I find it difficult to remember the number of times that I’ve been called out to fix a problem with a printer just to discover that all it needs is a little bit of tender loving care. It is for this reason that I’m dedicating my article this week to those little nuggets of information that could really help to improve the quality of your printouts without you having to fork out for a new printer.

1. Upgrade your printer driver. This will hopefully resolve any bugs that your printer manufacturer has discovered since the release of their product which could include better support for newer operating systems, more stable software or a slightly faster printing speed.
2. Always check the print quality settings. So often when people complain about the print quality of their publications I find that they actually have the printer set to ‘draft’ mode in the software. Whilst draft is good if you have, say 40 pages to print off just so you can check the layout or proof read it this mode is of very little use if you want your documents to be of a presentation quality. If you require a good quality printout then always check that you have the printer set to ‘Best’ mode and the printer resolution is set to maximum. Although you will use more ink and the print speed will be slower, the results will be far more impressive.
3. Clean your print cartridges. The nozzles in the printer cartridges can often become blocked resulting in poor quality printouts. The easy solution to this is simply use the relevant cleaning utility that would probably have been included as part of your printer software package. Some cartridges will require you to physically clean them however so check your manual before attempting this.
4. Align your print cartridges. With certain printers you will find that the printer heads will start to go out of alignment; this will result in a fuzzy, un-defined printout. On a number of printer models it will be possible to re-align the printer heads by using the software that will have come bundled with your printer. Check your manual or the manufacturers website for more information on this.
5. Select the right paper type. If you are going to be printing on high quality, glossy paper then let your printer know this so it can adjust its quality settings accordingly.
6. Select the right paper size. Ensure that your printer is set to A4 in the printer utility if you are printing on A4 and not B5 or legal, as this seems to be a common mistake to make. Although the printer will still work if these two sizes are selected, you will find that your margins will be improperly set up.
7. Select appropriate images. Always ensure that the original image is of similar quality to the maximum quality that your printer can output at as it is fruitless to scan an image at 19,200dpi if your printer is only able to output at 360dpi and vice versa. People very often take a bad quality picture file, instruct the printer to output at maximum quality and then become disheartened by the fact the file takes a long time to print but yet the results are still poor.
8. Replace your print cartridges. If the printer hasn’t been used for a while then it is possible that no amount of cleaning will remedy a couple of blocked cartridges, even if the printer does report them as being full of ink. Many print cartridges have an expiry date on them so ensure that you rotate the cartridges that you have in stock to make use of the oldest ones first.

Above I have covered a couple of obvious points as well as some points that you may not have known about. I’ve always believed that we should make the most out of the peripherals that we buy and not just attempt to upgrade it if we don’t believe it offers us exactly what we need. I don’t think there are many computer users who truly know how to adjust their printer settings to get the maximum quality for the specific job in hand and so a good read of the user manual or simply experimenting with the different options on the printer would save a lot of money on wasted printouts, slow printouts or the cost of upgrading to a newer model.

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