Tech Tips

Tech Tips

We have them all over the place, and many of us use them every day, but how many people have any idea how they work?

Today’s technology tip will give you some basic information about how the venerable laser printer and ink jet printer works. But first some background:

The Printer’s Progress:

In the beginning there was the pen, paper and a room full of monks. Eventually this was replaced by the typewriter and carbon paper (if you’ve never heard of carbon paper before here’s a link to: The Exciting History of Carbon Paper). When computers came out there was a great urge to create “hardcopies” or printouts of whatever the computer did. Initially they connected teletype machines to early computers but these were eventually replaced with dot matrix printers. By the late 1980’s the old dot matrix printers, with their messy ink ribbons and uniform letter spacing, were being replaced by better technology.

Today there are basically two kinds of printers, Laser Printers and Ink Jet Printers. The laser printers are the best choice for large scale printing while the ink jets are better for small scale printing. Chances are you have an ink jet printer at home for example.

How they Work:

Ink Jet Printers – They spray tiny drops of ink onto the paper to create the image. The dots are as small as 50 microns. A human hair is about 70 microns for reference, so don’t bother looking for them. For more information about how ink jet printers work we recommend this website: http://www.howstuffworks.com/inkjet-printer.htm

Laser Jet Printers – They use static electricity to stick plastic powder (toner) on the paper and then melt it onto the paper using a hot roller. That’s right, laser jets don’t use ink they use toner which is a very fine plastic powder. For more information about how these printers work I recommend this website: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/laser-printer.htm

There are colour laser jet printers by the way. They use toner that is black, cyan, magenta and yellow to create all the colours of the rainbow.


The first and foremost consideration when purchasing a printer is the technology the printer utilises to print. Today, ink jet and laser printers are the two most popular printing technologies.
Ink Jet – Inkjet printers are an affordable and effective solution for home users and home businesses.

Laser – Laser printers are a recommended solution for businesses or networks that require speed and efficiency, and high quality resolution.


Resolution on a printer is measured by the amount of dots per inch a printer is capable of printing. When looking at purchasing a printer, it is important to look at the DPI the printer is capable of printing.

It is also important to know that some printer manufacturers may generate their own methods through software for increasing their resolution.
Try to look at a sample printout, some laser printers have a “glossy look” to their toners where-as most inkjet printers have more of a “matte” finish unless printed on glossy paper.


Speed is another important consideration when looking at printers. The speed of a printer is rated in PPM, or pages per minute, and rate anywhere between 4 and 35+ PPM, depending on several factors such as if it is Black and White or Colour, text only or full page. You should expect a faster PPM from a laser printer printing text than an Inkjet printer.

Ink and Toner

Ink or Toner is an important factor when purchasing a printer. Look at the below characteristics of the Ink and Toner used with the printer.

Price – By far the most important factor is price; if the printer becomes a frequently used device you may find that the price of the consumables can far surpass the price of the printer. Look how much the consumables will cost before it needs to be replaced.

Type – See what ink or toner is used with your printer, and for users considering Ink Jet printers, see if the printer accepts separate colour cartridges. Some manufacturers may include all the cartridges as one cartridge (Tri-colour cartridge), causing you to have to purchase all the available colours when only one colour may be out. In addition, see if the cartridges are just ink or ink and nozzles (print-head cartridges). Cartridges with ink and nozzles will cost more than those that have just ink.

XL Inks – Most manufacturers now offer an “XL” or “high yield” version of their cartridges, if the majority of your printing is just black and white with the occasional colour it can very well be cost-effective to purchase a XL black and just standard yield colours. Take the time to check the yield of consumables, this is usually rated @ 5% coverage which is the industry standard.
Cost per Page – The measurement of the ongoing price of the printer after its initial purchase. It is important to look at the cost per page and see how much you may be paying for the amount of printing you expect to do. You can expect to pay less for a laser printer than an ink printer when looking at Cost per Page.

Other considerations

Paper handling – The method of how the printer handles and distributes the paper can be an important consideration when looking at printers. Many Ink Jet printers well feed paper through a slot on the top of the printer (rear paper feed), while laser printers will use a tray method of feeding the paper to the printer (cassette feeding). Make sure your printer is capable of handling all your paper needs. Rear feeding is better for thicker media or when you need to print photos on specialized paper. Cassette feeding is great if you are just chugging out invoices on standard A4 paper.

