Printer stops working


Help – my printer has just stopped

One of the most common problems my IT Support clients encounter is a printer that stops working for no apparent reason. An error message such as “printer offline” is quite common.

Printer taskbar icon
Figure 1. Right-click on the taskbar icon that is present when there is an uncompleted printing task.

Assuming that you haven’t just run out of paper or ink (some printers need all ink cartridges to be functioning before they will work), the first thing to try is to switch off the computer and switch off the printer. If the printer is connected wirelessly, then also switch off the router. Everything needs to be off at the same time. Then switch it all back on and see if the problem has gone away.

The next thing to check is whether there are documents “stuck in the queue”:

  • Look for an icon of a printer at the righthand side of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen (see Figure 1). Right-click on this
  • Left-click on “Open all active printers”
  • If the window that opens indicates that there are documents waiting to be printed (as in figure 2), left-click on “Printer” (in that window) and then left-click on “Cancel all documents”. After cancelling all documents, try printing again. Actually, in my simulation for Figure 2, you can see that the problem is that the printer is out of paper (doh!)

If that didn’t sort it out, removing the printer and adding it back is the next thing to try. To do this:

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Start typing “printers” (without the quotes) and click on “Printers and scanners” when it is offered
  • Click on the printer that is causing the problem and then left-click on “Remove device”
  • Click on “Add a printer or scanner” and then click on the name of the printer when the system finds it
Print queue dialogue
Figure 2. Click on “Printer” and then “cancel documents”. Note that in my simulation the cause of the problem is shown in this image as “out of paper”.

I won’t pretend that this list of suggestions will work in all situations. It does not include, for instance, the situation of a printer that is not correctly connected to the local network (ie that is not talking to the router because the wifi is not connectly properly). Instructions for checking and re-setting the wifi connection vary depending on the printer make and model. If you need instructions for your own printer then the best thing to do is to google for it by make and model, and then download the pdf manual from the manufacturer’s website.

Another things worth trying is to go to the website for your make and model of printer and download and install the latest version of the software (remove the previous installation beforehand, as described above).

Another cause for printing problems is that everything is set up properly, but there isn’t a good enough wifi connection between the printer and the router. Remember that if you are connecting by wifi then the printer and the computer are not communicating directly with each other. Rather, each is talking to the router and the router connects the two. Both the computer and the printer have to have a working wifi connection with the router before printing can happen.

Printer and baseball batsPrinters not printing are a real pain. Why did it work five minutes ago and not now? Who knows. One thing I do know, though, is that you can spend a lot of time and effort in getting a recalcitrant printer to work again. This can become expensive in terms of your own time and also your wallet if you call me to help. I will, of course, help my clients to the best of my ability, but it’s really easy to reach the point where it might have been better to replace the printer. This can often seem illogical and profligate, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most rational course of action. The trick, I suppose, is knowing when that point has been reached.