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Computer Care: If your printer needs attention, be careful with the ink
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Every few weeks I hear a panicky plea from across the house, “Honey, the printer’s not working.” So I bellow back, “ Did you try rebooting the computer?”

After a few minutes I usually hear a sheepish, “Never mind.”

But this morning, that fix-all failed to rectify the situation. It often heals many computer ailments and does it quickly. However, this time I actually had to perform minor supplementary surgery on our HP printer.

We had a paper jam, which often is not a big deal. I learned early on not to extract the sheet of paper in question from the front of the machine. I ruined a perfectly good and relatively new printer by trying to force a piece of paper out backward from the feeder tray. I won’t do that again.

Most, if not all printers have an escape hatch on the rear of the machine. Some pull straight out, others have clips or dials. Whichever yours has, my suggestion is to learn how to remove it when you (or your spouse) are not in panic mode.

When there is an actual paper jam, your printer will advise you of the situation. Open the back door and s-l-o-w-l-y pull the sheet out, trying not to rip it.

If it does come out in pieces, use a can of compressed air to blow the remnants out from both sides of the feed. Hold the can upright to avoid the liquid (cold) propellant from getting on your printer components. You may need tweezers or needle-nose pliers to extract small pieces left on the roller or gears.

When you’re sure the suspect paper is gone, replace the back door you removed the same way you took it out.

I added some ink to my black cartridge with a kit that I use. Depending on what type of cartridge you have, it may be an easy task — or not. I refill mine with a hypodermic-type needle that sucks ink from a bottle and transfers it to the cartridge via a small pad.

If you do refill your own ink, do it in the sink and keep paper towels handy. Should you overfill one, it could get messy.

In my case, I left the printer unused for over a week and that allowed the ink to coagulate on the print head, clogging it.

Should this happen to you, the next step is to run your printer’s cleaning utilities. Look in Control Panel or Printer and Devices section for your (default) printer. Locate the tools section, sometimes under Utilities tab, sometimes under the Advanced tab.

What you are ultimately looking for is the Clean Printhead utility. Run it once and see if the readout is clear. If not, run it again.

In a worst-case-scenario, you may need to dampen a paper towel with some isopropyl alcohol and wipe the head with it to remove a hardened ink scab.

Use extreme caution when working with printer ink. Love may not always be forever, but ink is. Try not to get it on anything and work in a safe area (i.e., not on the rug or bed). It will come off of your hands with mechanic’s soap, but if you get it on your favorite shirt, you’ll soon be finding a new one.

You may also need to run the Printhead Alignment tool at this time. If your output is skewed, follow the instructions your printer will give you. It’s a matter of choosing the best looking output on the test page that it prints.

To avoid future paper jams, be sure to use fresh, dry paper. Keep it stored it its wrapper, as humidity will soften it, leading to jams.

Make sure the edges of the stack are even and that there are no bent corners on the feed end. Don’t overstack the tray. See your printer’s documentation for the tray’s capacity.

While you are in printer repair mode, check for an updated driver.

Go to the printer manufacturer’s website (hp.com, epson.com, etc) and look for the section that is usually labeled support, downloads or drivers. Find your exact model and then choose your operating system (Windows 7, 8 or whatever you have). Some sites may ask if it’s 32- or 64-bit. Right-click on your Computer icon on your desktop , choose Properties and look for this information.

An updated printer driver may enhance your printing experience or simply fix a constant error you may have been experiencing.

After the download is complete, open the file and just follow the instructions. The entire process should take two to three minutes. If you choose the software package with the driver, it will take longer.

Be sure to reboot when you’re done.

Don’t be in hurry to toss what you may believe is a broken printer. Jams can be fixed and heads can be cleaned.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.