After working through a late night and early morning, you finish typing a report just ten minutes before the meeting starts. You hit print in time to grab a cup of coffee on the way…and the printer lets you down. You can see some of the words, but the whole document is faded and you’re about to be embarrassed in front of your entire team.

There’s hardly anything worse than an unreliable printer and few things more frustrating than getting consistently badly printed documents. What do you do if your prints are faded? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Though it is possible that your printer needs to be cleaned, the most probable cause is that your toner cartridge is simply defective. Before replacing it completely, try several things. First, faded printing sometimes results from cartridges that have become clogged in some way. You should particularly suspect this if the prints are faded on only one side and if the printer is not telling you to replace the toner cartridge. This may also make sense if you know you recently replaced it and there is no reason it should have run out. Try removing the cartridges and shaking them before putting them back in.

A second possibility is that the heads need to be cleaned. This technique is simple to perform and loosens up the ink to restore flow again. Remove the cartridges (taking care not to touch the exposed heads). Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe the print heads from front to back. It is critical that you never move side to side or wipe the cartridge more than once with the same area of the cloth, since that can result in cross-contamination between cartridges. After letting the cartridges dry, install them back in the printer.

The third step you should always take is to print a test page. These are designed to show problems clearly. You may notice, for instance, that a certain color is missing or misaligned. If you are unsure how to interpret any problems on the test sheet, consult your printer’s manual or talk to a service person.

Unfortunately, the most common solution for problems with faded prints is the one no one wants to hear—you will probably need to replace your toner cartridge. The obvious cause is when the cartridge has run out. This is also the reason that refilling cartridges yourself is not always a guaranteed solution. In the attempt to save money, you may find that the refill doesn’t fix the problem because the heads are part of the issue.

Printers can be temperamental and toner cartridges are often a headache. If you find that none of these solutions help to correct your faded prints, you should always be willing to consult with a professional to get your problem solved. Whether through taking the proper steps or asking someone for help, you should be able to restore your print quality and go back to getting things done!
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