Laser Printer Ink: Common Troubleshooting Tips and Operating Advice

laser printer ink troubleshooting

When speed and efficiency matter, printing with a laser printer is your best bet. Laser printers are commonly used in commercial and industrial settings because they are fast, have a low cost per page and provide consistent results. That doesn’t mean they are without their problems, though. Laser printer ink, more commonly known as toner, is completely different from inkjet ink, and it doesn’t always work like users expect.

Are you having trouble with your laser printer and toner? If so, here are a few troubleshooting tips and operating advice to help get you up and running again.

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Problems Removing and Installing Laser Printer Ink Cartridges

If you are new to using a laser printer, you may struggle to replace the toner cartridge. While it isn’t extremely difficult, removing an old toner cartridge and installing a new one is more challenging than doing the same with an inkjet cartridge. Improperly installed cartridges could prevent the device’s door or cover from closing properly, and they most definitely prevent laser printers from working like they should.

When you have a toner cartridge that is ajar, stuck or otherwise improperly installed, first make sure you are using the correct model. If the model is correct for your machine, make sure the printer is turned off before you attempt to change it. Next, open the cover. On most laser printers, the cover is located on the front. Yours may be located elsewhere, though. Grasp the handle on the drum unit and carefully remove the entire unit. Locate the lever, switch or button that releases the toner cartridge from the drum. Use it to unlock the old cartridge and carefully remove it. If the unlock mechanism is stuck, don’t force the cartridge out. Ask for help from an expert.

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Unpackage the new toner cartridge; then, line it up with the drum unit and carefully insert it. With most printer models, you will hear a quiet click when it is properly locked in place. Put the drum unit back into your printer. Make sure it is lined up properly before sliding it into place. If the cover will not close, it isn’t lined up like it should be. You will need to remove it and try again.

Once the cover is closed, turn your printer back on. Wait for the display screen to say it’s in “ready mode” before attempting to print.

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Slow Printing

Speed is one of the primary reasons many business owners choose laser printers over inkjet. They print significantly faster and are capable of outputting hundreds of pages quickly. If your laser printer is taking its sweet time, there could be several potential problems at hand.

When your laser printer isn’t printing as quickly as it should be, your first step is checking the settings. Sometimes, they are set up by default to value quality over speed. Most modern laser printers have three quality settings: draft mode, standard quality mode and highest quality mode. If yours is set to “highest quality,” it will take longer to print than if it’s set to “draft mode.” If you do not need pristine quality, choosing “draft mode” will save you a lot of time.

person using office printer

If you have duplex printing turned on, turn it off. Using your printer’s two-sided printing feature is convenient, but it requires the page to be turned over in order to complete the document. Printers do this relatively quickly, but it still requires a lot more time than single-sided printing. Turning off duplex printing obviously means that you will need to use more paper, but it will save you a lot of time if you are in a rush.

If your printer is still taking too long to print, make sure you are using the right drivers. Some printers allow you to switch between PostScript drivers and PCL (Printer Command Language) drivers. You may also be able to use your printer’s host-based driver system. PostScript drivers are your best bet when you are trying to obtain the highest possible quality, but the PCL driver or your printer’s host-based driver system are faster and will likely deliver perfectly sufficient results.

Keep in mind that newer printers are faster than older models. If you’ve made all the changes listed above and you still aren’t achieving the speed you need, you may want to start shopping for a new laser printer. Before you make your purchase, be sure to take a look at the product specs and print speeds to find one that is perfectly suited to your needs.

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Toner Running Out Faster Than It Should

One of the great things about laser printers is that their toner cartridges are capable of printing way more pages than inkjet cartridges before needing to be changed. While it is normal for cartridges to fall short of the page yield reported in the product specs, finding yourself constantly needing to replace your toner cartridge could be a sign of a problem. Keep in mind that estimated page yields are based on only 5-percent-page coverage. That means that they’re estimating how many pages you’ll get when printing little more than a single paragraph per sheet. If you print full pages, you will likely get significantly less pages per cartridge.

If you are getting frequent “low toner” warnings, it could mean that you actually are low on toner, or your printer may be warning you preemptively. Many laser printers have toner level monitors, but they are notoriously inaccurate. There are also huge variations in the accuracy of their measurements from one brand to another. There can even be large discrepancies within the same printer series. Some printers tell users that cartridges are empty when as much as 60 percent of the toner is remaining. That can lead to a lot of unnecessary waste!

