Troubleshooting laser printers

Is your laser printer driving you crazy? Here are some troubleshooting tips to get you started.

Once again, your laser printer spits back printouts covered with splatters of toner. The blinking lights (which are most assuredly NOT supposed to be doing that) are indecipherable: nobody in the office has any idea of what it means when both the toner AND drum light flash at the same time. You're ready to go "Office Space" on the piece of junk!

Wait. Put down the sledgehammer. It can probably be fixed. You just need some troubleshooting tips and suggestions to get you started.


Clear the current jam and unload all the paper from the tray(s). Hold the ream in one hand and fan it with the other: this will separate the pages, which should prevent most jams in the future. Re-load the paper, but don't overdo it: trying to stuff two and a half reams into a one-ream tray only causes more jams and other issues.

Fortunately, many laser printers don't have issues with jams. Unfortunately, this often means that it's a more complicated problem than unfanned paper when it DOES happen. If fanning the ream doesn't work, shut down the printer and open the trays and service panels. Look for scraps of paper torn off during previous jam-clearing sessions: this is a common cause of repeated jamming. You can also use a can of compressed air to blow out the pathways taken by the paper: dust and debris only make it easier for the paper to hang up, shift, and otherwise make your life suck.

If it still doesn't work, try a different type of paper: sometimes different types and brands work worse (or better) than others.


This is usually an easy fix. Open the printer and remove the toner/drum unit. Disassemble it (if necessary) and clean the corona wire. This is often done by sliding a tab back and forth somewhere between fifteen and forty times, depending on the manufacturer's instructions. This will clear residue and other gunky junk off the corona wire, which will help direct the toner the way it's meant to go - onto your paper SANS SPLATTER!

Note: always follow the instructions on the printer or in its manual. Don't try to do anything that you're instructed NOT to do; it will only make problems worse, and will probably void any warranty you might have on this product.

Follow up by running a laser-cleaning cloth through the print cycle. These treated cloths, available at almost any office-supply store, remove gunk, dust and other debris from inside the printer (including the places you can't reach with canned air).

If cleaning the corona wire doesn't work, try switching drums. Sometimes these units take damage or wear out without you realizing it (or showing any error lights on the printer), which can confuse even the most adept computer person. It's usually wise to switch the toner AND drum units at the same time: otherwise, you risk splattering toner all over the new toner or drum, which only creates more work for you (and wastes money).


On some printers, multiple lights blink at the same time, which can confuse users. Consult the manual to figure out what the problem is or visit the manufacturer's Web site for more information. Because each model and maker differ, there's no one meaning for each combination.


Sometimes your computer flashes an error message stating that it couldn't send your job to the printer. This indicates miscommunication between components, which is usually resolved with only a couple of actions.

Check the power switch on the printer. It might sound obvious, but sometimes even the most intelligent and experienced people forget to turn the printer on!

Make sure all the cables are plugged in tightly. Don't shove them around or push on them with all your might, but make sure they're firmly embedded in their ports.

Be sure you're sending to the correct printer. This is especially true in offices, where multiple printers are in use. Check the printing properties before you send the job and confirm that the printer name listed is the one you actually want to use. If not, change to the preferred printer and try again.

Read the error message carefully: sometimes people gloss over these things and miss the "out of paper" part of the message!

If it still won't work, restart the computer. Sometimes it just needs to reset itself to figure out what's going on.

Should these suggestions fail, consult your owner's manual for more instructions or visit the manufacturer's Web site. Depending on the model, there might be a "special" instruction required to make it work again.


This can happen if your computer is particularly busy. Some laser printers come with the minimal amount of memory (perhaps two megabytes), so don't expect it to print your entire novel, including notes and character sketches, in five minutes. While they ARE faster than most inkjet printers, they still eat memory like crazy.

The best solution is to prevent this problem. You can try printing in sections (i.e. only printing one hundred or so pages in each job), shutting down other applications before you start printing, or upgrading your printer's memory. NOTE: plain text will usually take less time, so cut out any unnecessary graphics and images.


Now that you've fixed your printer's problem, try some preventive maintenance to keep things running smoothly from now on.

* Turn it off when it's not in use. The vents and fans will only suck in extra dust from the surrounding air. Shutting it down reduces the amount taken in, and gives the printer a chance to rest between jobs. Make a habit of turning it off at the end of the day so you don't have to flip the switch on and off twenty times - which is actually not good for the printer or your sanity.

* Keep the environment as clean as possible. Smoking and eating around the printer will only bring in more dust and debris. When the printer is off, use a drop cloth or plastic cover to keep it clean and dust-free.

* Follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions. Many makers direct users to clean the corona wire every so often (often each time you replace the toner or drum cartridges). Do this, and any other prescribed maintenance, as often as instructed. This will reduce the number of problems you have and increase your printer's life span.

* Only use products and accessories recommended and endorsed by the maker. Sure, you could save thirty bucks on that cheap, no-name memory expansion job, but what will it do to the printer's mother board? Is it worth the money saved? Probably not! Go with approved accessories and enjoy the warranty coverage.

* Keep it cool. Trying to save some money on the electric bill by keeping the office at a balmy eighty-five degrees isn't good for human beings OR computer equipment. It's often recommended that the temperature not rise above the 70s (consult your manual for specifics). This helps keep it from overheating.

* Don't use tee-shirt transfer paper in your laser printer. It melts to the rollers and makes your life miserable: it'll take half an hour or longer to clean up the mess. If you really want a "GO RED SOX!" shirt, buy it or use an inkjet printer to create the transfer.

This guide should make life with your laser printer easier, longer, and much more enjoyable. Further questions should be directed to the manufacturer; the people who know your printer better than anybody else.

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