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Troubleshooting the Print Spooler in Windows 7

written by: George Sas•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 2/9/2011

Where to look for and how to solve the most common print spooler problems.

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    On the Microsoft Windows operating systems, the Print Spooler is the service responsible for managing the print jobs sent by the computer to the printer. The Print Spooler service will retrieve the print jobs from the client computer, determine which printer driver to be used for each print job and load that printer driver and print the job to the printer. Also if there are more than one print jobs in the queue the printer spooler will also take care of queuing the print jobs and temporarily store the print jobs on the print server computer before they are sent out to the printer. All in all, the Printer Spooler is the program that will take care of all the print jobs. As the print jobs are spooled on the printer spooler before they are sent to the printer, the user can pause, restart or delete print jobs.

    When troubleshooting Windows 7 Print Spooler problems, one must be aware of a few key components:

    • Print Spooler Folder
    • Print Spooler Service
    • Printer Drivers

    This are the key components you have to keep an eye with when trying to solve any printing issues as this are the most common factors that will cause the Windows 7 Print Spooler to crash.

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    Printer Spooler Folder

    The most common location for this its C:\Windows\System32\spool (depending on your Windows installation folder). You can always access this folder by going to Start > RUN and type in "%SystemRoot%\System32\spool" or simply navigate to this folder with the Windows Explorer. Within this folder you will see a few subfolders like: PRINTERS and DRIVERS. (I am naming here only the folders that are important for us right now). The "DRIVERS" subfolder holds all the printer drivers installed on the local print server and the "PRINTERS" folder will hold all the queued print jobs.

    In the "PRINTERS" subfolder you will usually see some files with the ".shd" extension os ".spl" extension. The ".shd" extension files provide information about which printer the print job was sent to and from whom the print job came. The ".spl" extension it's the drawing command sent to the printer. Each print job will usually generate 2 files each with the ".slp" and ".shd" extension.

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    Print Spooler Service

    The Print Spooler Service loads files into memory for later printing. All the print jobs go trough the Print Spooler service before they are actually sent out to the printer. If this service is not running on the machine, you will not be able to print. To locate the service simply go to Start > Run, and type "services.msc" then hit Enter. A new window will pop-up and show you a list of services running on the machine. On the right side you will be able to see a service simply called "Print Spooler". It's essential that this service is running and the startup type is set to "Automatic".

    In order to be sure that our Print Spooler service its always available and running, we can take some recovery actions in case of a service crash. Right click on the "Print Spooler" service, select "Properties" and go to the "Recovery" tab. Set "Restart the Service" in case of First, Second and Third failure.Windows 7 Print Spooler Recovery 

    You can also check this article on "Fixing Windows 7 HP Print Problems" where i went a bit deeper into the registry keys regarding the Printer Spooler problem.

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    Printer Drivers

    The Printer Driver is actually a small program/software that enables an application to communicate with the printer and sending the print jobs to the printer in a language the printer understands. Each printer manufacturer will also produce printer drivers for their printers for different operating system. The Printer Drivers are located in the "C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers" folder and you can check what printer drivers are installed on the system by checking the Print Server properties under the "Drivers" tab. Go to Start > Devices and Printers. Select an available printer, then on the top bar select "Print Server Properties".Windows 7 Print Server Properties 

    Here you will see what printer drivers are installed on the system. Uninstall any unnecessary print drivers or any old and depreciated ones that you might not need. From here you can also install new Printer Drivers by pressing the "Add" button.

    You may also want to check the spool folder permissions located at "C:\Windows\System32\spool". The default permissions should be: Creator Owner (Special), SYSTEM (Full), Administrator (Full), Users (Read & Execute, List , Read), Trusted Installer (List Folders and Contents). Also the "drivers" folder located at "C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers" should have by default the same permissions.

    Next Page : Troubleshooting Windows 7 Print Server Problems

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    Troubleshooting Windows 7 Print Server Problems by taking a look at the most common factors that will cause your Print Spooler service to crash.
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    Troubleshooting Windows 7 Print Server Problems

    Now that we have identified the key components we are going to monitor we can get started with the actual troubleshooting. Usually the most common print problem is caused by the "Print Spooler" service being stopped or crashed because it encountered a problem. The most common printing problems are caused by: Insufficient disk space, Incorrect Drivers installed on the system or Incorrect Printer Setting, Windows registry problems, Malware and Spyware

      We presume that you are trying to print a document to the printer and nothing happens or the Print Spooler simply crashes whenever you try to print.

      The best place to start troubleshooting for "Print Spooler" problems is the Windows Event Viewer. Go to Start > Run, and type "Eventvwr.msc" then hit Enter. The Windows Event Viewer will open. Go to the "Windows Logs" and look on the "Application" log and the "System" log for any print related errors and warnings. You can eventually filter the evens by "Critical", "Warning" and "Error" event level.

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      Disk Space and Corrupted Print Jobs

      You should check whether you have sufficient disk space or if any corrupted print jobs are still in queue and will cause your Print Spooler service to hang or crash. Each print job will generate some files on your "C:\Windows\System32\Spool\Printers" folder and if this files are not deleted automatically by the system, at one point, your hard drive might become full and there will be no more space to queue any print jobs. In order to delete these files we will first need to stop the print spooler service (if it's not already stopped or crashed). Go to Start > Run and type "services.msc". find the "Print Spooler" service and stop the service. Then navigate to "C:\Windows\System32\Spool\Printers" and delete all the files in this folder. By doing so you will empty the print spooler queue and delete any remaining print jobs. Try to start the "Print Spooler" service again.

