PC printers bring to mind Dr Johnson's famous quip about performing dogs; the wonder is not that they do the job so well, but they do it at all! The fact that these complex electromechanical devices are normally so reliable is another constant source of amazement, until they go wrong that is…

In fairness much of the time it's not the printer that is at fault but the software, and quite often it's due to incorrect installation of the driver. A printer driver is a small file that tells your PC everything it needs to know about how your particular printer works. Windows 95 comes with scores of drivers for popular makes and models of printer but it quickly becomes out of date as new models are developed, therefore it is always a good idea to use the driver that comes with your new printer, rather than the Windows offering. Take a few moments to check that you're using the right driver, particularly if your printer was bundled with the PC, and the driver was pre-installed.

Open My Computer and double click on the Printers icon. There you will see more icons representing all of the printer drivers your PC is currently using. There may be two or three listed, for faxing utilities etc., but one of them should be clearly labelled with the exact make and model number of your printer. If not click on the Add New Printer icon to start the installation wizard. Make sure you have the driver floppy disc to hand and follow the instructions. Printer drivers can become corrupted so deleting and then re-installing the driver is always worth trying if you have begun to experience problems or unusual behaviour. Windows Help is also quite good at solving printer problems, always try that first, (click on Help and key in 'Printer Problems'), before attempting any more complicated remedies.

If all appears to be well, highlight the printer icon by left clicking on it once, right click on the icon and scroll down the menu that appears. Select the item Properties. This will bring up a tabbed dialogue box, click on Details and once again check that the correct printer is listed. You should also see a button marked Spool Setting. Spooling is a technique that allows you to get on with some other task on your PC whilst the printer chunters away in the background. Printer files are shunted on to the hard disc, and sent to the printer when the PC's main processor has a spare moment; in practice this happens so fast that it appears to be doing two jobs at once. However, spooling can sometimes cause difficulties and if your printer is behaving erratically or working very slowly it's worth changing the settings. Try altering the Spool Data Format from EMF to RAW, you could also try the Print Directly to Printer option but on change one parameter at a time and remember to change back to the defaults (Spool print jobs…) if it doesn't do the trick.

If your problems are concerned with the quality of the output, rather than the operation of the printer, try changing the various performance settings that are available (depending on the make and model of printer) on the Properties tabs. However, assuming that the PC and printer between them have adopted the factory defaults, more often than not it has something to do with the printer itself, the paper, or the consumables (ink cassette, ribbon or toner cartridge).

Always keep new ink, toner or ribbon cartridges to hand and try that first if the quality of the output suddenly starts to deteriorate. Ink jet printers are usually the most troublesome in this respect, the microscopic holes in the printer head can become blocked, leading to partially formed characters, lines or streaking on images. If your printer has a self-cleaning routine (check the manual) you should use it regularly, particularly if the printer has been standing idle for some time, or you are about to print an important document on expensive high-grade paper. If that doesn't work remove the cartridge and use the cleaning kit (if supplied) or gently wipe the head with a lightly moistened cotton bud; don't try poking it with a pin or any other sharp objects, you will destroy it!

Although most inkjet cartridges are not designed to be re-used many types can be refilled. It's a good way of keeping the costs down but some refill inks are of inferior quality, or not specifically formulated for the printing system in question. If you use refill kits only use good quality products but in any case do not expect to be able to refill a cartridge more than once or twice.

Paper quality is very important, especially on inkjets. Cheap copier paper tends to be more absorbent, the ink runs -- particularly watery cheap refill ink -- and the characters become spidery and indistinct. Try experimenting with a variety of makes and grades of paper; special inkjet paper is usually worth the extra cost. Glossy paper, designed for use with colour inkjet printers can give excellent, near photographic results but it can be inordinately expensive, especially the small packets marketed by printer manufacturers. Try some of the cheaper brands that are coming on to the market, they cannot harm you printer -- despite the dire warnings in some printer manuals -- and some of them are very good indeed.

Keep the inside and outside of your printer clean. If there's a recommended cleaning and maintenance routine stick to it. Always switch the printer off, before you open up the cover. As with PCs it's better to blow than suck, so don't be tempted to shove a vacuum cleaner nozzle into the innards of your printer, use a can of compressed air or gas instead, and a new, clean paintbrush to remove stubborn debris. Finally, disconnect the cable to the PC and give the contacts a quick blow, wipe the casing over with a cloth dampened with water and a drop or two of washing up liquid.  




Component in a printer, such as the ink cartridge or ribbon, that need to be replaced when it runs out or exceeds its life expectancy


A small program or data file stored on your PC that tells Windows 95 how to communicate with and use a peripheral device, such as a printer


Simultaneous Peripheral Operations On-Line; a way of maximising PC and printer efficiency, information to be printed is transferred to a temporary file, so the PC can get on with other jobs, and carry on printing when it has a moment to spare



If you have a paper jam do not force it. Always try to remove the blockage in the normal direction of travel, if it tears make sure all of the fragments are removed. If you can't clear the paper path refer to the manual. Store paper flat in the original packaging, always fan it before loading to free up the sheets and stop them sticking together. If the paper hopper is partially full always load it so the old paper is used first. Always check to make sure the paper you are using is within the printer's handling limits. Keep printers well away from radiators and out of strong sunlight -- especially laser printers -- as this can affect print quality.

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