Troubleshooting Printers

Reviewed by bil hays 10/02/2016

Get as much information from the user as you conveniently can

All failures have unique characteristics, and a report of “I can’t print” can mean many different things. So when communicating with the user, get details–is it that they cannot print to any printer, or to a particular printer? Can they print some documents, but one or a particular few are causing problems? Or is the problem that the print job is of a lower quality than the user expects or desires? Most importantly, if you can, get the wording of whatever error message the user has seen. But if you can’t get such information, go ahead and have a look yourself.
Also, keep in mind that the problem could be at the printer, a network communication problem, at the client machine, or at a print server. Deal with each possible cause one at a time, and take written notes so you can get good data into the worklog of the ticket (and we want a ticket on pretty much all printer problems!).

Make sure the printer is up on the network

We have nagios to monitor devices in the building, and it will alert the help mail account when it sees a problem with a printer. The way this works is that nagios detects a message on the printer’s lcd display and reports that message. But you can also pring the printer directly yourself. The best way to use ping is to find out the printer’s IP number with the nslookup or host command, and ping the number (instead of the name), eg:

gilgamesh:~ hays$ host has address mail is handled by 10
gilgamesh:~ hays$ ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=60 time=5.839 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=60 time=1.688 ms
--- ping statistics ---
2 packets transmitted, 2 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 1.688/3.764/5.839/2.076 ms

If the printer doesn’t respond to a ping, it could be that it’s locked up, or off, or that there’s a network problem between you and the printer. Go to the printer and see if it is on and connected to the network. Most printers have link or activity leds on their network interface–can you see lights there? You can try restarting it if it appears to be locked. Also, you can use the printer’s menu to print out the configuration page–this can be useful since our printers are configured to use DHCP for their network settings–if the printer’s IP number doesn’t match the label, or if it doesn’t have an IP number at all, it’s probably a network problem.

Try printing to the printer yourself

If the printer’s up and running, the next thing to try is printing to the printer yourself. If you can print a simple page, and you if know that the user was having a problem with a more complex print job (eg., printing duplex, or in landscape, or via a specific tray or manual feed bin), try reproducing their problem from another computer. If the computer is set up to use the print server and also to use the printer via a direct connection, try both. If you can’t print from your computer, the problem is likely more global in nature–either we have a bad driver, there’s a problem with the printer itself, or with the print server.

Assuming you don’t have a problem reaching the printer, attempt to replicate the problem on the user’s computer. If possible, try the same document that the user had problems with. If you have the same problem, try the job with some variations. For example:

  • If they are printing through the print server, try printing directly to the printer.
  • If the jobs is printing via a postscript driver, try creating a printer object to the same printer with pcl, or the reverse.
  • Try using a generic postscript driver instead of one for the specific printer.

Other points to consider

Restarting a printer will often clear a problem–printers are computers in their own right that parse and process PCL and Postscript, and sometimes a job will contain bad code that causes a failure in the printer. Restarting is fine, but please create a ticket on the problem so that we have a history of the problem. What has happened in the past is that we’ve had several users with the same problem, but did not realize that for some time as we went collecting data on the problem. An occasional¬†restart is fine, but it’s not a solution to a problem whose source is a driver problem, or a application incompatibility.

Printers are the most complex mechanical devices we deal with on a day to day basis. Make a note of any unusual noises a troublesome printer is making.


If you looking for media (paper, cartridges or ink), we keep most of that on level 3:

  • SN304A – printer and plotter supplies ( toner cartridges, plotter paper – ink )
  • SN381 – cases of printer paper

Some supplies are kept closer to the printers, for example, the plotter and color printers in SN245 have media in that room as well.

Very important–if you take the last of any media, log a ticket for us to get more!