Whether you're working on a text document or a digital image, chances are eventually you are going to print them. Every printer is different, although basically the same. Most computer users don't go beyond clicking the print button, but there are many options if you look a bit deeper.
Whatever printer you have, be sure you have the latest driver for it. The driver is a tiny program that lets a device work with the operating system. They are free and can be downloaded from the manufacturers' Web sites.
If you have an HP printer, make note of your model and navigate your way to hp.com, look for the support or downloads, then the drivers section. Choose your device (usually) from a pull-down menu and get your updated driver. It will self-install once you expand the file on your desktop.
If you don't have software for your printer, it can be found at the same location as the drivers. The software was also on your install disk when you initially set up your printer. It is important to follow directions carefully when you first set up the device.
Most manufacturers will have you install the drivers and programs first, without the cable attached your PC. Only attach it when you are prompted to do so. Then reboot your system and you're good to go.
Explore the options in the software. All are similar. You can get there by right-clicking on the printer's icon (from Control Panel, then Printers) then clicking on Properties. Look for Options or Preferences for utilities. You'll find an area where you can choose paper size and type as well as what you are printing.
If you're printing a photo, be sure you choose 4x6, if that's what you have loaded, and make sure it says glossy, if that's what it is. If you inadvertently choose 8x10 to print a photo of your spouse, your output will be a large shoulder instead of a full body with the 4x6 stock loaded.
Use the Print Preview option before you send something to print. It is WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get), meaning a true rendition of what's to come.
If you're printing a document and it's for your eyes only, use the draft mode. This will use a fraction of the ink usually used and you'll hardly be able to tell the difference. There is good program for purchase online that allows you to choose how much ink you want to use or save with use of a slider. Ink Saver is less than $30 and will save you much more than that over the long run (Web site).
Don't mix paper types when you load paper and don't overload, either. This just invites a paper jam. Should a jam occur, look for a door in the rear of the printer to extricate the paper. Pulling it from the top can tear it, leaving fragments to initiate yet another jam.
It's important to use your printer at least once a week just to keep the ink flowing properly through the nozzles. Should they get clogged or you notice poor output, initiate the head cleaning utility in the printer's software. Run the cleaning tool monthly and the alignment tool as needed.
If you still can't print and you know the cartridge is not empty, try putting it in a sealable plastic bag and soaking it in warm water for an hour. Then try gently cleaning the print head with a cotton swab using a bit of warm water or isopropyl alcohol. Dry the cartridge thoroughly prior to reinstalling it. Run the utility one or two more times, but realize it uses a lot of ink. It's much more efficient to just use the printer weekly to keep it in shape.
To speed up printing, set it to print directly to printer, rather than to spool the job. You should spool print jobs only if you have many to print.
Every now and then you will send a job to print and find nothing happens. Try this: Click your Start button and then Run (in Vista, your Search bar). Type: CMD and hit Enter. This will open a DOS box. Type: net stop spooler, hit OK or Enter and wait 10 seconds for verification. You'll get a line saying it's stopping, then another saying it stopped.
At the next prompt, type: net start spooler, wait again for verification and then close the box down. You'll now be able to print what you couldn't before.
Arthur Glazer is freelance writer and computer technician whose column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com. Readers are invited to submit their computer questions or problems to Arthur for future columns.