Why Isn't My Printer Printing?

6 printing issues you can fix

Most of the time, a printer works without fanfare, and then, all of a sudden, the printer won't print or starts spouting error messages. Here are some reasons why a printer won't print or won't print correctly, and how to fix those problems.

Causes of a Printer Not Printing

When you need to know why your printer isn't printing, the possible causes fall into 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

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. If this is the case, plug the printer into 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 other manufacturers are common. A wireless printer provides an easy way to share a printer with multiple devices, such as computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. However, it introduces another level of troubleshooting difficulty when it stops printing.

If you're setting up a wireless printer and have 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, consisting 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, so if one device hangs up, it affects all the others.

    Restart all the devices to get the network working again. Do not reset a device to factory defaults, a common option that removes settings and data. Instead, do a simple restart. Once your network comes back up, try the printer again.

  2. Check network printer connectivity. Print a configuration or test sheet 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, and the type of network connection. 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 other 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 can't connect the printer to your network, start fresh. Turn off the printer, disconnect it from the network, and then reinstall the printer following the original instructions in its manual. Keep a record of any printer or network passwords you use.

  4. Reinstall or reconfigure special network drivers for the printer. After the printer is 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. If it isn't present, install the printer on your Mac.

  2. Check the Printers control panel in Windows. Depending on the Windows version you use, the control panel may have slightly different names. If it shows 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 don't see the printer in the Printer control panel.

  4. Remove all other peripherals. Connect only the printer to the 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. Wired printers 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, your computer may need a new printer driver. Check with the printer manufacturer to see if new drivers are available and then follow the drivers' install instructions.

If there are no new drivers, send the manufacturer a note asking when a driver update will be available. If 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. Those drivers 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 a paper jam is supposed to be, it never is. Sometimes, attempts to clear a current paper jam often cause future paper jams.

When you pull out a wadded-up piece 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 cause the next jam.

  • When clearing jams, be fastidious. Make sure every tiny bit of the jammed sheet is accounted for.
  • If you still have occasional jams, perform a thorough cleaning. Use paper 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.

  • Inkjet printers: The print head may need a good cleaning. The printer utility app that came with the 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.
  • 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, you can extend the current cartridge's life 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. This action redistributes the toner in the cartridge and provides enough prints to give you time to purchase a replacement cartridge.
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