Options – When purchasing a printer, look to see if the printer requires additional add-ons that may be required; this can also factor into the overall cost of the printer. These add-ons can include but are not limited to such things as cables, trays, ink, software, etc

Printing a document is usually one of the easiest things you can do on a PC. Select File -> Print, and you’re pretty much done. That is, unless your printer refuses to print. Restocking the printer’s paper tray will often solve the problem, but when obvious solutions like that don’t work, figuring out what to do can be a difficult and time-consuming troubleshooting task. If your printer completely stops printing, the best thing to do is to start with the basics:

1. Check the power
Make sure your printer is turned on and has power.

2. Check the paper
Make sure you have paper in the paper tray. Typically, if there’s no paper, you’ll see an alert on either your Mac’s display or the printer’s LCD panel. Check the printer even if no error message pops up on your screen.

3. Check the connection
Check that the cable (probably USB) connecting the printer to your PC or router is plugged into its appropriate port. If necessary, try a different USB port. If connected by wireless, try connecting with a USB cable to see if this resolves connections issues.

4. Check what’s selected
If you have more than one printer connected to your PC, make sure that you’ve selected the one you want, in the Print dialog box’s Printer pop-up menu. For example, if you’ve selected a printer that’s currently turned off, nothing will happen.
Tip: If subsequent visits to the Print dialog box reveal that the Printer pop-up menu has reverted back to the wrong printer, go to the Print & Fax system preference. From the Default Printer pop-up menu, select your desired printer.

5. Check for ink issues
If the printer’s ink or toner is low, replace it. Low ink or toner is much more often a problem with inkjet printers than with laser printers. Making matters worse, many inkjet printers are notorious for not printing at all when even one of their multiple ink cartridges is empty. In other words, if your printer is out of yellow ink, you may not be able to print a black-and-white text-only document.

When your printer’s ink needs to be replaced, you should get an alert message on both your PC and the printer’s display. If you don’t see a warning but suspect a problem, select your printer in the Print & Fax system preference, click on Options & Supplies, and then click on the Supply Levels tab for information.

You might see only an “Information Not Available” message. Try launching the utility directly. Note that printer utilities typically don’t work if a printer is connected to a Mac over a network–for example, through an AirPort Base Station. To work around this, temporarily connect your printer directly to one of your Mac’s USB ports.

Tip: A message that says you’re low on ink may be incorrect. Especially if you haven’t used the printer for a while, the problem may be that the print head’s nozzles are clogged. To check for this, and hopefully fix the problem, clean the nozzles with the appropriate feature in the printer’s utility. (The manual that came with your printer should provide details.)

The most common printer-related complaints we get are from consumers aching at the high cost of ink or toner. Yes, ink can be costly, particularly for people who print in high volume, but there are ways to reduce your printing costs over time. Here, we offer a few money-saving printing tips. Most of them tried and true, but some have downsides or up-front costs that you should weigh carefully before implementing them. It’s also good to have a general idea of how much you print every month or even every year (either personally or for your business), as usage plays into what tips will work for your particular situation.

If some of these suggestions seem self-evident, ignore them and be grateful you’re already on the right track. Your no-brainer may be someone else’s cash-saver.

Shop for a printer with a low cost per page.

Many printers have a low sticker price, but when you factor in ink costs, you may be paying more for them in the long run. Ink or toner costs tend to be inversely proportional to a printer’s price; high-end laser printers often have a very low cost per page, while budget inkjets frequently have high ink costs. But even for printers within a given price range, there may be considerable variation in running costs. It pays to do your research so you don’t get stuck with a printer with inflated ink or toner costs.

Bring your brochure printing in-house.

Some colour lasers are capable of printing graphics, photos, and/or text at a quality suitable for use in basic marketing handouts or brochures. Buying a high-quality laser or LED-based printer can reduce or eliminate the need and cost of sending those materials to a print shop. Investment in such a printer will pay for itself over time and then provide cost savings, as well as the convenience of on-demand 24/7 printing.

Get a printer with an automatic duplexer—and use it.

Most business printers sold today, and many consumer printers as well, include (or offer as an option) an automatic duplexer, which lets you print on both sides of a sheet of paper. Several vendors now sell their laser printers with duplex printing as the default mode. Duplex (two-sided) printing is both eco-friendly and economical, as it can cut your paper use and costs nearly in half. Just remember, when you do need to print single-sided documents, to change the driver setting to simplex printing. It’s also important to note that duplex printing is somewhat slower than simplex printing for a given document, as the duplexer has to flip the page over to print on the back.

