Troubleshooting inkjet printers

Is your inkjet printer ready for the trash can? Try these tips before you give up on it.

You're walking away from your computer, cradling your inkjet printer in your arms, about twelve steps from the garbage can. The stupid printer's jamming. Ink's running everywhere, wasting paper and ruining your work. Error messages show up on your screen more often than pop-up windows. It's time to dump the poor, decrepit thing and move on: it's been driving you completely insane for weeks now, and it's not worth your time to keep messing with it.

Wait! Don't trash it just yet! There are still a few things you can do to try and save this printer. You've invested time and money in it: even if it's only a fifty-dollar model, it's still worth trying to save. If nothing else, you'll buy some time that you can use to shop for a new one.

These tips and suggestions will only take a few minutes, and you'll feel better for at least trying to fix it. Besides which, you really, REALLY need it to print the homework that's due in two hours.

THE PAPER KEEPS JAMMING!

-Stop the current print job, remove all the paper in the loading tray, and fan it between your hands. Put about half of it back into the tray and start another print job, preferably one with only two or three pages.

-Turn off the printer, open any service panels you can access, and clean it out with canned air. This should remove any dust or debris that might cause bad feeds. While you're in there, examine the path the paper takes as it's processed through the printer. Test feeder prongs to be sure they move as they're supposed to. Look for scraps of paper stuck in the path from previous jams (use tweezers to CAREFULLY remove them). When you're finished, close the printer and try another print job.

-If you're using special paper, try plain paper instead. Sometimes thick and heavy paper, such as the kinds used for photos or greeting cards, can cause problems. Look at the packaging and/or the printer manual to determine what types of paper can and cannot be used with your printer: in some cases, the printer just can't handle it.

-If it's still a problem, it's likely unique to your printer model. This can be remedied by calling the manufacturer's technical support hotline.

THERE'S SPILLED INK ALL INSIDE THE PRINTER!

-Shut down the printer and remove the cartridges. Use a dry cloth to blot as much of the ink from inside the printer as you can. Follow it up with an inkjet-printer cleaning cloth, which you can buy at any office-supply store. This should clean out all the ink, but be prepared to run a couple of test pages through after it's dried out and ready to print again.

-If the problem is recurring, try switching the brand of cartridges you're using. Sometimes certain aftermarket brands don't work properly. If you're refilling cartridges at home, try buying refurbished (they can be found online for as little as five dollars apiece), or buying new.

THE PRINTER'S SUCKING UP A REAM AND A HALF OF PAPER!

-Fan the paper before you put it into the feeder tray. This separates each sheet so it's less likely to be picked up in one clump.

-Put in enough paper to fill the feeder tray about halfway to its capacity. If this doesn't work, add or subtract paper: different printers work best at different paper levels.

-Use a different type of paper. Try different brands and weights to find something that works consistently for your needs.

EVERY TIME I TRY TO PRINT I GET INSANE ERROR MESSAGES!

-Be sure the paper tray is sufficiently loaded.

-Check the cable to make sure it's securely plugged in to the printer and computer.

-Check your printer settings. Make sure that it's the default printer. Be sure to cancel all the backed-up jobs in the system.

-Shut down the printer and turn it on again.

-Reboot your computer. Sometimes it needs to reset itself before it will work properly.

If you have other problems, or if the above solutions don't fix the listed problems, call the manufacturer's technical-support hotline. The staff should be able to get things working properly again. When that happens, follow these tips to keep problems from coming back.

-Keep the computer area dust and debris-free. Don't eat at the computer. Use dust covers on your equipment, especially the printer and monitor (be sure they're turned off first). Dust frequently with canned air or a computer-safe brush.

-Use only approved and recommended types and brands of paper. Cheap, heavy paper will leave more fibers inside the printer than better-quality types.

-Turn off the printer only after it's finished cycling through the current job. Shutting it down mid-print can leave the ink cartridges wide open, causing leakage and - you guessed it - a nightmare of a time spent cleaning everything out later.

-Run the printer's cleaning cycle periodically. Consult the manual for more information.

Taking care of your printer should result in a long, productive life; one with few problems. When it finally dies "for good this time," mourn - but do so with the knowledge that you've done everything you can, and that there's another printer out there waiting for you to give it a good home.

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