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Printing Troubleshooting Guide Hot
 


Added: 07/24/2008, Hits: 10,859, Rating: 0, Comments: 0, Votes: 0
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The world of printing is an area that eludes most of us techies because it is usually pretty low on the priority list for training and all around interest level. I know this is true because I had a brief stint doing techsupport for a printing manufacturer. All too often, a help desk will call for service without trying anything. Remember that with most printers, over 50% of all problems are customer fixable. Because it has been our experience that printing problems are an area where many tech folk fall flat on their face(no deference intended), we are creating this guide to help bail you out when you get stuck on tough printing problems. NOTE: If you need specific information or help with a particular printer, please contact the printer manufacturer.

You troubleshoot printing issues like you would any other computer/network related problem. You start at a general point and rule out the possibilities until you have the specific cause. The first question that you need to answer is: "Is the problem hardware, software, network or performance related?".

Hardware:
First make sure that the printer is on and that it is in "ready" position. Make sure that there are no error messages on the LEDs or LCD if applicable. Now complete the following steps:
  1. Any printer worth owning, can print an internal test or configuration page. This is absolutely the first thing that you want to do, even if you think that the hardware is not the issue. Make sure that the page will print and it looks good. If it prints go to step 3 - If it won't print, go to step 2.

  2. Test page didn't print? Any error messages? Try cycling power on the printer and try again. If it still doesn't print, many printers have a special reset often referred to as an NVRAM reset. NVRAM stands for Non-volitile RAM and is where a printer may store a variety of information including network settings, ripped print jobs and more. Sometimes a piece of corrupted information from a bad print job can "confuse" a printer and cause it to hang. Sometimes an NVRAM reset will flush this bad information and restore the printer. It may also wipe all of your network/printer settings so you should contact the printer manufacturer before doing this. If this procedure doesn't fix the problem, then call for service.

  3. Your test page printed? Good! Take a good look at it and see if there are any print quality problems(i.e. spots, streaks, etc). If the test page looks fine, then you are probably dealing with a network or software problem. If there are visible problems, then keep reading. Before doing anything else, consult your manufacturers documentation for a list of recommended cleaning procedures before moving to the next step. Almost all printers have "consumable items" or CRCs. These are parts of the printer that are customer replaceable and have a lifespan, which means that they aren't intended to last forever. On a laser printer these may include a fuser, photo-receptor, scorotron charger, toner cartridges and more. It is a good idea to keep spares of these parts on hand for troubleshooting reasons. You can save a lot of time and headache waiting for a technician, by swapping these parts one at a time and seeing if it cures the problem. Make sure that you run about 20 test pages after inserting a new CRC and see if there is improvement. Sometimes hardware failures can leave messes that have to be "mopped up" with quite a few test pages. If these steps do not cure the problem, then contact the manufacturer for further assistance.


Network:
When troubleshooting networking problems with printers, you will typically follow the same lines of reasoning that you would troubleshooting a PC networking issue especially with newer models of printers. The very first thing to do is narrow down the scope the problem. Is it only an issue for 1 PC, multiple PCs or all of them. Once you have answered this question, the following steps should get you on your way.

ISSUE IS AFFECTING 1 OR SOME PCs:
  1. If it is just one PC, make sure that the PC is functioning properly on the network. Can it see file servers, print to other printers, ping other devices, etc. If the answer is "no", then it is not a printer issue. If the answer is "yes", continue reading. Do print jobs make it to the printer? Most printers have an LED or LCD message that will signify that the printer is processing a job. Try the driver test page that can be printed from the properties dialogue box for the printer. Does this print? If "no" go to step 2. If "yes" then it is probably a software problem.

  2. If you are at this step, it means that nothing will print from 1 PC. This is most likely a configuration problem. Make sure that you can communicate with the printer at a protocol level. For example: if the printer has an IP address, can you ping it? If it is Appletalk, does it show up in the chooser? Many printers have an internal "configuration page" that can be printed that will list the network addresses and available protocols. This can often be found on an LCD when applicable. If the answer is "no", go to step 3. Find out what is acting as the print server for the printer. Some printers act as their own print server and others will print through a queue on a separate print server such as a Windows computer, Linux server, Jet Direct box, etc. Try sending the test page and see if it makes it to this device. If the job doesn't appear in the queue on the print server, go to step 4. If the job is making it to the queue but not to the printer, Make sure that this is the same queue that the other PCs are printing to. If so, then quite frankly there is something very goofy going on if this is the only PC having the problem. Get the classifieds and look for another job.

