Fixing common printer problems on Mac and Windows computers


Having a printer can be really useful, especially in today’s fast-paced world of online flight check-ins and digital gift certificates. You can often save time and money by printing things like boarding passes at home, but if your printer doesn’t give you what you want, it can be quite a challenge to sort the problem out. Which is where we come in.

Generally speaking, printer problems fall into one of two groups - either something’s wrong with the printer, or with the device you’re trying to print from. We’ll take you through checking the printer first, then look at the computer.



Is there anything obviously wrong?


If all you hear after clicking “print” is deafening silence rather than the printer leaping into life, the first thing to check is the printer itself. Start with obvious things like making sure the power lead’s connected, checking the display for warning lights or messages, and making sure there’s paper in the feed tray.


Is the printer still connected?


Next, it’s time to check the connections. Make sure the power lead is plugged in and turned on, and if you use a USB cable, make sure it’s plugged in correctly at both ends. If you have a wireless printer, you might need to power cycle (restart) all of your kit to refresh the connection.

Shut down the computer, turn the printer and router off at the mains and wait for a few seconds. Turn the router back on, and when its lights settle down, power on the printer and your computer.


Is it showing "offline"?


If the printer’s status shows as "Offline" and you've turned everything off and on again, you might have to delete the printer from your computer and re-add it. Open the printer settings, choose the printer and click Remove device (MacOS: click the -) When it’s finished, restart your computer.

Open the printer settings, then click the + to add your printer. The computer looks for printers connected directly to it, and also on your network. You might have to enter the IP address of a network printer to make it connect.


Has the paper jammed?


Paper jams don’t happen as often as they used to, and can usually be cleared with a little patience, and sometimes tweezers. If your print didn’t come out, try to take your time and work out what’s happened, rather than just pull at the first piece of paper you see – you might make it worse.

Disconnect the printer from the mains then open all the flaps and panels to inspect inside. Don’t forget to check underneath too. You might need a torch to see clearly, and maybe some tweezers if the paper’s stuck in a hard-to-reach place. When you’ve cleared the jam, replace all the covers and power it on.


Are you running out of ink or toner?


You’ll often see a warning about low ink or toner a while before it runs out. You should be able to acknowledge the message and still print, but it’s worth thinking about getting replacement cartridges ready for when the colours fade, or it won’t print at all.

In laser printers, the toner can settle in the cartridge and cause a blockage, especially if it isn’t used very often. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to remove it, then hold it over something like an old newspaper and gently shake it side to side to free the toner. Reinstall it and try again.


Do your prints look right?


A little maintenance can often help improve poor quality prints, especially if you’re using an inkjet. The software installed with your printer has tools to help you look after your device, and fix problems when you find them.

If pictures come out with streaks across the page, or the colours look washed out or blotchy, your print heads might be blocked. Cleaning them will use some ink, but it often fixes the problem. You might have to do it a few times before it clears the blockage. It’s also worth checking the head alignment if you’ve got that option.

To open the printer utility:

  • On a Mac, go to Printer Settings > Your Printer > Options & Supplies > Utility > Open Printer Utility.
  • On a Windows computer, open the printer manufacturer’s support software through the Start menu. If you can't see it, go to Printer Settings > Your Printer > Manage > Printing Preferences.

Don’t forget to print a test page after you’ve tried to clean or re-align the heads. You’ll see improvements as soon as they happen.

There are other factors which can also affect print quality. Check to see if the printer is set to ‘Draft’ mode, which uses much less ink than 'regular' printing – it might be why your prints look washed out and faint. Non-original ink cartridges can save you money but might not contain as good quality ink as genuine ones. 


Are you using the correct printer?


The “default printer” is the one the computer uses automatically, so you don’t have to choose a printer every time you print something. If it isn’t the one you want to use, you can change it.

If you’re on a Mac, open the printer settings and choose a new default printer using the drop-down at the bottom of the window.

Windows 10 defaults to the last printer you used, depending where you are. To change it, open the printer settings and untick the box that lets Windows manage it. Choose the printer you want to set as the default, click Manage, then Set as default.


Is something stuck in the print queue?


When you click print, the computer sends the job to the printer. If something’s already printing, it joins the queue until the printer’s available. Jobs can get stuck in the queue if there’s a problem, so we’ll show you how to clear it.

Open the printer settings, pick your printer and click Open queue (W10) or Open Print Queue (MacOS). Restart paused prints, delete any that show an error, or clear them all to start over. When you’ve done that, try your print again.

If you’re using a Windows PC or laptop, you might have to reset the print spooler service too. It’s a bit more complicated, but these steps should help:



Type services in the search bar, then click the Desktop app result.


Right-click on the Print Spooler and Stop the service.


In the search box, type %WINDIR%\system32\spool\printers and pick the File folder result. Delete the contents of the folder when it opens, then close the window.


On the Services window, right-click the Print Spooler and Start it.

Are you trying to print from a phone or tablet?


Printing from mobile devices can be tricky, but keep these tips in mind for the best results:

  • Apple iPhone and iPad users can print directly to Air Print enabled wireless printers.
  • Android device owners can print straight to Google Cloud Ready printers.
  • Even if your printer doesn’t work with AirPrint or Google Cloud Print, most printer manufacturers make apps to help you print from your mobile device. Check your phone or tabet's app store to download the one you need.

Our guide to printing from mobile phones and tablets will tell you everything you need to know.

Still having problems?


If you’re still having problems with your printer, and it’s a few years old, it might be time to think about replacing it. You’ll want to make sure you get the right one for your needs, so we've written a guide to help you choose the right printer.

Hopefully we've helped you sort out your printing issues, but you can contact an expert from Team Knowhow if you need any more help.

You might like...

Need some more help?


Expert Support

If you've got an issue with any of your kit, our experts are on-call to help 24/7 - in-store, at home, or over the phone.

More info

Expert Repair

When your kit's fully broken, you need it fixed fast. Our accredited experts will get you back up and running in no time.

More info