You can reduce clutter and save ink and paper by only printing the material you actually need. Why print out the four pages of legalese at the end of a bank statement, or the 242 comments that follow an opinion piece? Do you really want a hard copy of that 50-page report, or will reading it on screen suffice? Preview your documents before printing; many documents, particularly webpages, will print quite differently than they look on screen, often with gaps or blank spaces within.

Check your printer’s software or driver settings. Most printers come with a user-friendly software interface that lets you access and tweak many of the printer’s functions. All come with a printer driver, a program that controls the printer, converting files and commands into a format the printer can recognize. The driver offers a more direct way (and in some cases, the only way) to change settings, with all the settings accessible through a tabbed interface.

To find the driver, open the Printers page (in some Windows versions, it’s called Devices and Printers) from the Start menu or the Control Panel, right-click on your printer’s name or icon, and open the Printing Preferences tab.

Whether you work from the software interface or the driver, our recommendations are the same. Look for an ink-saver or toner-saver mode. Print in Draft mode except when presentation-quality output is required. Wherever possible, print in black and white instead of colour. If your printer supports duplex printing, using it will enable you to save paper.

Be skeptical of low-cartridge warnings. Warnings that a given colour cartridge is running low and needs to be replaced often start well before the ink level is actually a problem. The accuracy of such warnings can vary greatly between printer brands and models, and you don’t want to waste ink and money by replacing the cartridges too soon. In time you’ll learn whether your printer’s warnings are dire or premature. Until then, don’t rush to replace a cartridge, unless you notice degradation in the output quality, or if you are starting a large and vital print job.

Take care of your ink and toner. With older ink cartridges, particulates may come out of solution and clog the nozzles. To prevent this, don’t overstock on ink cartridges so they extend past their “use by” date. Also, match cartridge capacity to how much you actually print, to avoid having large-capacity cartridges languish beyond their time. (It’s also a good idea to regularly clean the nozzles—your printer should have a setting that will clean the nozzles and print out a test sheet.)

With laser printers, toner will settle over time, causing it to be unevenly distributed on the printed page, causing faded areas and/or streaking. If your laser print quality is deteriorating, remove the toner cartridge from the printer and shake or rock it from side to side five or six times. You may be able to do this several times before the cartridge actually needs replacing.

Canon print heads use a heat process to eject ink from the print head. Imagine a line of very small tubes filled with ink and little heaters near the tip of each tube. When the tiny heater momentarily heats up, a small air bubble forms in the tube. This, in turn, forces a small drop of ink out of the tip. This is where the term “bubble jet” originates.


Print head failures are often really heater failures. Much like the filament in a light bulb, they simply burn out. Since this is part of a circuit that can be tested, most printers will then flash lights or display an error on your computer related to the print head.
Sometimes the error may be a bit misleading; such a referring to head temperature, an incorrectly installed cartridge, a “wrong cartridge”, or missing cartridge. If the error is pointing even vaguely to the print head, that’s the best place to start looking for a solution assuming you’re not simply out of ink.


Naturally most print quality shortcomings are related to the print head. Many, however, are not entirely the fault of the print head. If you don’t print fairly regularly with your inks for an extended period, the nozzles in the head will begin to clog or build up residue that deflects the spray. Both issues result in “banding”. Banding generally shows up as faint lines through the image; either blank lines or discoloured lines. As residue continues to build up an entire colour may drop out causing discoloration of the entire image. This may be due to clogging nozzles but it may also indicate that the pump charged with cleaning the print head is clogged and no longer doing its job.


When you have a print quality issue the first step in troubleshooting the issue is to do what’s called a “nozzle check” test. In the Windows/PC world you can do this by clicking on Start, then Control Panel, then Printers. This should bring up a window that shows the printers installed on your computer. Right click on the name of the printer in question then select Properties. This opens the printer driver – the software that was installed from the CD that came with the printer. The nozzle check test should be under a tab named something like “maintenance” or “utility”. The nozzle check test prints a sample of each ink colour in a grid or block pattern. Problems with print quality are usually obvious on the nozzle check sample.

If you find missing lines, run a cleaning cycle and reprint the nozzle check pattern. Sometimes the colour will come back with a clean or a fresh cartridge.


