CompTIA A+ Rapid Review: Printers

  • 4/15/2013

Objective 4.3: Given a scenario, perform printer maintenance

PC technicians are expected to perform basic maintenance on printers in the workplace. Laser printers require more maintenance than other printers, but they are also used more often. CompTIA doesn’t include inkjet printers in this objective because there is very little maintenance required. You might need to replace inkjet cartridges, replace print heads, or run calibration programs on an inkjet printer, but those tasks are covered in Objective 4.1, “Explain the differences between the various printer types and summarize the associated imaging process”.

Exam need to know...

  • Laser

    For example: What determines when a maintenance kit should be applied to a laser printer? What is typically included in a laser printer maintenance kit?

  • Thermal

    For example: How can the thermal head be cleaned? What should you use to clean a thermal printer?

  • Impact

    For example: What are common maintenance tasks required with an impact printer? What can help prevent damage to the pins on a print head?


Many components within a laser printer will wear out and should be replaced periodically. Maintenance kits include key components that should be replaced and typically include the following items:

  • Pickup rollers and separator pads

  • Transfer rollers

  • Fuser assemblies

  • Toner

True or false? When a laser printer displays a message such as “Service Required,” a maintenance kit should be applied to the printer.

Answer: True. “Service Required” or “Perform Printer Maintenance” are two common error messages indicating that a maintenance kit should be applied.

Laser printers often count how many pages have been printed and display maintenance messages when specific counts are reached. At other times, the laser printer might develop problems that can be resolved by applying a maintenance kit.

True or false? If toner spills, it’s best to vacuum it up with a regular vacuum cleaner.

Answer: False. If toner spills, it’s best to consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to identify the best method of cleaning it. If a regular vacuum cleaner is used, the toner will pass through the vacuum cleaner and go back out into the air.

Vacuums with high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filters can be used to vacuum toner. The HEPA filter will capture the toner particles. If a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter isn’t available, you can often clean the spill by dabbing with a paper or cloth towel soaked with cold water. Warm water or the heat of friction generated by scrubbing can melt the resin and can make the spilled toner more difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

True or false? If two or more pieces of paper are regularly being pulled into the laser printer, replacing the separator roller will likely solve the problem.

Answer: True. The pickup and separator rollers work together to pick up a single piece of paper, and if the separator roller is worn, the printer will often pick up more than one sheet of paper. Replacing the roller solves the problem.

Using the wrong type of paper or damp paper can cause the same problem. When paper is stored or used in areas with high humidity, it can absorb the water and start jamming within the printer. The solution is to use the correct paper and/or store it in an area with an acceptable level of humidity.


Thermal printers don’t require a lot of attention or maintenance, but they can still benefit from some basic care. One of the primary concerns is a buildup of paper dust within the printer, which should be periodically removed.

True or false? An electrostatic discharge (ESD)–safe vacuum cleaner should be used when cleaning a thermal printer.

Answer: True. An ESD-safe vacuum cleaner helps prevent ESD damage to the printer while it is being cleaned.

Paper used in thermal printers is typically on a single continuous roll with the last part of the roll marked with a different color on one side. When the user sees the printouts with the different color paper, they know the printer is almost out of paper. For most thermal printers, replacing this paper is as simple as replacing a roll of paper towels. You simply open the printer, remove the empty roll of paper, and install the new roll of paper.

When removing dust from the printer, the heating element on the print head should also be cleaned. The heating element on the print head can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth or cotton swab.


Impact printers have a lot of activity as paper is pulled through the printer and the print head pins hammer onto the ink ribbon to the paper. Because of this, it’s highly recommended to regularly clean these with an ESD-safe vacuum to remove the paper dust. Alternatively, you can take the printer outside and use compressed air to blow the dust out.

True or false? The ink cartridge should be refilled when the printout on an impact printer is faded.

Answer: False. Impact printers use ink ribbons not ink cartridges. The ink ribbon should be replaced when the printout is faded.

It’s sometimes possible to re-ink the ribbon to get more use out of it. However, this can be done only a limited number of times because, eventually, the repeated impacts to the print head will tear through the ribbon.

True or false? Paper jams in impact printers can be caused by tractor feed problems.

Answer: True. Impact printers commonly use continuous feed paper, and problems with the tractor feed mechanism are the most common source of paper jams.

True or false? Keeping an impact printer clean can help prevent problems with the print head.

Answer: True. Impact printers generate a lot of paper dust, and this can cause pins in the print head to jam.

A jammed pin might rip the paper if it’s jammed in the out position. If it’s jammed in the in or out position, it will impact the print quality.

In addition to keeping the inside of the printer clean, the platen should be periodically cleaned also. The platen is the round cylinder that turns with the paper. The print head pins hammer through the ribbon and paper onto the platen. Over time, the platen can have multiple indentations, but you can renew the platen by rubbing it with isopropyl alcohol.

Can you answer these questions?

You can find the answers to these questions at the end of this chapter.

  1. What is included in a laser printer maintenance kit?

  2. What is the primary maintenance required for a thermal printer?

  3. When would a print head on an impact printer need to be replaced?

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