Some problems with printers

It seems every Friday at 'Coffee and Computers' there are questions about printers. Sometimes it's that they stop working, stop printing color, they are hard to install, or what kind of printer to buy.

We all have printers connected to our computers. And printers come in almost an infinite variety and price range. There are printers for all our needs. There are laser printers for routine black and white documents. There are 'standard' color printers for routine color documents and photographs and there is a whole new set of printers primarily for high quality printing of photographs. Then there are ink cartridges: black, three color, three separate colors, six color and new archival inks that will last for years. What a choice.

This can make choosing a new printer a chore. If your needs are routine, there are many excellent printers in the $100 - $200 range. My advice is stay with the better known manufacturers; Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Canon or Lexmark for example. If you have an older computer be sure you know if your printer connects using parallel or USB ports. If you are going to print a lot of photographs, check the cost of replacement cartridges. They can be a major expense. If you are a serious photographer, look at the new photo printers and the new archival inks that will let your photographic prints last for years.

In our home we have two printers. One is an older Hewlett-Packard 4P laser printer that we use mostly to print copies of emails or other documents. The other printer is a Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 890C color printer for color documents or photographs. Both were installed following the instructions in their respective manuals. They came with compact disks and simple setup procedures. This is typical of most printers. Follow the instructions and they should set up easily. Call the manufacturer or go back to the place where you purchased the printer if you have installation problems.

From time to time, all printers will have problems. Some are simple and can be solved by rebooting the computer. This probably is the first thing to try with any computer problem.

If this does not work there are two 'first' steps that I try. Most printers can print a test page even if they are not connected to the computer. On my HP color printer, turning the printer off, then on, and pressing the 'resume' button causes the printer to print a test page. If a page comes out okay, at least I know that the printer itself is working. Then I go to the Start, Program, HP Printer selections and choose Toolbox. The Toolbox has a whole set of troubleshooting options. The first thing I check is whether the computer and printer are 'communicating.' If they aren't, I will remove the connections at both the printer and the computer and then replace them. Many times dust gets into the connectors and simply removing and reinstalling them clears the problems. If there still are no communications, I will replace the whole cable. With use, internal cable connections may break. If none of this works, there might be a real problem that requires the help of someone like Con at Universal Computer Service (714.564.1686).

Sometimes the problems are crazy. One printer I saw would not print anything and all the troubleshooting steps were okay. Finally the owner told me he hadn't used the printer in over six months. The ink cartridges had dried out. Shaking, hot water and cleaning routines did not make them work. We had to replace them with new cartridges.

Most printer problems can be solved at home. Most manufacturers have good troubleshooting routines in their manuals or in the software that comes with the printer. Sometimes you have to scratch your head and dig deeper, like the dried out cartridges. Sometimes you have to take the printer and computer to Con for his professional help. And sometimes it's just time to buy a new printer. This is what makes computing interesting!

If you would like to hear more about printers, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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