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Pointers: troubleshooting printers that won't print
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NewsPoster
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Mar 9, 2016, 05:11 PM
 
We were all lied to, weren't we? We were certain to have a "paperless office" by the start of the 21st century, the early computer makers promised. We should have guessed they were fibbing when they kept making printers. Today, we have several different types of printers, and a few new standard technologies we use to communicate with them compared to the early days, but one thing unites them all: they often don't work when we want them to. Here, then, are some tips for cajoling them back to life when you're up against a deadline.

Most of the time, the problem when a printer won't print is actually obvious, via a message either on the printer's tiny screen or your computer or mobile device's bigger one: you're out of ink (not the ink you need, of course, but that's another hair-pulling issue), the network is down, you've been a naughty boy or girl who's used "unauthorized" cartridges, or -- very rarely these days, which is nice -- a paper jam. Another rare one, but one we've actually witnessed, is that the cleaning staff unplugged the printer, and everyone was confounded as to why it wouldn't turn on until we pointed this out.

These days, thanks to design and tech advances, a printer problem is generally actually a communications issue. Mostly, owners have already checked that ink or toner levels are okay, that the machine is plugged in, and that it is still either directly wired to the originating device or properly connected to a Wi-Fi network. These are the usual first steps people engage in when they try to print and get rebuffed with a non-obvious, non-hardware error. Using the printer utilities usually supplied by the printer maker, users can often conduct some further tests, like an alignment or print-quality test, or invoke a self-cleaning cycle.

If one can get that far, the problem often isn't communications, since the computer or mobile device and the printer must be still talking to each other in order for these things to happen. Thus, we head into head-scratching territory -- it should be working, but it isn't. Among the next steps people generally (and correctly) try is turning the printer off, then on again, or restarting the computer, or double-checking that they have selected the right printer.

Pause and Manage

These are all sensible things to do, along with re-setting the printer's connection to the Wi-Fi network if the printer is connected wirelessly. Sometimes, however, the problem isn't with the network, the printer, or you: it's a "stuck" previous job that had an issue, and is still trying to complete -- thus blocking all other jobs from even attempting to run. This is where a closer look at your printer System Preference panel, and a little bit of understanding on how to manage the "printer queue," can pay off.



While the first impulse may be to bring up the printer maker's own utilities, if you've tried that and nothing has worked, head to OS X's System Preferences panel, and click on the Printers & Scanners section (if you're running an older version of OS X, this may be slightly renamed; we use OS X 10.11 El Capitan and you should to, if you can). If this isn't an area you often visit, the layout is similar to several other panels: a list of your assets (in this case printers) on the left, specifics about each selected one on the right, general options on the bottom.

In most cases, where you want to start (beyond seeing that the correct printer is selected) is to see the color of the tiny dot next to the status. Red is a problem or an indication that the computer thinks the printer is off, and generally accompanied by the word "offline," yellow indicates a diferent sort of issue, and green means that in theory everything should be working; communications between the computer and printer are okay. With red, recheck the cables or connections, and with yellow or green, your first stop should probably be the "Open Printer Queue" button on the right side.

This gives you a list of jobs in line to be printed, including all 78 times you angrily punched "print" before you calmed down and started proper troubleshooting. Scroll through that list and see if any of the jobs have a different "name" than the one you are obviously trying to get done. Next to the jobs will be any relevant messages, like "printer not ready," and on the right side, two small buttons: pause/continue, and cancel.



An old job that never printed and is still trying to do so may be cancelled; you can also pause that 578-page report someone else in the house/office is trying to print so that you can get out your one-page office party memo without waiting for the larger job to finish. You may also want to just clear the entire queue of jobs, then try again. This often works, and sometimes it is never clear what caused one job or several to stop printing, but clearing the queue and restarting the printer frequently fixes it.