If you are certain that your toner cartridges should be lasting longer, there are a few things you can do to extend their life. First, try removing it and gently shaking it. This can knock toner that is stuck to the walls of the cartridge loose, making them usable for printing. Gently shaking the cartridge also helps distribute the toner more evenly.

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When you want to get the maximum number of pages for your toner investment, avoid using color as much as possible. Black cartridges have much higher page yields than color toner cartridges. They also cost significantly less, which lowers your cost per page.

Many toner manufacturers offer a high-yield option. These cartridges are designed to last longer than regular ones. They cost more upfront, but the savings usually outweigh the cost. Using high-yield toner cartridges is a must for businesses who do a lot of printing and don’t want to constantly change cartridges.

Lastly, you may want to just ignore those “low toner” warnings for a while. Since many printers start displaying them long before you are actually running low, you will likely be able to do a lot more printing before the cartridge absolutely needs to be replaced. Keep printing as usual but watch out for fading. When your documents are no longer coming out dark and clear, it’s time to put in a new cartridge.

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Blemished Output

Laser printers do not put out the same level of quality as inkjet printers, especially for images. That doesn’t mean, though, that your documents should come out with banding, blurring, streaking, etc. There are several possible causes for these types of problems. Sometimes, the problem occurs as the result of a defective cartridge. In other instances, a problem with the printer is to blame. Determining the exact cause of the problem usually requires some trial and error.

Blank spots in printed documents could indicate a cartridge defect or a damaged transfer roller. If you are having this problem, try replacing the cartridge. If that doesn’t solve the problem, look for obvious obstructions inside the printer and remove them. Replace the transfer roller if you can’t find any obstructions.

small printer paper tray

Fading usually means that your cartridge is running out of toner, but sometimes it is a sign that you need to replace the transfer roller or clean your printer’s laser mirror. Lines also typically indicate that you need to replace the cartridge. They may also occur as the result of an internal component that needs to be replaced or cleaned.

Smearing often occurs as the result of problems with the drum unit. When you replace your toner cartridge, a bit of toner is left behind on the drum. This leftover material can cause smearing. That’s why it is so important to replace the drum unit once it has surpassed its estimated life expectancy.

If you are dealing with distorted or stretched images, you likely have a serious problem on your hands. This particular issue is difficult to diagnose and often expensive to fix. You could be looking at a problem with the engine controller or the laser scanner. Replacing parts until the problem resolves itself is the standard course of action, but it can get pricey.

When you are having problems with blemished output from your laser printer, replacing the cartridge is almost always the best first step. It could be low on toner, or it could be defective. If that fails, you may need to clean or replace various internal components.

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Poor Print Quality

When printing, you likely expect the output to look, more or less, like what you see on your computer screen. Results that look drastically different than what you see on your screen could be caused by numerous factors. In most cases, though, the problem can be solved by adjusting your printer settings.

First, adjust the cover levels, contrast and brightness on your printer. This could help eliminate the disconnect between what you see on your screen and what your printer prints. You may also need to increase the print quality. This is especially true if you are using color toner or printing images. Try using “best quality” to see if that solves your problems.

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The paper you use can make a difference, too. Try using paper with a coated, smooth surface rather than plain old office paper. Matte, low-gloss and glossy papers are all available for laser printers and can result in a better looking finished product. Make sure you change the type of paper you are using in your printer’s settings to ensure the best possible quality.

Making these few simple changes should help you achieve higher quality prints from your laser printer. If you are expecting high-resolution photographs, though, you may need to switch to an inkjet printer.

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Taking Care of Your Laser Printer

Many problems with laser printers occur as the result of a lack of maintenance. The components inside these electronic devices can get dirty, and when that dirt builds up, it can prevent the machine from working like it should. Ideally, you should keep supplies on hand to give your laser printer a quick cleaning every time you replace the cartridge.

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It is also important to replace the drum as recommended. Drums usually have a life expectancy of 10,000 pages. Once they have gone past that number, they can stop working like they should. Keeping up with basic maintenance helps prevent major problems while ensuring that your laser printer will not fail when you need it most.