Troubleshooting Printer Problems

Posted: May 11, 2010 in Printers, System Information


An understanding of how printing works can go a long way when you’re trying to troubleshoot printer problems. When you print documents, many processes, drivers, and devices work together to print the documents. If you use a printer connected to a printer server, the key operations are as follows:

  • Printer driver

    When you print a document in an application, your computer loads a printer driver. If the print device is attached to your computer physically, the printer driver is loaded from a local disk drive. If the print device is located on a remote computer, the printer driver might be downloaded from the remote computer. The availability of printer drivers on the remote computer is configurable by operating system and chip architecture. If the computer can’t obtain the latest printer driver, it’s probably because an administrator hasn’t enabled the driver for the computer’s operating system. For more information, see the section of this chapter entitled “Managing Printer Drivers.”

  • Local print spool and print processor

    The application you’re printing from uses the printer driver to translate the document into a file format understandable to the selected print device. Then your computer passes the document off to the local print spooler. The local spooler in turn passes the document to a print processor, which creates the raw print data necessary for printing on the print device.

  • Print router and print spooler on the print server

    The raw data is passed back to the local print spooler. If you’re printing to a remote printer, the raw data is then routed to the print spooler on the print server. On Windows Server 2003 systems, the printer router, Winspool.exe, handles the tasks of locating the remote printer, routing print jobs, and downloading printer drivers to the local system, if necessary. If any one of these tasks fails, the print router is usually the culprit. See the sections of this chapter entitled “Solving Spooling Problems” and “Setting Printer Access Permissions” to learn possible fixes for this problem. If these procedures don’t work, you might want to replace or restore Winspool.exe.

    The main reason for downloading printer drivers to clients is to provide a single location for installing driver updates. This way, instead of having to install a new driver on all the client systems, you install the driver on the print server and allow clients to download the new driver. For more information on working with printer drivers, see the section of this chapter entitled “Managing Printer Drivers.”

  • Printer (print queue)

    The document goes from the print spooler into the printer stack—which in some operating systems is called the print queue—for the selected print device. Once in the queue, the document is referred to as a print job—a task for the print spooler to handle. The length of time the document waits in the printer stack is based on its priority and position within the printer stack. For more information, see the section of this chapter entitled “Scheduling and Prioritizing Print Jobs.”

  • Print monitor

    When the document reaches the top of the printer stack, the print monitor sends the document to the print device, where it’s actually printed. If the printer is configured to notify users that the document has been printed, you see a message confirming this.

    The specific print monitor used by Windows Server 2003 depends on the print device configuration and type. The default monitor is Localmon.dll. You might also see monitors from the print device manufacturer, such as Hpmon.dll, which is used with most Hewlett-Packard print devices. This DLL (dynamic-link library) is required to print to the print device. If it’s corrupted or missing, you might need to reinstall it.

  • Print device

    The print device is the physical device that prints documents on paper. Common print device problems and display errors include

    • Insert Paper Into Tray X
    • Low Toner
    • Out Of Paper
    • Out Of Toner; Out Of Ink
    • Paper Jam
    • Printer Offline

Group Policy can affect your ability to install and manage printers. If you’re having problems and believe they’re related to Group Policy, the key policies you’ll want to examine are those in

  • Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Printers
  • User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Control Panel\Printers
  • User Configuration\Administrative Templates\Start Menu And Taskbar

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