If you print a nozzle check pattern and ink is missing in a very regular pattern such as half a block is missing or every other column in a grid is missing you may be in a bad situation. Missing part of a colour in a very regular pattern indicates that a portion of the head has electronically failed. Or that part of the signal to fire nozzles is not reaching the head. Unfortunately, there’s no way to be certain what exactly has failed in this situation.

At this point, replacing a print head is risky. We find it sometimes fixes the problem but just as often points to a problem elsewhere. If the latter is true, you’ve likely written off the print head that was just installed.

With our current winter weather I would recommend getting your dancing shoes on and giving your stored up toner a good solid shake, this will help get that toner powder moving freely again and help prevent the toner from clumping up.

The good news is that toner cartridges can be stored for long periods of time without going bad however the toner will not work well if it is heavily subjected to long exposures of unfavorable temperature, humidity, or light.

To guarantee the best results from the cartridges, make sure to keep them sealed in a bag until they are to be installed into a printer. Do not keep them lying around without being covered or surrounded by a bag. Keep the cartridges at room temperature in a dry location and avoid exposing them to extreme humidity, cold, or heat. Various weather conditions could make the toner (a fine powder) clump together or otherwise fail.

Some specific conditions to consider when storing your toner cartridges are:

  • Do not store your toner in temperatures in excess of 35 degrees Celsius or lower than 10 degrees Celsius. These are numbers that generally apply to most cartridges.
  • Keep your toner cartridges horizontal. Do not store your cartridges vertically.
  • For long-term storage, keep the toner cartridges in their original packaging (cardboard box and sealed bag).
  • Try to keep the relative humidity where your cartridges are being stored between 45 percent and 80 percent.
  • Do not store your toner cartridges in any place that experiences rapid and extreme fluctuations in temperature or humidity.
  • Avoid subjecting your toner cartridges to direct sunlight, even for short periods of time.
  • Avoid storing or keeping your toner cartridges in places that are dusty or where dust may gather.
  • Do not store your toner cartridges in your car or vehicle – not even the trunk – for long periods of time.
  • Do not store your toner cartridges anywhere corrosive gases may be present.
  • Toner cartridges can be affected by salty air. Try to keep your toner cartridges out of air that may have high saline concentrations.

If you follow these guidelines, you will likely keep your toner cartridges in working condition whenever you choose to use them, maximizing their life spans.

As Brother Printers seem to slowly be taking over households and businesses I thought this week it would be a good idea to cover a few basics for the humble Brother laser printer.

Understanding your error messages:

Most Brother Printers come with a really handy LCD / LED screen that points you quite accurately at what and where your faults lie. In some cases though you may only have a few small LED lights that light up in red when something goes wrong. Here is a basic explanation of what these are indicating:

Drum Light: Usually pops up when your Drum unit (the carriage that your toner cartridge fits into) is coming to the end of its life.

Resolution: Purchase a new drum unit and install in your machine (Note: Brother Drum units do not have an electronic chip on them so you need to reset this manually. Check your user manual that came with the machine for instructions on how to do this).

Toner Light: Usually pops up and starts flashing when your toner cartridge is coming to the end of its life.

Resolution: Wait until the machine stops printing completely so you are not changing your toner cartridge too early, usually this light will indicate that it is running low and still have a few 100 pages of printing remaining in the cartridge, when the machine runs totally out of toner the light will come up a solid red rather than flash.

Error / Paper Light: Usually pops up when you have a sneaky piece of paper crawled up and jammed in your machine.

Resolution: Time to open up every panel you can find and get on the hunt for a piece of paper that has caught itself up. I usually approach this by:

  1. Power off the printer
  2. Disconnect all connecting cables
  3. Remove the paper tray and checking that the alignment tabs have a snug fit, take this opportunity to give your paper a good fan out as it has likely been sitting there absorbing any moisture in the air.
  4. Open the toner access door and remove the drum and toner, sometimes a piece of paper can get jammed here and make it VERY difficult to remove the drum and toner, try not to force these units out as this can cause damage, instead try turning the printer around and opening the rear access door and seeing if you can see any edges of the paper that you can get a grip on and slowly pull.
  5. Rear access door will usually have a few more panels inside that can be opened to reveal the fuser unit rollers, be aware that this are can be quite hot so give the machine a minute or 2 to cool down if you have to access this area. If any paper is visible pull this towards you rather than from the front of the machine so the paper follows its natural path out.

Everything needs to be maintained, including all those electronic devices deployed in your home-based office or workplace, and few devices require more attention than your inkjet printer. Whether you use your printer a lot, or hardly at all, you have to change ink cartridge, and/or clean the print head every now and then.

