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Printing Problems

Several years ago, some yahoo predicted that thanks to computers, we'd soon be working in paperless offices. That's right—instead of slapping a Post-it on the curdled half-and-half in the office fridge, jotting the names of the 15,000 employees we intended to lay off into our Franklin Organizer's To Do list, and tossing a wadded-up sheet of legal paper at the office phone-monkey for the cruel pleasure of it, we'd accomplish all these tasks electronically. I don't know about you, but since I started using computers, the piles of paper around my office have increased twelvefold.

Only a portion of this paper can be explained away by my love of origami. The rest, I'm afraid, has been run through one printer or another.

Because printing is so important, there's no frustration quite like pressing Command-P only to be presented with an error dialog box that claims no printer can be found. (“What do you mean, 'No printer can be found!?' I can see it right there!)

If your printer appears to have pooped out, try these techniques.

Check Connections

Yup, your printer is just as susceptible to loose connections as your Mac is. Be sure that all cables—power, USB, serial, and Ethernet—are plugged in and firmly seated. Also check to be sure that the printer is switched on.

Check the Chooser

If you're using Mac OS 9.2 or earlier, choose the Chooser command from the Apple menu, and click the driver for your printer in the resulting window. If you don't see your printer driver in the Chooser window, make sure that a printer driver is installed in the proper location. Under Mac OS 9.2.x and earlier, printer drivers are stored in the Extensions folder. People using a laser printer probably will use the LaserWriter 8 printer driver in this folder. Specific laser-printer drivers (sort of a subset of LaserWriter 8) are located in the Printer Descriptions folder inside the Extensions folder.

Under Mac OS X, printer drivers are located in the Printers folder inside the Library folder at the root level of the Mac OS X drive (grouped by manufacturer). To look for your printer in Mac OS X, open Print Center (found in the Utilities folder of Mac OS X's Applications folder). If you've added your printer, it should appear in this list. If it doesn't, click the Add Printer button in the Printer List window and select the method by which your printer is connected to your Mac in the pop-up window that appears in the resulting sheet (your choices are AppleTalk, LPR Printers using IP, and USB). If your printer doesn't appear in this list, check for updated drivers on your printer manufacturer's Web site.

Printer Troubleshooting

Try these tips for bringing your printer to the fore:

Are you using the latest version of the printer driver? When Apple updates the Mac OS, printers that used to be recognized by the Mac no longer are. If you recently changed versions of the Mac OS or added new utilities, and your printer stops working, look for updated printer drivers.

If you're running Mac OS 9.2 and earlier, have you tried cutting back on your extensions and control panels? Yes, some extension-based utilities can keep a printer from printing.

Does your printer require AppleTalk? Some older printers that use an older Mac's Printer port require that AppleTalk be turned on. If your running Mac OS 9.2 and earlier, open the Chooser and make sure that the AppleTalk option is indeed switched on. To switch on AppleTalk under Mac OS X, launch the Network system preference, select the configuration from the Show pop-up menu that you use to connect to the printer (Ethernet or AirPort, for example), click the AppleTalk tab, and select the Make AppleTalk Active checkbox.

Is the print queue switched on? If, under Mac OS 9.2 and earlier, you have a desktop printer, click its icon and then open the Printing menu that appears in the Finder. Is the Start Print Queue command checked? If not, choose that command. On occasions, I've switched off the print queue and left my Mac, only to have my wife unsuccessfully attempt to print something from this same Mac.

If you're using a USB printer, have you tried unplugging other USB devices? USB printers are notorious for conflicting with other USB doodads. Unplug other devices and see how you fare.

Are you using an Epson printer? I don't know exactly what it is about these things, but when I hear about a printer that's acting up, my first question is “Is it made by Epson?” More often than not, the answer is “Yeah. How'd you know?”

Please don't misunderstand; I think Epson printers produce beautiful results—photographs on the photo-grade printers in particular. But Epson could stand to work a little harder on its Mac drivers. In the case of an Epson printer doing something odd, run, don't walk, to the Epson Web site and download the latest driver for your printer.

Have you looked for warning lights? The Mac OS should toss up an alert if a printer has a paper jam or is out of paper, but in other cases, the Mac OS may not know to display an alert. It's always a good idea to see whether the printer's LEDs are blinking in some unusual fashion. If so, break out the manual, decipher the error, and try to put things right.

Check any adapters connected to the printer. To network my beloved HP LaserJet 5MP to my officeful of Macs, I use Asante's (www.asante.com) EtherTalk adapter. This doohickie (approximately $100) sports a 10Base-T Ethernet port on one end and a serial port on the other and allows you to include an AppleTalk-compatible printer in an Ethernet network. Every so often, my printer becomes inaccessible to the network because this adapter has become confused. To fix the problem, I simply pull the power from the adapter for a couple of seconds and then plug it back in. When I next attempt to print, the printer's rarin' to go.

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