And if that doesn't work

A potential next step is one people are usually hesitant to try, despite its very high success rate -- and the reason is because it involves a tiny bit of perceived risk. Should clearing the queue not work, and all the hardware points have been checked and restarted, the next step is to delete the printer from the list of printers on the left side of the System Preference Printers panel. It's scary -- what if you can't get it back? But at worst, this will likely be a tiny inconvenience if it happens, and it probably won't.

At the bottom of the left side of the panel, there are small plus and minus buttons. Select the problem printer, take a breath to strengthen your resolve, and click the minus button. The printer will be deleted off the list. This is usually a good moment to turn the printer off, turn it back on, and check connections again (connect the printer by USB if it is normally on Wi-Fi if you can) -- then press the plus button and (almost always) the printer's driver (perhaps an updated one, as well) will reappear to be added. Usually, that's it -- the printer is restored, all the old print jobs (if any) are wiped out, and you can start using it again immediately.



The reason we suggested the USB connection even if you normally use the printer via Wi-Fi is that this eliminates the router as a possible blocking point, and helps identify if there is a hardware problem with the printer. Once the printer is restored using a direct USB connection, replace the printer where it normally goes, and re-add it to your Wi-Fi network (using instructions generally available from the printer itself, or the documentation that came with it).

Sometimes, particularly if you have more than one printer option in the house and find that none of them are working -- particularly if other computers seem to have no problem with printing to the printers -- you can try another, more drastic solution. Right-clicking (or control-clicking) on the left side of the printer system preference will bring up the ominous-sounding "reset printing system," which simply uses low-level system commands to restore OS X's printing system to defaults, in case something has gone wrong with your system's ability to print.



Out of habit, we usually restart our computers when we have to go to this option; it may or may not help, but on the very rare occasion we've had to reset the printing system, the problem has been resolved each time. Having to do this is usually a sign that it is time for some system maintenance generally.

You'll notice we don't have much to offer in the way of advice for iOS users who are having problems with AirPrint -- that's because most of the troubleshooting steps will still require you to work with either the printer or a computer. If the printer is AirPrint compatible, and you're sure you're on the same Wi-Fi network as the printer is, then the issue is with the printer (though often, it may just be a case of Wi-Fi printing being slower than direct-connection printing, so give it a minute if the document is large and/or complex).

If the printer is not AirPrint compatible, chances are you are using an app from the printer manufacturer itself with its own wireless protocol, or some third-party software like Printopia to "relay" your print job to an awake OS X computer that will hand off the job to the printer -- in which case, the various troubleshooting steps we outlined above still apply. The good news -- which is quickly forgotten when there is a problem -- is that problems are actually fairly rare (though this can vary by usage patterns and printer type -- an infrequently-used inkjet printer will have more issues than a laser printer, for example), and Wi-Fi printing these days is fairly robust, so most of the time it will "just work."

Meanwhile, we continue to inch our way -- thanks to email, texting, PDFs, iPad Pros, and other technologies -- to reduce our need to print, and lurch unsteadily towards the (mostly) paperless office. For those who have ever wrestled with a multifunction copier at the local office-supply store, or an obstinate home printer that refuses to tell you what's wrong, that day cannot come too soon.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Mar 9, 2016 at 05:12 PM. )
     
bobolicious
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Mar 9, 2016, 06:34 PM
 
...for me dropped driver support is a major issue...

With the mac annual os churn, printer driver support was lost well before hardware obsolescence - pick your villain (Apple or peripheral suppliers) but my most expensive output device has updates for w10, yet nothing past MacOS 10.7...

'Just work' ? Unfortunately not so much... Just one of a number of migration MacMares...
( Last edited by bobolicious; Mar 9, 2016 at 07:27 PM. )
     
Charles Martin
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Mar 9, 2016, 08:26 PM
 
How exactly is that Apple's fault? In your rush to condemn Apple, you have overlooked something pretty obvious: it's the printer manufacturer's job to keep its customers happy and drivers up to date.

If they don't, I'm afraid the truth of the matter is that you got suckered by a bad third-party. Complain to them, and take your business elsewhere if they don't do right by you (that said, support for an old printer is not going to span decades).

