Dan the Computer Man

Your Computer's Best Friend
In-home computer repair in the San Antonio area

Printers: Troubleshooting and Shopping


If your printer acts like it's printing but fails to put ink onto the page, you have an ink problem. You may need to run the printer's built-in cleaning procedure, maybe 7 or 8 times. You can usually find it in the printer's menu.

If some of the colors don't work but black does, you can ask the computer to print B+W only, which will replace the missing colors with shades of black.

The problem with ink

Ink is sprayed out of microscopic holes. If you don't print for some time, the ink will congeal and clog the holes.

You will use ink whether you print regularly or not, because either:

  • You print
  • You don't print, but then must clean the cartridges (which sprays out lots of ink to unclog the holes)
  • You don't print, but printer is designed to automatically spray ink out periodically to keep the holes clear

Shopping for a new printer: What to avoid

  • My recommendation is to avoid a $50 special. Spend between $100 and $250.
  • Signs of lower-end printers:
    No screen on printer (just lights)
    No ethernet port (Wi-Fi only)
  • Avoid HP ENVY printers; most are low-end, and not enviable.

Some recommendations

  • Any manufacturer is fine. Epson, Canon, Brother, HP...
  • Black and white laser printers are more cost-effective in the long run, provided that color is not important to you. I do not recommend color laser printers because of the high cost of replacing 4 toner cartridges.

Features to be aware of

  • ADF, Automatic Document Feeder, to pull multiple pages through for scanning & copying.
  • Duplex printing (double-sided).
  • HP Instant Ink subscription service. If you sign up for it, you would be charged a small monthly fee, and then HP would send you cartridges at no further cost when your printer tells them it's low on ink.
  • Some printers, notably Epson's EcoTank series, have large ink tanks to alleviate frequent cartridge replacement. Ink comes in bottles to fill tanks.

Types of printers and their attributes

InkJet Printers Laser Printers
Delivery Method Liquid Ink
(See "The problem with ink" above)
Dry powder Toner
(like photocopier)
Color 4 or more cartridges
(B+W is very rare)
B+W only
  • Only 1 toner cartridge
  • Most economical way to print
  • 4 Color
  • 1 toner cartridge per color
  • Expensive to replace
  • Refill type Ink cartridges Large bottles to fill tanks Toner cartridges
    Off-brand refills Most printers today actively prevent off-brand ink Many will accept off-brand toner cartridges
    Longevity 1-5 years
    (disposable in the event of equipment failure)
    4-15 years
    (often worth paying for repairs in the event of failure)