Beyond “Load Paper Tray”: Deciphering and Troubleshooting Printer Messages


Call it Murphy’s Law of Printers. Or don’t dignify it with an official title. However you choose to look at it, you can’t ignore the fact that your printer always seems to malfunction in the middle of an urgent printing task. In your rushed state, you rifle through all the papers on your desk, but you can’t locate the printer manual. And that error message read like a foreign language textbook.

In this all-too-familiar scenario, what are your options? You can sift through online forums, but locating your specific problem takes time. You want to fix the problem fast. If a quick repair isn’t possible, you want to know if that the error message you’re seeing indicates a problem that requires professional repairs-or, worst case scenario, a brand-new printer. Follow the steps outlined in this blog to diagnose (and hopefully fix) the problem ASAP.


Hard-to-Interpret Error Messages

Some printer error messages are self-explanatory. We all appreciate the simplicity of “Paper jam” or “Load paper tray.” But sometimes you see only a string of numbers that mean nothing to you or watch in horror as scary words like “failure” and “insufficient” flash before your eyes. Here’s a quick guide to terms you might encounter in less-than-intelligible printer messages:

  • Memory: Your printer has a memory capacity just like your computer. When you send complex print tasks or too many print jobs at once, you can overload the printer’s memory. As a result, the printer may not be able to print any of the documents. Overrun, overflow, or insufficient also indicate memory issues.
  • Storage: Some printers have internal storage for frequently needed documents. When this storage fills up, the printer might refuse to print the stored documents or other print tasks.
  • Configuration: This word usually indicates a communication error. Your printer isn’t getting all the information it needs from the computer or network sending the print task.
  • Failure: This word sounds serious, and it might be. It could mean the printer’s hard disk crashed, but the error message might have a simple solution. Before you give up hope, try the troubleshooting steps listed below.

Quick Fixes

Whether you can decipher the printer’s error message or not, you may still be able to salvage the situation in short order. Try these handy tricks.

  1. Turn the printer off for a few minutes, and then reboot it. Yes, it sounds obvious-because it is. Still, this tip bears repeating because it works in many situations.
  2. Examine the cables that connect your printer to your computer, your network, and power sources. For good measure, unplug and re-plug all cords. This trick usually resets the printer.
  3. Open the tray to look for paper jams. Your printer usually does a good job telling you when there’s a paper jam. It either announces it with loud noises or gives you a standard error message. But sometimes it is part of a bigger error, so the error message might not indicate anything about a paper jam. Consequently, it never hurts to perform a quick check of the paper tray and paper feeding mechanisms.
  4. Check the printer cartridge. Sometimes dust or lint breaks the connection between the printer cartridge and the electrical contacts in the machine. Remove the cartridge from the machine. Blow into the area where the cartridge inserts to expel any dust inside. You can also rub the electrical contacts on the cartridge with a rubber eraser to banish any tiny dust particles.

Bigger Problems

Unfortunately, sometimes your printer might experience problems that aren’t easily fixed with the steps above. In those cases, hardware problems are usually the source, and you may have to get repairs from a professional. If you see any of these words in the error message, you probably have a hardware issue:

  • Fuser
  • Beam detect
  • Fan
  • Gears
  • Memory card
  • Motor
  • Formatter
  • Scanner speed
  • Controller

Internal communication:

Of course, these words don’t automatically indicate a hardware problem. However, when you see one of them in an error message, your best bet is to consult a printer repair service. They can diagnose the problem and let you know if it’s something serious.

Protect Yourself from Printer Error Messages

If you want to avoid encountering nearly undecipherable error messages with your next printer, decide on a home for its manual.

Then always return the manual to that location after you consult it. That should help you avoid the panic mode that can accompany printer error messages.

However, an easily accessible owner’s manual cannot solve larger printer issues. For those, you’ll need a trustworthy repair service. Businesses with a large fleet of printers can save money on repair services by signing up for a printer maintenance service contract. A service contract covers preventative maintenance, includes many simple and complex repairs, and sometimes lowers the costs of replacement printers.


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