You can also look to the open-source community for assistance, as there is a lot of help to be found there; you could of course learn to write your own printer driver if its that important (and I'm aware that there are certain kinds of large-format printers that cost a great deal more than what most people think of as the typical cost).
Charles Martin
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bobolicious
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Mar 9, 2016, 09:03 PM
 
To quote the initial post: "pick your villain (Apple or peripheral suppliers)" - so no specific blame is targeted...

While it may be possible to find a gimp or alternative open source hackintosh solution, or write a driver, I hardly think that qualifies as 'ease of use' or a computer 'for the rest of us'... Of course that was more of a 'Jobs' era moniker...

Does this recall the rose colored bias mentioned by others of some of the editorial on this site - yes you have ads to sell, but bloody [email protected] the mac 'user experience' & cost has it's issues...
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Mar 9, 2016, 09:42 PM
 
I resent the "ads to sell" remark. Editorial is independent from the ad guys, and we don't take marching orders from them, ever.

Anyway, I take a slightly different view of the whole driver situation than Charles does. If Apple didn't change the Kernel so much, or rules for low-level access to the OS so often, drivers wouldn't break so often.

So, while it is technically the driver manufacturer's responsibility to keep drivers up to date, Apple bears a large part of the responsibility for breaking them in the first place. The old "Stunt Copter" example, where if you follow Apple's guidelines, your software will work for years?

Yeah, not so much anymore.
     
chimaera
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Mar 9, 2016, 10:41 PM
 
bobolicious, I have a Canon inkjet, most recent drivers for 10.6 (and they do not work for later OSes). The official Canon driver was carried forward by Migration Assistant. Deleting the driver and using the built-in Gutenprint driver restored full printing.

I believe I used the "And if that doesn't work" advice above - removed the printer from System Prefs. Deleted the Canon driver from disk. Then reloaded the printer, and it offered the Gutenprint drivers as default.
     
bobolicious
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Mar 10, 2016, 10:50 AM
 
Thanks for the suggestions, and I have experienced both of what is suggested with mixed results ie. imperfect output & lost features...

I have wasted hours if not days trying to salvage perfectly good peripheral hardware using gimp & even contemplated keeping an older mac as a dedicated print server. Some excellent hardware has been disposed at significant cost in time, effort, environmental footprint & of course cold hard cash...

Examples include the venerable Epson 3000 (2000), with drivers for the currently still supported Windows 7 environment: http://www.epson.ca/cgi-bin/ceStore/support/supDetail.jsp?UseCookie=yes&oid=14430&prodoid=1135 6&infoType=Downloads&platform=nodetect

...and a personal favourite was the 'Apple Color Printer' which had great output yet regrettably supported for a very short time: http://www2.nefec.org/UPM/printers/mapcol.htm

...an all in one from 2005 still seems to get regular mac updates, is arguably complex, and still going strong, yet of 2 almost identical much more expensive output only peripherals from 2006 (same co) one was orphaned @ 10.7, yet has full W10 drivers, and the other is fully supported in El Capitan...

Printing on the mac has in my experience had its challenges at best...
     
Charles Martin
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Mar 10, 2016, 03:29 PM
 
In your second post -- despite the "pick your villain (Apple or peripheral suppliers)" qualifier -- you make it very clear, as you do with all of your posts, that even when third-party vendors are solely responsible, it's still Apple's fault. And somewhat contrary to what Mike said, Apple doesn't just capriously change the kernel or system and not tell anyone -- they spend months ahead of such changes alerting developers, offering engineers to help developers change their drivers, and other assistance. As you generally do, you have overlooked this in deciding where you place blame.
Charles Martin
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mindwaves
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Mar 11, 2016, 12:04 AM
 
I was at a school trying to print something using a Windows computer attached to a smallish HP laser printer connected via USB.

It was a nightmare. Printer kept on printing two or three lines of gibberish symbols and printing many pages of that. I restarted the printer and nothing. Printer worked normally randomly between the gibberish symbols.
{{{ mindwaves }}}
     
   
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