  3. If you are at this step, it is because the PC cannot communicate with the printer at a protocol level, but can communicate with all other devices and other devices can communicate with the printer. Not sure what to tell you here. May be a routing/addressing issue of some kind. Consult your local network guru.

  4. If you are at this step, it is because the print jobs are not making it into the queue on the print server. We will assume that the PC is able to connect to the print server via an appropriate protocol (if not, then it is not a network issue). This is almost always a driver configuration issue. It usually means that the driver is not pointing to the correct port, print server or queue. Go to another PC and check the network settings for the printer in question. Go back to the ailing PC and delete the printer. Reinstall the printer and insert the correct network path, port or queue, depending on how you are connected.

  5. Sometimes permissions problems can cause weird printing behavior. Make sure that this user has appropriate permissions to use this resource.


ISSUE IS AFFECTING EVERYONE:
  1. Make sure that you can communicate with the printer at a protocol level. For example: if the printer has an IP address, can you ping it? If it is Appletalk, does it show up in the chooser? Many printers have an internal "configuration page" that can be printed that will list the network addresses and available protocols. This can often be found on an LCD when applicable. Make sure that these settings are correct. If you are able to communicate with the printer, go to step 2. If not, then make sure that the printer is on the network. Check cabling, network addressing/configuration, etc. Check the cabling by connecting a known working device to the network drop that the printer is on and see if you are able to communicate with it. If not, then get a new cable. If you can see another device on this drop, their may be a hardware problem with the printer. Although it is rare, network cards do fail.

  2. Find out what is acting as the print server for the printer. Some printers act as their own print server and others will print through a Windows computer, Linux server, Jet Direct box, etc. Send a test page from the print server to the printer. Does this print? If "yes", go to step 3. If "no", continue reading. If the test page doesn't print from the print server, it means that the print server probably isn't properly configured for that printer which would obviously prevent anyone else from being able to print to it. Check the type of printer port or queue that you have configured and make sure that it is correctly pointing at the printer.

  3. If you are at this step, it is because nobody can print to the printer except for the print server. Make sure that the printer is shared on the server and appropriate permissions have been set. Try sending the test page and see if it makes it to the queue on the print server. Does the job show up in the queue on the print server? If the job appears in the queue, go back to step 2 as something is either wrong at the print server or all of the PCs are pointing to the wrong queue on the print server.


TIPS AND TRICKS:
  • Do not use DHCP with printers unless you know exactly what you are doing! Here is the problem. Tcp/ip printing uses an LPR port. When creating an LPR port, you must specify the host name or the IP address of the print server(which can be the printer itself). If you create the port using an IP address and then the printer obtains a different lease, your print jobs will possibly get sent to someones PC in another state. You could use the printers host name, however, the majority of printers do not support WINS or DNS.

  • Make sure that the printer's share name is less than 8 characters in length as some DOS based systems may have problems with share names longer than this.

  • When setting up a printer on a network, use TCP/IP if possible. It is easier to troubleshoot.

  • Many newer printers have web based administration applications that allow you to connect to a printer via your web browser and view status and make changes. This can be a great troubleshooting tool.


Software:
This tends to be the most complicated of the 3 types of problems and we would have to write a novel to cover everything. Unfortunately, we just don't have that kind of time, so we are going to try to give you some tips to get you headed in the right direction. When investigating software printing problems there are many useful techniques and questions that need to be asked. The first one is to find out which Page Description Language(PDL) is being used. The 2 most common are PostScript(by Adobe) and Printer Control Language(PCL by HP). Below are some of the fundamental questions that should be asked early in a problem investigation.

POSTSCRIPT TECHNIQUES/QUESTIONS:
  • Is it actually a PostScript file that you are sending? If the printer prints out an endless stream of ASCII text, the printer is receiving PCL data. Get the correct PostSript driver for your printer.


