Printers are painful, sharing them is worse

Remember when the tech pundits were proclaiming a "paperless office" in our future?


Now pretty much all of us have a printer (or two) in our lives and it may seem difficult to work out how this is an improvement.

From my perspecetive, someone who helps people with printer problems, I can honestly say that printers are the most painful aspect of home technology after computers themselves...

...and that's probably only because you use your computer more than your printer.

Printers span the gap between the intangible and the tangible, so their job is a little hard.

In one way or another, your printer takes digital information and tries to replicate it on paper...or something.

For as long as I can remember, and that's back to about 1985 and my first printer purchase, printers have been a pain in the posterior.

Back then tractor feeding and dot matix were the only real options for a home printer.

My first printer 1985 Apple Writer dot matrix tractor feed
My first printer 1985 Apple Writer dot matrix tractor feed

Since then I've had many printers with many problems.

I even punched one printer...very hard.

I hurt myself of course but this one really got my goat.

The point of this printer post is the pain of networking and sharing printers.

As usual I won't repeat myself regarding some of the aspects of printers I've already posted about ( .

These days printers are very (very) cheap because the manufacturers make their money from the coloured water they like to call "ink".

By and large there's not a lot of thought, or so it seems, gone into making these things well, last very long or indeed be easily repairable (read at all").

Generally the most common types of connection to your printer will be Wifi and USB.

It is less common to find printers that don't have both these days and to a lesser degree most include Ethernet (wired) networking aswell. Some include Bluetooth too.

The problem is that printers are very bad at networking.

Most printers with options will only let you connect one way at a time.

So if you are using the USB connection a printer will most often disable Wifi and Ethernet. They really shouldn't, but most do. Most require you to make a choice in the setup about this so changing on the fly can be extra painful.

We network our printers because we want and need more that one device to be able to print to it.

By and large this is great and makes sense.

However the network capabilities of most printers seem so fragile that things stop working sooner rather than later and the job to rectifiy it can be anywhere from mildly annoying to a full reinstallation of everything to do with the printer everywhere.

Add to that fact that many people want to print from the other end of their house over already poor wifi networks and you can start to imagine the pain (if somehow you've actually dodged feeling it personally).

When I am setting up a printer for a customer I urge them to use a pysically wired connection in the first instance.

A USB connection is my first preference but obviously that means a one-to-one connection between pc and printer and that doesn't suit many people. NOTE: But that IS how I am connected to my colour laser printer right now - networking it got that painful and only I use it).

The next best option is a wired Ethernet connection to the router/switch/modem. Your computers can still be happily wireless. PCs and laptops handle wifi and networking a lot better than printers. But Ethernet is not perfect either if your printer is a dufus (refer to this blog post about my printer .

Lastly we'll connect via Wifi and I'll discuss all the "fun" they could encounter.

With printers being cheap and unfixable, getting someone in to look at it is usually a waste of time and money.

It is sad and bad for the environment, but paying someone to try to fix a $50 printer (and fail) is a waste of your time and money.

Someone like me could go through the full troubleshooting and re-installation scenario and still end up with a printer that has just stopped working.

Of course none of us want to throw away what appears to be a good printer. That's why I punched my printer all those years ago. It was going to cost me more in spare parts to (maybe) fix it than it would to replace it and I hadn't had it more than a couple of years.

So here are some tips to troubleshooting your printer yourself and maybe just maybe eaking some extra life out of it.

  1. If your printer is networked, try connecting it directly with a USB cable and see if it works. If it does then I suggest you leave it that way :-)

  2. If you really need it to be networked, and you are using wifi, see if you can connect it with an Ethernet cable. The wifi modules in printers are flakey at best and prone to failure. Ethernet should bypass this although "other" network issues with the printer may thwart success. It is worth a try.

  3. Make sure your printer KNOWS which way you are connected i.e. if you are using USB make sure the printer set up for USB is ENABLED and so on for other types of connection.

  4. DON'T replace "all the inks" before calling a technician about the printer. As you will know, the inks cost a fortune and with the likelihood of the technicians advice being "get a new printer" you will likely have wasted all that ink money.

  5. If more than one person in your household needs a printer then consider getting an additional printer. This acts as a backup when one fails and means that a direct and more reliable / personal connection to each printer can be used.

  6. Inkjet printers need to be used regularly or the ink can dry up. This clogs parts of the machine and often these blockages can't be cleared. Print one colour page a week just to keep the juices flowing.

  7. Printers don't like being moved. Shaking them around during a most can send ink and toner everywhere and kill your printer. If you have to move a printer make sure you replace the shipping plugs and store the ink/toner very carefully. But, most people throw these things out the first day so in lieue of that, move your printer flat - don't tip it, shake it etc. and move it smoothly and carefully while flat. Good luck.

  8. Go paperless. Just joking. I'm hilarious :-)

In the end try to remember that printers are awful and sharing them is painful.

So I guess what I am saying is, it isn't you, it is them.


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