Believe it or not, an inkjet printer that sits (especially for long periods) idle will require print head cleaning more often than one that gets used frequently. If a cartridge doesn’t have ink passing through it now and then, the ink in them dries out, clogging the print nozzles, where the ink is actually applied to the paper. If a set of cartridges sits idle for too long, the nozzles may clog to the point of no return, and no amount of cleaning will unclog them.

The good news here is that most inkjet printers use print cartridges with the print heads built into them. Hence, a clogged print head is not a disaster. Fixing it usually simply requires buying a new ink tank. However, as you can imagine, throwing away unused ink cartridges can get expensive.

Finally, one more thing before we get started. Do not clean your print heads needlessly; it’s a terrific waste of ink.

Cleaning the print head:

If you thinking that cleaning a print head full of coagulated ink sounds messy, well have no fear. It’s all automatic, and you don’t have to touch the print heads themselves, nor even the ink cartridges, for that matter.

In the following example, I’m using Brother’s MFC-J5620DW. However, the procedure, and the ensuing dialog boxes are quite similar, regardless of the make and model of the printer. Unlike some others, though, this Brother Inkjet allows to you clean just the black print head, all three of the colour print heads (cyan, magenta, and yellow) at once, or all four cartridges in the same cleaning session.

Which type of cleaning you should perform depends on your print quality. If, for example, you see discrepancies in your black lines and text, perhaps the black print head needs to be cleaned. In any case, it’s not always easy to tell.

Depending on your printer, you may find instructions in the manual for diagnosing print quality, as does this Brother model. Sometimes, though, you might just have to clean them all.

To clean your print heads, follow these steps:
  1. Go to Windows Control Panel. (There’s a few ways to do this. One of the more common is to hover or click the right side of your screen to bring up the Charms menu.
  2. Click Settings (the gear icon) to open the Settings sub-panel, and then click Control Panel.
  3. In the “Adjust your computer’s settings” section of the Control Panel, under Hardware and Sound, click View devices and printers to open the Devices and Printers dialog box.
  4. Right-click (or the appropriate touch combination for your device) the icon for your printer and choose Printing Preferences.
  5. Click or press Settings, and then Ink.
  6. Click or press Cleaning.
  7. Choose Black, Colour or All.
  8. Let ‘er rip. (Click OK or whatever.)

When the cleaning is finished, the printer will return to Ready mode.

Usually, one cleaning is enough; seldom have I had to do this twice, but I have had to. Brother’s manual says that if after five times print quality doesn’t clear up, you should give up and buy another cartridge, or cartridges. By the time you’ve flushed an ink tank that many times, you would have used up a bunch of the ink inside, anyway. But then, nowadays, some ink cartridges are pretty big, good for thousands of pages.

What is Firmware?

Firmware is the Software installed on the Printer (“Software for Hardware”). For example, the Firmware of a printer is the software which controls/instructs the printer on how to perform certain functions. Examples are; how fast it prints, when to feed paper, when to eject paper, when and where to print. Simply put, anything the printer undertakes is instructed by Firmware.

So what happens when I update my firmware?

You would assume updating the firmware would be good, as this allows the printer manufacturer to perform various tweaks or improvements to existing functions or even create new ones!). However, the downside of updating your printer Firmware is the updating of your Ink Monitoring or Cartridge Recognition systems. This simple tweak can cause your current compatible, refill or remanufactured cartridges to become unstable and no longer readable with the newly updated Firmware. This might not be the case with every Firmware Update, but if a firmware update is undertaken, the recognition of the pre-working compatibles is at risk. As you can imagine, print consumables are the source of financial gain for OEM Print companies, the ‘gain’ generally isn’t found in the sale of a printer. Some printers are actually cheaper than the consumables, eectively ‘giving’ the machine away in the form of ‘hooking’ consumers into purchasing the more expensive consumables. By altering the recognition of the chips is widely viewed as a way of controlling the market.

If a Firmware Update is undertaken, and the recognition of current compatible cartridges is at fault, then the removal or reversal of the update generally can’t be done in a safe manner. Newer machines are subjected more to this eternal battle between Firmware and Chip recognition. This practice does hinder the flow of compatible cartridges within the consumables market.

Prevention is better than cure

Don’t take the riskr, before updating the Firmware on your printer always consult your local Compatible Cartridge supplier for further information.