      As an alternative you can stop the spooler service, delete the files, and start it again from the command prompt:

      net stop spooler

      del /q %systemroot%\system32\spool\printers\*.*

      net start spooler

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      Incorrect Print Drivers or Printer Settings

      The most common problem that will cause the Windows 7 Print Spooler to crash or stop responding are the incorrect or outdated printer drivers.

      If you have more than one printer installed on the Windows 7, we can try determining which printer causes the problem and why:

      • Try printing the same document on another printer. Still the same problem? If not it could be printer driver.
      • Try printing other document on the same printer. Still problems also with this document? This could be a problem with the document formatting.
      • Try changing the printer driver with a newer or sometimes older printer driver.
      • If your driver it's a PCL5 driver try with a PCL6 or Post Script printer driver or the other way around and see if it will make any difference.

      Drivers can get old and depreciated and they should always be kept up to date. Normally Windows 7 will install the default drivers to any plug and play printer you install into your system and they might not be the best or the most recent ones. Go to the manufacturer website and download the newest printer drivers for you printer and replace the old drivers. After replacing the drivers try to restart the print spooler and print again. Try a different document also and see if the problem still occurs with other type of documents. Check the properties of the printer and try to "Print Directly to the Printer" and see if the error still occurs. You can also disable the "Enable advanced printing features".

      Windows 7 Printer Properties 

      ALWAYS check the Event Viewer for errors after an unsuccessful print job as the event viewer can tell you more about the cause of the crash.

      * Note: After changing the printer driver it's always a good practice to try and restart the Print Spooler service and check the queue folder for any un-printed documents. (* Not always recommended if we are talking about a Windows Print server that has multiple printers shared for multiple client computers)

      Next Page: Less Common Print Spooler failure causes and summary.

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      Taking a look at the less Common Windows 7 Print Spooler Problems and some of the solutions available.
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      Less Common Print Spooler Problems

      Windows Registry Problems

      You might also have some Windows Registry problems and I recommend getting a Registry Cleaner software and try to clean up your registry. This can also be a less common problem for the Print Spooler problem. If you think you might have a registry problem you could use something like AML Registry Cleaner and try to fix your problem. Restart the machine and see if this helped.

      Malware and Spyware

      This can also be a less common problem for the Windows 7 Print Spooler problems and you should always keep your system up to date with the newest updates from Microsoft plus install an anti malware software and scan your system frequently. I recommend Malwarebytes as it should take care of the newest threats. There are quite a few malware and spyware programs out there that would try to take advantage of the Print Spooler service in order to infect the system as the Print Spooler service is installed by default on all the Windows 7 machines and it's practically used by every user that has a printer.

      Other Problems

      Other problems may appear because of the incorrect document formatting, when you try to print an A3 document on an A4 paper without the proper scaling. A print job that might be too big for the printer spooler or trying to force the print of a Color document on a text only generic printer, a system that is too low on virtual memory and many others that usually would appear as an error or warning in the Windows Event Viewer.

      If you experience problems when printing PDF files or if the printer pauses when printing this is a good sign of wrong drivers. It's well known that when printing PDF files the printer might pause for long time between the pages and it's because of the drivers. Try to replace the drivers with PCL5 drivers to see if this solves your problem.

      In case of extreme failure and when you are really unable to solve the problems by replacing the driver or checking the printer settings, you can always try a system restore and see if that helps.

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      Summary

      As we can see there are many factors that can affect the printing services on the Microsoft Windows 7 Operating system and I have enumerated the most common ones. To summarize the article lets make a check list with the things you will have to look after when trying to solve Windows 7 Print Spooler issues:

      • ALWAYS check the event viewer for Errors and Warnings related to the Print Spooler, Printer Drivers or any kind of print related events. The Event viewer is the most important tool you have in helping you determine what the problem is. It will tell you what happened, when it happened, and what caused the crash whether it's a driver problem, document formatting or any other issue within the printing system.
      • Use the latest drivers from you manufacturer. If you have a Printer Spooler crash, try to REMOVE the older driver first before you install the new driver. In this way you can avoid any conflicts that may appear. Check the event viewer before and after the installation of the new drivers and see if you have any kind of errors there.
      • Keep your windows updated and free of Viruses, Malware, Spyware or Worms of any kind by using Microsoft Update services, installing an Anti Virus on your system and check and clean your system with an Anti Malware software.

      You can also try to use the Microsoft Fix It Solution Center located here: http://support.microsoft.com/fixit/

      Select your Operating system, then select "Print, Fax, Scan, Share or save" in the problem area and select "Print" on the right pane then press the "Run Now" button. A file will be downloaded from the Microsoft site and you will have to run it on your system in order to identify possible print problems.

      If even this does not help you with the problem, you are more than welcome to leave a comment to this article with your specific Print Spooler problems and I will try my best to guide you trough in order to find the cause of the problem.