Why Isn't My Printer Printing?

6 printing issues you can fix

Most of the time, a printer is like a moody-but-reliable friend. It works without fanfare, and then, all of a sudden, the printer won't print or starts spouting error messages.

Adjusting printer settings
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Causes of a Printer Not Printing

When you need to know why your printer isn't printing, the possible causes fall in six categories:

  • Basic problems
  • Wired and wireless network printing issues
  • USB printing problems
  • Software upgrades and printer driver problems
  • Paper jams
  • Ink and toner issues

Check the Basics First

It's incredible how many times the basics are overlooked. Before jumping into the other causes of printer problems, answer these questions:

  • Is the printer turned on?
  • Is it connected to the computer?
  • Does it have paper and toner or ink?
  • Does it have power? (Hint: If it has lights, it has power.)

The fixes for these fundamental problems are self-explanatory. In the case of power, perhaps the power strip or surge protector that the printer is plugged into is turned off or defective. Try plugging the printer an alternate power source.

How to Fix a Network Printer That Won't Print

A wired networked printer was once the norm. Now, wireless printers from HP, Epson, Brother, and many other manufacturers are common. While they provide an easy way to share a printer with multiple devices, such as a computer, laptop, tablet, and smartphone, they also introduce another level of troubleshooting difficulty when they stop printing.

If you're setting up a wireless printer and having problems getting the printer to print, review the steps to network the printer. If the printer worked in the past, try these possible fixes:

  1. Restart everything: Wired or wireless network printers rely on your home network, which consists of several components: printer, computer, router, wireless access point, and a modem to connect to the internet. Your network may have additional items or combine some of the components. No matter how your network is configured, it all interacts, which means that if one device hangs up, it affects all the others. Restart all the devices to get the network humming again. Do not reset a device to factory defaults, a common option that removes settings and data. Just do a simple restart. Once your network comes back up, try the printer again.

  2. Check network printer connectivity: Try printing a configuration/test sheet directly from the printer. With network printers, this sheet usually includes information about how the printer is connected to the network, including its IP address, a URL for accessing the administrative page, the type of network connection, and additional information. Check the printer manual for details about how to perform the local test print. After the test sheet prints, confirm that the printer is connected to your network by checking the IP address; it should be similar to the rest of the addresses on your network. If you see an IP address starting with 169, the printer couldn't connect to your network and is using a self-assigned IP address. You can fix self-assigned IP addresses.

  3. Reconfigure the printer's network settings: If you still can't get the printer connected to your network, try starting fresh. Turn off the printer, disconnect it from your network, and then reinstall the printer following the original instructions in its manual. Be sure to keep a record of any printer or network passwords you use.

  4. Reinstall or reconfigure any special network drivers for your printer: After you have the printer communicating over the network, you may need to install or configure specialty network drivers for the printer, such as AirPrint for iOS devices or Cloud Print for Android devices.

How to Fix a USB Printer

Wired printers connected by USB are a bit easier to troubleshoot. Remember to start with the obvious. Is the USB cable connected? Is power turned on to the computer and printer? If so, the printer should be visible to your computer.

  1. Check the Printers & Scanners preference pane on a Mac. It's available at Apple menu > System Preferences. See if the printer is present, and if it's not, install the printer on your Mac.

  2. Check the Printers control panel in Windows. Depending on the version of Windows you use, the control panel may have slightly different names, but if it has Printers in its name somewhere, you're in the right spot. To install a printer, select Add Printer and follow the on-screen instructions.

  3. Disconnect and reconnect the USB cable if you are still not seeing your printer.

  4. Remove all other peripherals. Connect only the printer to your computer. If this fixes the problem, a damaged peripheral likely prevented other devices from connecting. Plug devices in one at a time until you find the culprit.

  5. Try a different USB cable if you are still stuck.

Wired printers are usually less expensive than wireless printers. They are also the easiest to set up and use.

How to Fix a Printer Stopped After System Upgrade

If your printer suddenly stops working after a system update, chances are you need a new printer driver. Check with the printer manufacturer and see if new drivers are available and then follow the install instructions for the drivers.

If there are no new drivers, send the manufacturer a note asking when they will be available. If you discover the printer is no longer supported, you might still get it to work. See if a printer in the same series as yours has updated drivers. They may work with your printer, though you may lose some functionality. This is a long shot, but if your printer isn't working, you don't have anything to lose.

How to Fix Frequent Paper Jams in Printers

No matter how easy clearing paper jams is supposed to be, it never is, and attempts to clear a current paper jam often cause future paper jams.

When you pull out the wadded-up piece of pulp that was once a sheet of paper, a small piece can tear off and remain in the paper path, waiting for the next sheet of paper to come by and causing the next jam.

  • When clearing jams, be fastidious and make sure every tiny bit of the jammed sheet is accounted for.
  • If you still have occasional jams, perform a thorough cleaning using paper that is designed to clean the rollers, platens, and other objects in the paper path. You can find these cleaning sheets at most office supply stores.

Store the printer paper in a dry location. If you live in a humid area, the paper can absorb enough water to cause paper jams.

How to Fix Printer Ink or Toner Issues

Ink and toner problems can include streaking and fading, which usually indicate a dirty print head or low toner in a laser printer

  • For inkjet printers, chances are the print head needs a good cleaning. The printer utility app that came with your printer includes a cleaning option. There are usually two: a light clean and a heavy clean. Start with the light clean, since cleaning uses a lot of ink. If that doesn't fix the problem, run the heavy clean option.
  • For laser-based printers, the likely cause is low toner, indicating it's time to change the toner. If you don't have a toner cartridge handy, you can extend the life of the current cartridge by removing the toner from the printer, and slowly tipping the cartridge from side to side. Be sure the cartridge is closed when you do this. With any luck, this action redistributes the toner in the cartridge and provides you with enough prints to give you time to purchase a replacement cartridge.