do I need to replace the toner cartridge?

The printer warns that the ink is running low before it actually appears. If you only print occasionally, the remaining ink or toner can last for several weeks, if not months.

Order new cartridges as soon as the message appears, but do not install them until it stops printing or the colors fade. One trick with laser printers is to remove the empty cartridge and gently shake it from side to side. This sometimes allows the remaining ink to be used. In other cases, a counter is used, and when a certain number of pages have been printed, the cartridge will be considered empty.

HP has an interesting program with many of its printers that you pay for every month and the cartridges automatically arrive at the right time.

If your color ink has run out but you still have to keep printing, you can set your printer to only print in black and white. This is the setting you’ll find in the printer properties in Control Panel – or click the option when you go to print through the application you want to print to.

Why won’t web pages, Excel documents, and photos print properly?


Web pages can be of any size and they are not limited by the width or height of the paper in your printer. They are generally not designed to be printed, which is why problems can occur.

Always select the Print Preview option so you can see what you’ll get. You may not need all the pages, for example, if there are a lot of comments or ads, so use the print option to choose which pages to print, such as 2-4 to print pages from 2 to 4. Select landscape mode if the web page is very wide.

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Most of the time, you’ll find a shrink to fit option in the printer settings that helps when your document or photo is too big to fit on the page. Some websites, such as those with printable coupons, have a print button in the site. Use that menu, not the print menu in the browser.

Office documents

If you’re trying to print an Excel sheet, make sure to select only the cells you need to print before clicking Print. You can then select ‘Print selection’ and change the other options to make sure it fits on an A4 sheet. You can do other things, such as reducing the size of the margins and switching from landscape to portrait orientation.

Troubleshoot printing - Excel

Similarly, when printing a Word document or any other document, you can usually specify which pages to print so you don’t have to print them all.

Pictures and pictures

For photos or images you want to print, it’s usually best to right-click them in Windows Explorer and click Print. This way you will be able to choose the size to print each photo.

If you select multiple photos in a folder, then right-click and select Print, you’ll be able to print them all at once, with more than one photo per sheet (and you can also choose the paper size at this). It’s similar to the ‘n-up’ option you’ll find in the Print properties that allows you to print multiple pages of a document on a single A4 sheet.

Fix printing problems - Photo

Wdoes my printer say “Error”?

There are a few possible reasons, but the most common one is paper related. BILLIONThe first thing to check is if the input tray is empty, but also check for paper jams. If you find an error, try to figure out why it happened instead of just pulling a crumpled piece of paper out of the paper tray and assuming you fixed it.

Remove the paper from the tray, open all the covers, and look inside. You may need a torch to see the paper and long tweezers to reach it, especially if it’s just a very small piece that has been ripped off and left inside.

Look underneath the printer as there may be an access panel that can be removed to inspect and clean the paper feed mechanism.

Old paper can absorb moisture, causing it to stick and then it is pulled through two or more sheets at once. Keep it in your pocket until you need it. Watch Canon’s troubleshooting video for how to remove jammed pieces of paper in the printer.

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Also, try using thinner paper: most home printers will only handle up to photo paper. They usually can’t print on the card because it’s too stiff to stretch around the corners.

Why is the print quality poor?

The nozzles on the inkjet printer head can become clogged causing horizontal streaks on the print and poor or wrong colors. Cleaning the printhead can solve the problem. The procedure varies between printers and there may be an option on the printer control panel or in the printer software on the computer.

You may need to look this up in the manual. In the printer properties (in the application or in the Windows Control Panel) you can find the maintenance section.

Solve common printing problems: maintenance

Click on it and you can clean the printheads or align them. Head cleaning kits are available for around £10 from Amazon although you should compare it to the cost of a new cartridge – there’s no guarantee a cleaning kit will fix the problem.

Paper type affects print quality and copier paper can be frustrating.

It can be too absorbent and inkjet ink soaks into it like blotting paper. Buy good quality paper for the best prints, and this is usually from the printer manufacturer itself, especially for photo printing.

Laser printers are less dependent on paper, and smudges or spots in the same place on every page usually mean there’s dirt somewhere in the printer, usually on the ‘drum’.

Use extreme care when cleaning the imaging drum, using only isopropyl alcohol and a soft, lint-free cloth.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to remove and clean the drum, commonly known as the OPC.

We also wrote a guide on how to match the colors on your screen to your printer.

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