An illustration of a printer with a storm cloud above it.

Despite all her efforts, 66-year-old Carol Sawyer remains troubled by the struggle to connect a printer to the WiFi network in her home.

Even after the Houston-native and community volunteer replaced an error-plagued inkjet with a laser model, her wireless problems persisted, leaving her new HP printer stubbornly off the grid.

"It’s all very frustrating," Sawyer says. "The so-called quick setup is an oxymoron." Not even the experts at the local Micro Center Knowledge Bar could help her resolve the issue. And so, she predicts more than a few YouTube tutorials in her future.

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The whole experience has her feeling like "a dinosaur," she concedes. However, Sawyer's trials have little to do with her age.

"This confusion and frustration are, sadly, quite common," says Rich Sulin, who leads the printer testing program at Consumer Reports.

In fact, it's one of the more common pain points for printer owners—affecting one in 10 printers—according to CR's annual printers survey. (Ink/toner expenses are another frequent source of woe.)

In theory, a wireless connection should allow for the easy transfer of documents from a laptop or smartphone to a printer. But in reality, it's not always that simple.

What's Wrong?

Much of the problem, Sulin says, can be traced to people's desire to keep their printers out of view. And who can blame them? Printers—even home models—tend to be big and ugly.

But hiding them away leads to poor connections.

"Most people place their printer where it is most convenient for them, not necessarily where it gets the best WiFi signal," says Michael Duffett, vice president and general manager of inkjet printer marketing at Canon U.S.A.

Even when your laptop and printer are in the same room, the item you hope to print must go from the laptop to the router and back to the printer. So floors, walls, and doors—anything standing between your router and your printer—can weaken the signal.

And this challenge is compounded by printer design, which is one key reason that the setup process can be so vexing. "Unlike smartphones, which have signal strength indicators, most printers don't have one readily visible," Sulin says. "This makes it difficult to gauge the problem."

The screens on today's models—those that actually have one—also tend to be tiny. The interfaces fail to match the ease of use found on a smartphone or a tablet. And many printers rely on either multi-tap key entry (think pre-iPhone texting) or arrow keys to input increasingly complex WiFi passwords.

How to Fix the Problem

Following these steps should resolve the problem, but if the issues persist, consider calling the manufacturer's helpline.

Try connecting to the printer with a cable. This allows you to see whether the WiFi signal is the issue. If your printer works via a USB cable, then you know you need to move it.

Find a new spot for the printer. Ideally, one that's not too far from the router. Though the WiFi signals that deliver data to our devices may be invisible, you'll find that the impediments to those signals are often in plain view. "There are so many things inside a house that can affect WiFi," says Duffett. "From refrigerators to materials used in the construction of your house to pipes and even large fish tanks."

If the printer is under a desk or inside a closet, move it. If it sits in a room with a thick wooden door, open that door before you try to print. That’s one less barrier to impede the signal.

Check the printer queue. A print job with an error may be holding up the line, in which case, you simply need to cancel it. A large document can also take longer than expected to download and process. Sulin says, for example, that a file can require more time to travel to a printer from a phone than from a computer.

Reboot the printer. If you've owned any piece of technology in the last 20 years, you know the drill. Unplug the device, wait a minute, and plug it back in. Often that's enough to fix the problem.

Make sure the firmware is up-to-date. Manufacturers roll out updates to address bugs, vulnerabilities, and other issues—including connectivity problems. "In some cases, we've seen updates to routers and computers disrupt connections to printers," adds Sulin. "So moving from Windows 8 to 10 could have created an interruption to your connection. And a firmware update may solve that."

Confirm that your mobile device is on the right network. This is particularly important in homes with WiFi Range Extenders. If the extender creates two networks, your printer may be on one and the laptop on another, making connection impossible. In that case, log on to the right network or move the printer closer to the primary router.

Reset the printer. This is your "nuclear option." If all else fails, it will clear every setting, including your WiFi login info, so you can re-establish the connection. The directions for performing a factory reset vary by brand and model. If the printer has a liquid crystal display, the command is found in the printer's settings menu. On some HP models, you have to power down the printer, unplug it for 30 seconds, and turn it back on while holding the Resume button for 10 to 20 seconds. In other words, you may have to look online or consult the owner's manual for step-by-step instructions.

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