  • Reprint the job, this time selecting "print to file" in the print dialogue box. It will create a *.prn file. Open it using Notepad and make sure that the first line of the file starts with "%!". This signifies that it is PostScript.

  • What printer driver was the PostScript file created with? Make sure you have the latest and greatest one. Consult your printer manufacturer.


  • What application was used to create this file? Do all applications do this?

  • Have you tried an alternative printer driver? And what were the results?

  • Has this exact same file been printed on a second PostScript printer? What were the results?

  • Was there a PostScript Error page? What did the error page say? Look up errors at: http://www.prepressure.com/ps/dbase/overviewerrors.htm

  • Try to distill the original file using Acrobat Distiller. If a PDF file is created, you should be able to print it, other wise, you will probably get a PS error.

  • PS errors can often be caused by corrupt graphics. When trying to distill the file, see which page it faults on. Go to that page in the document and try removing all of the graphics.

  • Have you tried recreating the PostScript and resubmitting the file?


HP/PCL TECHNIQUES/QUESTIONS:
  • What printer driver was the pcl file created with? Make sure you have the latest and greatest one. Consult your printer manufacturer.

  • What application was used to create this file? Do all apps. do this?

  • Have you tried an alternative printer driver? And what were the results?

  • Has this exact same pcl file been printed on a second PCL printer? What were the results?

  • What are the specific image errors viewed by the customer? A PCL file will continue printing incorrectly and will not leave an error page.

  • Have you tried recreating the PCL and resubmitting the file?


TIPS AND TRICKS:
  • When creating a document, do not cut and paste images into the document. Use the applications, import or insert feature if applicable. Cutting and pasting can cause corruption or improper formatting of images.

  • Microsoft Office products embed printer settings for the default printer into the document itself that can cause font problems, PS errors, etc. if printing to a non-compatible printer. Make sure that you set the printer that you will be printing the document to as the default before opening the application and creating the document.

Performance:
Performance related issues are usually the result of incorrect customer expectations. There are actually 3 parts to print performance. The time that it takes the job to get to the printer, the time that it takes for the printer to process the job(RIP) and the time that it takes for the printer to actually print the job once it has received it. Let's look at each of these separately.

TRANSFER TIME:
This really has nothing to do with the printer at all. If jobs are taking a long time to get to the printer, check your network traffic. You may have to get a network sniffer or network monitoring software to check this. If you are using an external print server such as a Jet Direct box, consider the fact that you actually have a parallel connection to the printer which has a slower transfer rate than a network connection. The parallel connection from the print server to the printer is a bottleneck. Many printers are now supporting 100baseT connections should help in this area.

PROCESSING TIME:
The processing that occurs on a printer is called Raster Image Processing(RIP). This is the process of the printer converting the file sent into image data that the printer uses to "paint a picture" on the page. If this process appears to be slow, the first thing to consider is the size of the file being sent. If you are sending a 5mb file, it is going to take some time to process. Note: In order to view the true size of the file being processed by the printer, you must print to file and then find the size of the file after it has been run through the driver. PostScript files can be as much as 3x larger than the original file. Send over a simple notepad file with the word "test" on it and see if there is a significant difference. Find out if the printer's memory is upgradable. This can help with processing times. Most printers have different print quality settings specified by dots per inch(DPI). File sizes will typically be larger when higher resolutions are selected.

PRINT TIME:
The print speed that is quoted by the manufacturer does not include transfer or processing time. It only includes print engine speed once the job is processed. If the printer handles multiple paper sizes, the print speed probably is referring to the speed for the smallest paper size. If you are printing on pages larger than 8.5x11 inches, the print speed will be slower. If it is a color printer, find out if there are different speed capabilities for color and monochrome. Most printers have different print quality settings specified by dots per inch(DPI). Printers will typically print slower in higher resolutions.

TIPS AND TRICKS:
  • Use fonts that are resident on your printer. This will prevent the font from having to be downloaded with the job. Some printers will allow you to download additional fonts to them.

  • Always use an ethernet connection with your printer if possible.

  • Reduce your page complexity (file size) for faster transfer and processing.





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