How to Figure Out Why a Windows Printer Won't Print

By Techwalla Computers Editor

If your printer turns out perfect pages when you have it perform a self-test, but all you get is an error code when you try to print from Windows, you've got a communication problem. Here's how to get your PC and printer talking again.

Things You'll Need

  • Needle-nose Pliers

Check your printer cable

Step 1

Make sure your printer cable is securely connected between the PC and printer. The cable should be less than 10 feet (3 m) long.

Step 2

Check for any bent pins on the printer cable. If you find any, straighten them with needle-nose pliers.

Step 3

If you aren't sure about your cable, try swapping it with one from another printer. If the printer suddenly starts working, you know that your original cable is defective.

Step 4

If you're replacing a parallel cable, be sure to get an IEEE 1284 (look at the packaging label or ask a salesperson). Older cables often won't work in newer printers, even though they might look like they should.

Update and reload your drivers

Step 1

Check the Web site for your printer's manufacturer and download the latest version of the driver software for your printer.

Step 2

Open the Printers folder through the Start, Settings menus.

Step 3

Right-click on the icon for your printer.

Step 4

Choose Delete.

Step 5

Double-click on the Add Printer icon in the Printers folder.

Step 6

Follow the Add Printer wizard directions to reinstall the driver software.

Verify printer properties

Step 1

Open the Printers folder through the Start, Settings menus.

Step 2

Right-click on the icon for your printer, then select Properties.

Step 3

Verify that all of your printer's properties are configured as recommended by your printer's manufacturer. You can look up these guidelines in the documentation that came with your printer or, if you've misplaced it, on the manufacturer's Web site.

Check your parallel port settings

Step 1

Right-click on My Computer and select Properties (in Windows 2000, you'll need to then click on the Hardware tab).

Step 2

Go to Device Manager.

Step 3

Double-click on Ports (COM and LPT).

Step 4

Double-click on Printer Port (LPT1) and select the Resources tab.

Step 5

Check the "Conflicting device list" box for an interrupt request line (IRQ) conflict. No other device should be using the same IRQ as the printer port.

Step 6

If you find a conflict, disable the offending device or assign it a new IRQ. To disable a device, find it in Device Manager, open its Properties dialog box, select the General tab and check "Disable in this hardware profile."

Remove temporary files and spool files

Step 1

Windows must be off, so restart your computer to a DOS command prompt. In Windows 95, press F8 when you see the words "Starting Windows 95" appear, then choose Safe Mode Command Prompt Only from the Startup menu.

Step 2

In Windows 98, restart your computer, press and hold down the Control key after your computer completes the Power-On Self- Test, then choose Safe Mode Command Prompt Only from the Startup menu.

Step 3

At the command prompt, type the word "set," then press Enter.

Step 4

Write down the location (the DOS file path) of the TEMP variable.

Step 5

Change your directory to the folder you noted in step 4. For example, if TEMP is set to C:WindowsTemp, you'll type "cd windowstemp" and then press Enter.

Step 6

Once you're in the Temp folder, you can delete any temporary files that might be there, by typing "del *.tmp" and then pressing Enter. Don't delete these files while Windows is running, because Windows 95/98 or a Windows-based program might be using one of them.

Step 7

Type "cd windowsspoolprinters" and then press Enter to switch to the spool folder.

Step 8

Delete any spool files you find here by typing "del *.spl" and then pressing Enter.

Tips & Warnings

  • Simply turning off the printer for a few seconds to clear its memory can cure a surprising number of printer problems.
  • Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me include a Print Troubleshooter tool.
  • Try printing from a simple text-editing program such as Windows Notepad to rule out a problem with a particular application such as your word processor or graphics program.