How Do I Fix a Paper Jam?

How To fix a paper Jam


We all own printers and we all have run across the annoying paper jam that always seems to happen at the worst possible time. So how do you fix the jam and what in the heck causes paper to jam? In this post we are going to look at those questions and try to give you the information you need to prevent or fix a paper jam without having to call in a printer repair tech that is going to charge you anywhere from $80 an hour up to $180.

First let’s talk about what you can do to prevent paper jams.

  • Do not over fill your paper tray. If you are encountering frequent paper jams try reducing the amount of paper you are putting in the tray. Overfilling can cause paper jams. The fill line that most printers provide are a rough suggestion at best. As time goes on and the parts in the feed tray wear down, sometimes the simplest fix is just putting less paper in the machine.  If the feed tray is overloaded, the paper mechanism/pads are unable to get the right angle to separate the individual sheets, resulting in a multiple sheet jam-up.
  • Make sure the paper tray that feeds the paper into the printer is aligned properly and that the slider used to hold the paper in place in the tray is snug with the paper. Many printers feed trays have back-to-front and side-to-side sliders that allow different types and sizes of paper to be fed into the printers, if the slider is not properly positioned it can cause jams. Printers have minimum and maximum media sizes it will accept. Letter size (8 ½” X 11”) is the standard size in the U.S. but some printers can handle media as small as 3 X 5 cards, or as large as tabloid size (11” X 17”). You run the chance of getting paper jams if you try running media that is smaller than the printer can handle and these jams can be very difficult to find and clear. Better to just stick with the recommended paper for you printer.
  • Use standard office paper: Folded paper, paper with labels, and specialty paper such as hard bound paper can often cause paper jams. Not all printers can handle card stock, t-shirt transfers labels, envelops, bumper stickers, glossy photo paper and many more. For normal, everyday printing, we suggest multi-purpose class paper or higher.  Cheap copy paper can be courser, resulting in more friction between the pages, and thus more common paper jams.  Some printers only accept standard 20-24lb paper. It’s a good idea to check your printer’s manual before you buy specialty media. If you don’t have documentation for your printer, check out the manufacture’s website, you can find a PDF of the manual there and all of the info you will need to make the right choice. And make sure if you buy media such as labels or photo paper, buy a brand that say’s it’s made for an inkjet or a laser printer so you match the type of printer you have. A generic stock may work but it may also cause your printer to jam. As an example, an inkjet printer lays the ink down and it drys on the paper so it may not work well on certain types of coated paper. On the other hand, a laser printer uses heat to melt the toner on the page, choose the wrong paper here and you could get disastrous results. If you’re uncertain what type of paper you should be using, check your printer manual.
  • Do not use different types of paper at the same time. When the time comes when you want to use a different size or type of paper, remove what’s in the tray, replace with the new paper and reset the slides to fit.
  • If you keep getting paper jams after following these steps, examine the printer for any pieces of paper that may still be lodged in the rollers from previous jams. Any torn paper, printing labels or other foreign objects in the paper path will cause paper jam errors.
  • Loosen the Sheets: sheets will often stick together if they are loaded directly from the ream to the printer. It is best to loosen them by either fanning the sheets once at each end or rolling the stack diagonally twice in opposite directions. If you are adding more paper to a stack that is already in the printer it is best to remove the paper in the printer, put it together with the paper you will be adding, fan the stack and then tap it against a desk so that all the edges line up. Then load the entire stack onto the printer tray.  It may seem a bit excessive but this will prevent any odd edges or corners from sticking out and help keep the printer from jamming.  
  • Make sure to store your paper in a cool dry place, you must keep humidity away from your paper.
  • Don’t try using damaged paper again in your printer, save it for other projects. Bent of curled corners on a piece of paper will cause a jam.
  • Only use full sheets of labels in the printer, once labels have been removed from the sheet, the edges of the leftover sticky surface can catch inside the printer and cause a jam. This is one of the worst paper jams because the sticky substance will transfer to the rollers that the paper travels over and is almost impossible to get completely off. If you print a lot of labels, consider purchasing a label printer which is made specifically to perform this task.
  • Make sure to use the right tray for the type of paper you are using. For example many printers have a separate tray or slot for special media such as envelopes or labels. This tray may be called a multipurpose tray, the single-sheet input slot or the manual feed tray. Some printer also have more than one output bin. These bins allow the paper to feed through the printer in a more direct part which can help to prevent jams and helps the paper from wrinkling or curling. Again, check your printers documentation for information on how to use theses trays and how to select them in your software.
  • Keep your printer clean, dust, ink and toner builder inside the printer can often cause jams and decrease print quality. Clean and wipe out externally visible surfaces substances as best you can using a soft brush or cloth. Use canned air to clean out the internals, we suggest avoiding cleaning the internal parts with anything other than canned air, as you run risk of shock or injury (or worse, severe damage to the printer). Some printers do have a built-in paper path cleaning system. This usually involves selecting a cleaning setting in the printer software. The printer may run several pages through the printer during the cleaning process. WARNING: DO NOT use alcohol or other cleaners on the printer unless the documentation specifically recommends it. They can cause serious damage to the internals of the machine, or potentially start a fire.
  • Understand your printer. As you use your printer you may notice that it often jams when printing on certain types of media. As an example some printers will jam if you put a stack of card-stock in the tray but will do fine when fed one sheet at a time. By watching for quirks like this can save you a lot of aggravation. Even though the manual may say you can do this or that, if you find your printer just doesn’t like it, make note and try something different. Printers can be finicky. Know what the settings should be and what they are on. Knowing this helps you to make changes and see what the results are. Each printer works best with certain settings depending on the environment the printer is in.

Here are some steps you can follow when you do get a paper jam (you will want a bright flashlight for some of these steps to see inside the machine properly):

  1. Turn off the printer.
  2. Inspect the location or tray the printed paper ejects to. If the stuck paper is visible manually remove it.*
  3. Remove all paper trays and any paper that may be stuck between the tray and the printer. If the stuck paper is visible manually remove it.*
  4. Open the printer door that allows you access to the printer ink cartridges or toner and look for any stuck paper. If the stuck paper is visible manually remove it.*
  5. Turn the printer back on. If you continue to receive a printer jam error try repeating the above steps again. If issue still persist and you see no paper that is stuck in the printer it’s likely your printer is experiencing another hardware issue and we suggest contacting the a service center near you to send a tech out to your location.
  6. One last tip, you may be able to find a video on how to clear a paper jam on your specific printer on line. Just Google “How do I clear a paper jam in my (enter your printer model here). As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and since a video is a few thousand pictures in succession it can be worth a lot!

* To manually remove paper, pull on the paper with both hands being careful not to tear the paper while pulling it. If you’re unable to get to an edge of the paper that allows you to pull it you may need to manually rotate the gears that feed the paper through the printer. Any step involving reaching into, or forcing paper of gears to move can be risky, so it is best to be careful.  When in doubt, give your trusted printer tech a call and they might be able to help walk you through the steps.


Some great resources on learning about clearing paper jams and what cause them:

UConn prepared this great document on clearing paper jams in laser printers.
A great video from Dell Support on the different types of jams in inkjet printers, how to clear them and why they happen.

One of our favorite resources for do-it-yourself printer repairs:

As a final note, we provide for your entertainment and to remind you to take printer issues in stride: Cat Versus Printer

 As always, have a question? Contact us and we can help!

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