Printer Won't Print

We’ve all been there… you finally finished word-smithing that document you’ve been working on, you click File, Print and nothing happens! File, print…nothing, again!! “Why won’t my printer print?!”  

Well, odds are the printer itself is actually working fine, but let’s dive a little deeper into what may be causing this issue. 

Printing is like Mailing a Letter 

Let’s compare printing with mailing a letter. Say you want to mail a letter to your friend with instructions for setting up a DVR remote. Consider the steps involved. 

First, you must write the letter in a language your friend can understand. Then, you package it in an envelope and mail it to your friend’s address. The post office converts the written address to a physical location and delivers it to your friend’s mailbox. Now, they retrieve it from the mailbox, open the letter, read it, and carry out the instructions.  

Every time you send something to the printer, it’s like mailing a letter. Once you click print, the computer writes that print job in a particular printer language, packages, and routes that job to the correct device, whether it’s across a network or to the end of a USB cable.  

Once the printer receives the job, it deciphers what it received and carries out the instructions it’s been given. If any part of this process fails, your print job will fail.  

Troubleshooting 

When troubleshooting why a print job won’t print, it’s best to start with the simplest solutions first, so the actual delivery of the document to the printer (just like delivering that letter).  

Are you sending the job to the correct printer?  

Some applications will save your print settings for the last printer you printed to. The auto-populated settings could have selected a different printer than the one you want to print from, or the device driver could be out of date. As things change on the network or printers are added and removed, the print drivers on your computer can change. If you’ve always printed to “Front Office Copier,” make sure the printer didn’t get replaced and/or a new print queue wasn’t added with a different name, such as “Front Office MFP.”  Using our mail analogy, this would be like mailing your letter to a bad address, if you send your letter to the wrong person, the wrong person will get your letter.  

Are there any simple errors preventing the printer from printing? 

While you’re looking at the device, make sure there aren’t any other issues, such as a paper jam, or an empty toner cartridge. Check the screen. Most printers these days are good at prompting how to fix any issue it’s having. If you see a red light, find out what it means and try to resolve it.

Some simple errors to look out for are as follows: 

  • Check your printer’s Ethernet or USB cable…are they attached?  
  • Is the printer powered on?  
  • Verify the power connection, is it plugged in?
  • Is there paper in the device?  

Just like delivering a letter, if there is no path for the letter to actually get to the recipient, the letter won’t be received. 

Are you sending your printer the correct instructions? 

If the instructions told you to press “DVR” on your remote, but there was no “DVR” button, then you wouldn’t know what to do. You would have to get further instructions – or maybe just give up!  

Remember, when you print something, there are a lot of settings in your Printer Properties that may cause the same reaction from your printer. If you specify that you want to print on Thick Paper from Tray 2, and the printer has Plain Paper in Tray 2, your printer is receiving conflicting information.  

Different printers will handle this conflict in different ways. You may walk up to the printer and see a message that the paper type was mismatched or the job may get cancelled and not print at all. On the other hand, it may print using plain paper settings, which could cause poor image quality or toner could rub off since it wasn’t able to properly fuse to the page.  

Remember to check your paper size, tray, and type and ensure it matches what the printer has loaded, and programmed, in that specific tray. We recommend always using your auto-select settings unless you’re printing something out of the ordinary. 

Is the print driver programmed correctly? 

Now that you’re sure that the printer is powered on and connected to your data cable, and the paper and tray settings are correct, let’s make sure the job is getting sent to the correct place.  

Let’s assume you’re sending your letter to Jane Doe. You probably opened your handy dandy rolodex or address book, flipped to Jane Doe, and copied that info to the envelope. Even though you have the name correct on the envelope, the Post Office is going to deliver that letter to whatever address is written on the envelope. If you wrote a bad address, the letter will get returned or go to the wrong person.  

Printing works the same way. The print drivers on your computer have an address programmed into them just like that letter. You may be selecting the correct driver, but if that address is wrong, you’ll have problems. These addresses are programmed into your driver’s port settings. As you can imagine, port settings can get a little more complicated so it’s best to reach out to your IT department to verify this info. If you don’t have an IT department, reach out to one of our specialists for assistance. 

Was your print job sent using the correct printer language? 

When you wrote the letter to your friend, you had to select a language they are fluent in. If they are fluent in English but you wrote the letter in Japanese, the instructions aren’t going to be of any help to your friend. However, if your friend can read both, English and Japanese, then you’ll be in good shape.  

Printers are the same, they only understand certain languages. The two most popular printer languages are Printer Control Language (PCL) and Postscript. Most printers understand PCL, and many understand both PCL and Postscript. Postscript was developed by Adobe. Therefore, printer manufacturers must pay Adobe for the rights to use the Postscript printer language. For this reason, many print devices don’t inherently have the language. 

If your print job is sent in the wrong printer language, you probably won’t get what you expect. Your printer won’t be able to decipher the instructions. Often this will cause many pages of garbled text to print out. Previously we have seen, literally, thousands of pages print out with one line of nonsense on each page. This is because the job was printed using the wrong printer language. This happens most often when someone tries printing a Postscript job to a printer that doesn’t understand Postscript. 

How do you determine what language(s) your printer understands? 

You can usually see what languages your printer understands by printing out a configuration page from your printer. The configuration page will say something about PCL or PS or PS3 (indicating Postscript). Alternately, when in doubt, consult either your user manual or Google! 

How do you determine what language you’re print job was sent it? 

The language of your print job is controlled by the printer drivers loaded on your computer.  

If you’re printing from Windows, then your driver could be just about anything. Consult your IT department to find out for sure. If you don’t have any IT support, our IT team can assist

If you’re printing from a Mac, then you’re printing Postscript. Printing from a Mac is the most common example of trying to print a Postscript job to a printer that doesn’t understand Postscript. If you’re using a Mac and you print to a printer that doesn’t have the Postscript language installed, it won’t end well. There are some workarounds, but none of them are very reliable. The best solution is to purchase the Postscript language option for the printer (if available) or find a printer that already has it installed. 

What should you do when your printer still won’t print? 

If you’ve checked all the potential issues above and you still can’t print, then there may be a true problem with your printer. Unfortunately, sometimes the printer just stops working. For example, the device may need firmware updates. Some printer manufacturers allow you the ability to update firmware on your own. However, others require a certified technician to do it.  

At this point, you’ve done all you can do. It’s time to call in the professionals. Call your printer service provider and tell them the exact symptoms you’re experiencing, as well as, the troubleshooting steps you’ve already taken. Depending on the info you provide, your technician may be able to push out a remote firmware update, verify he has correct parts ahead of time, or he may even call you back and help you fix something over the phone if it’s simple enough. 


Hopefully, this helps you understand some of the mystery surrounding the printing process. We understand that your time is important. However, it’s best to try troubleshooting your device before calling your printer service provider. Even if you can’t find the solution yourself, the information you uncover will help your technician repair the device quicker. After all, your printer company doesn’t expect you to be a printer expert, and they should be happy to help!