While we many folks out there want to believe that we live in a paperless world, we’re not quite there yet. Often, I’ll need to print something in order to hand it to someone I may be meeting in person that doesn’t have a smartphone or enough trust in electronic mail to get the information over to them efficiently. Let’s face it, paper is going to be around for some time to come, and it isn’t until everyone is on the same page that we can truly free ourselves from having to saw down trees for the sake of storing and sharing information.

Earlier this year, I welcomed a new printer into the home. This giant office printer does everything and anything. You can hook it up to your network via ethernet, Wi-Fi, print from an external drive, and even make copies en masse. Unfortunately, you can’t always print from it. Between my Windows and OS X systems, there’s usually one problem or another keeping everything from running correctly.

It’s it funny, though? You can sync your phone via Wi-Fi and chat with people all over the world in real-time, but for some reason printer drivers are still a problem for engineers.

Anyway, if you’re on Windows 7, these tips might help you fix those occasional burps in the printing process.

Check the Connections

The old tech support joke of asking whether or not someone has plugged the computer in may sound silly, but it actually works. Printers need more than power to get started, and checking the USB, ethernet, or other wired connections before shaking your fist at the monitor is a great first step.

Even Wi-Fi printers need a direct connection to get started in some cases. Unless you have a particularly professional printer, setting up the wireless commands has to be done from a desktop connected via USB or ethernet. Once this is done, you can untether your printer and set it free.

There is a possibility that you may be operating off of a bad cable. USB cables can be especially prone to breakage, especially if they’ve been stored in a knot with a bunch of other cables somewhere for any length of time.

Update Drivers

Printer drivers are a weak point in modern software. They work one day, but may fail the next. Printing problems often originate from outdated or incorrect drivers. Your system will take a best guess as to the brand and model of your printer when you plug it in. The drivers it selects for you may work fine for some jobs, and poorly on others. When problems arise, the first step in troubleshooting (beyond checking for a jam) is updating the drivers.

Here are some general rules that you may want to consider when updating:

  • Always download the drivers from the manufacturer’s website. For example, if you have a Dell printer, get drivers from Dell.com.
  • Running Windows Update can help, but only if the manufacturer has provided new drivers to Microsoft.
  • Avoid downloading third-party tools that aren’t supported directly by the printer’s maker.

When updating via Windows Update:

  • Click the Start button and type Update in the search bar.
  • Click Check for Updates.
  • If there are optional updates available, check them.
  • Make sure to leave a checkmark next to any printer updates.
  • Select Install Updates on the main Windows Update page after selecting which updates to install.
  • Grab a snack.
  • Try the printer again after rebooting your system.

When grabbing the driver from the manufacturer’s website:

  • Download the driver file from the manufacturer’s website.
  • Check the Start button and select Control Panel.
  • Open System and Security.
  • Select Device Manager.
  • Navigate to the printer you’re installing the driver to, and double-click it.
  • Select the Driver tab.
  • Select Update Driver.
  • Follow the instructions given, including pointing to the driver file you downloaded earlier (if prompted).
  • Try the printer again after rebooting your system.

Use the Windows Troubleshooter

Did you know that Microsoft has created a Fix It feature that checks on the issue for you, and can actually solve it in many cases? Microsoft Fix it is a great little tool that can help you solve a number of issues including installation, connections, and even print spooling issues.

If there was a first step to quickly solving printer problems, this would probably be it.

Networking Issues

Networked printers seem to have the most problems, partially because they’re operating in a less direct way with each computer involved. Some corporations opt to set up printer servers to combat complex print issues, assigning each printer a specific name so it’s easier to troubleshoot later on.

For home users, this may not be a practical solution. Here are the basic steps of setting up a networked printer.

  • Select the Start button.
  • Click Devices and Printers.
  • If your printer doesn’t appear on this list, choose Add a Printer.
  • For networked printers, select Add a network, wireless or Bluetooth printer.
  • Your printer should appear in this list if it is connected. If not, choose The printer that I want isn’t listed.
  • Select Add a Printer using a TCP/IP address
  • You can find the printer’s IP address through your router’s interface. See its owner’s manual for more details.
  • Select Autodetect, and enter the IP address of the printer.
  • Hit Next.
  • Follow any additional instructions given. If you need to download drivers, see above instructions.

Using a printer on a Windows machine shouldn’t be as much of as hassle as it is. I can only hope that in the next five years, we’ve either developed technologically to the point where paper really isn’t needed, or printer manufacturers finally settle on a universal plan to make printers work more consistently.

Seriously, guys. We put a man on the moon twenty years before the personal computer revolution, and we still can’t figure out how to make a printer work? This is one of the biggest headaches for small and large IT departments around the world. I’d be willing to bet that if printer issues stopped cropping up on such a consistent basis, we might actually be able to dedicate those resources towards innovation, and be much better off economically than we presently are. For now, we have to work with the hand we’re dealt.

What about you? What are your tips to getting printers to work on your Windows machine? Are there any resources worth mentioning?