Every now and then instead of getting the proper output we get numerous pages, mostly with just a single line, of output which appears to be the raw PCL. My theory is that this happens when the first byte or two of the document is somehow not received by the printer, which then doesn't know how to interpret the rest and does it's best by spitting it out as text.

This is a problem I've seen many times over the years but has been popping up more often since we upgraded to Win 7 64 bit, which introduced a number of headaches because of the HP lack of real support for 64 bits. It also appears to happen most often when printing PDF files. We have tried several different PDF readers in addition to Adobe's own but that hasn't helped.

While we mainly use HP printers, and the problem is not limited to any particular model, I've also seen it happen on other brands, albeit to a lesser extent. I've also been unable to discern a difference between printers used via a print server or those connected directly by IP address. It also happens to USB attached printers.

Because of the erratic nature of this problem there is precious little I can think of to try and debug it, so I'm after any ideas that might help to eliminate it.

  • Are you using PCL5(e) or PCL6 drivers? Would you be willing to test out a recent (v 5.0+) of the HP Universal Driver? We have migrated a large number of our printers to the UPD for both 32/64 bit clients. It has proved much less-errorific than PCL6 for our Windows 7 64-bit users. – jscott Jan 6 '11 at 22:29
  • @jscott, we have a mix of PCL5 and PCL6, with no discernible difference between them In a couple of cases I've tried switching between them but see no change. We are using the latest "Universal Driver" from HP because they have no printer specific 64 bit drivers for any of our laser printers. Like most "universal" things that just means it doesn't really work all that well for anything. – John Gardeniers Jan 6 '11 at 23:45

Ick, I really hate it when this happens (especially printers directly mapped by IP as there's no sensible way of telling where the print came from). I feel your pain, I've been in this situation before and it's not fun.

I'm being quite general with my points below, as this is a very common issue, and is relevant to most printers regardless of manufacturer.

There's always the good old "check for driver updates". I know what HP are like (or aren't, as it seems) at updating their printer drivers, but it's something to check every now and then regardless. While you're looking at drivers, look for model specific drivers, but also try the HP Universal Print Driver - I've had success with the universal driver where a model specific one wasn't available.

Bad connections (network cable, USB cables, $whatever cables) can corrupt whatever is going down the cable and cause the printer to print garbage. Try replacing the $whatever cable with another to see if this helps.

It's also possible that the printer is faulty. There's not much you can do about this if it's out of warranty. You need to look at how much trouble it's actually causing and replace if necessary.

Have you tried a brand new IP address for a printer which is printing garbage? It could be that you update the driver on 20 computers, but one you've forgotten about one that has a (buggy|old|corrupted) driver which is causing the printer to print garbage. This is probably a last resort, but we had to do this once with great success - the printer is still going strong today and hasn't printed garbage since we gave it a new IP address.

  • Thanks Ben. I've tried all those things, sometimes more than once. For USB changing the cable is always my first choice on account of how often it really is the problem. :( – John Gardeniers Jan 6 '11 at 23:47
  • Maybe updating printer firmware would be helpful if nothing else works – Jon Onstott Jan 7 '11 at 23:42
  • I suspect I may never get an answer to actually solve this issue but this one pretty much covers everything. – John Gardeniers Jan 13 '11 at 1:51

For smaller shops it pays to check/change network ports or even whole switches. And have a careful think about how your switches are daisy chained together.

  • Small or large doesn't really come into it but I have already tried all that. I also tried using a protocol analyser but, as is to be expected, the problem never happens while you're actively watching for it. – John Gardeniers Jan 9 '11 at 22:14

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