Five common printer problems, and how to fix them

Even the best printer suffers the occasional blip - especially if it's in a busy environment like an office. But before you send yours back under warranty, or contact technical support, there are few ways to head off common printer problems and keep your equipment running trouble-free.

1. Fixing paper jams

Modern printers are mercifully free of the blight of paper jams - but they can still occur from time to time. You can reduce the risk of paper jams by taking care when you load paper into the device, keeping edges square and weeding out the occasional dog-eared corner.

In the event of a jam occurring, you'll usually be alerted to the problem on screen by your printer driver software. Sometimes, this can provide an indication of where the jam has occurred - whether on entry, exit, or during printing.

You'll need to open your printer's inspection cover to investigate the jam. Take care when opening up a laser printer, as some parts of the mechanism may be extremely hot. Unlock the affected parts of the mechanism using any levers provided, and gently free the paper.

2. Check your sensors

If you encounter consistent problems, take a look at the paper pickup roller - if it has worn itself shiny and no longer has the friction to pick up paper effectively, it may need to be replaced.

If your printer keeps telling you you're out of paper in spite of the paper tray being full, check to see the levers used to sense the paper are working correctly by gently pressing down on them. Be aware that printers may encounter problems if only a handful of sheets are left in the tray - you may need to load more.

Printer drivers usually generate an error code for each fault, so that engineers identify what's going wrong. Try a Google search to locate a list of common error codes for your printer model.

3. Update your printer drivers and software

If you encounter an error printing, or print jobs simply don't appear, the problem may be due to out-of-date or corrupt printer drivers. Visit the manufacturer's web site to download and install the latest drivers for your model, as well as any software updates that may have been released.

4. Do you have enough memory?

If you're printing large jobs such as product manuals, or documents containing large, high-resolution images, your printer may run out of memory, leading to printing errors or long waiting times. But before you rush to add extra RAM to your printer, try breaking down your print job into smaller chunks or reducing the resolution of large images.

5. Getting extra life out of your toner cartridges

Laser printers will issue a warning when toner is running low, and may refuse to print when toner runs down to a critical level. Often, though, you can eke out an extra few pages by taking the cartridge out and shaking it to loosen any remaining toner that has accumulated on the inside walls of the cartridge toner cartridge. This won't last long, but it may be just enough to tide you through until replacements arrive...