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HP’s Curious Printer Setup Confounds Devoted Mac User

A long-time friend produces annual jazz concerts. He’s been using Macs for years, and stores his mailing list in FileMaker Pro. No, he’s not an expert at databases, but he has managed to put something together that works to his liking.

That is, until his printer got in the way the other day.

Indeed, he called me frantically, because he had to get his mailing out within just a few days, or he’d lose a lot of business. So I rushed over and checked out his configuration. He has an iMac G5 running Mac OS 10.4.9. There were no system add-ons, and aside from Apple Mail and Safari, he runs FileMaker Pro and Skype. He is definitely not the adventurous type, and only wants things to work reliably.

Well, everything did work reliably, until his printer started delivering blank pages when he attempted to output his mailing list. Now, I didn’t immediately blame the printer as responsible, because all other documents printed perfectly, every time.

The problem reared its ugly head just a few days earlier, all of a sudden, without any advance warning. One day it worked, the next day it didn’t. He hadn’t changed anything in his work routine to precipitate that nasty symptom.

Well, the printer, an HP 6210 All-in-One multifunction model, indeed “seemed” all right, and I’ll leave that in quotes for you to ponder as I progress through the diagnostics that ensued. First, I checked the Printer Setup in FileMaker Pro and found nothing amiss. His simple mailing list and envelope designs were unchanged. Now understand that I am not an expert in FileMaker Pro by any means, so I did spend a little time brushing up on documentation, help menus and finally the troubleshooting information at FileMaker’s site.

Basically, every single element of the setup was perfect. Indeed, I forwarded a copy of the database file to a FileMaker Pro guru, who had some minor issues with the way it was designed, but he failed to discover anything that could possibly impact the print process.

It didn’t take long to rerun the 10.4.9 Combo updater, in case the incremental updater had a problem, nor upgrading the software for his HP 6210. The symptoms remained unchanged. Regular documents printed fine, but the ones from FileMaker Pro didn’t.

Now early on, I asked the client if he had been replacing ink cartridges as necessary, although the printer’s LCD status screen didn’t show any problems. But that message, I soon learned, wasn’t accurate.

Finally he remembered that he hadn’t replaced the color cartridge for quite some time, because he didn’t print color documents — ever. So he didn’t see the need to buy a product he wasn’t going to use, and there was no status message on the printer or on his iMac to indicate this oversight could possibly cause any problem.

Indeed, my friend’s FileMaker Pro database simply contained black text, and no colors whatever. It was just a list of addresses, so why should that make any difference?

Well, it did. After all was said and done, all he had to do was replace the color cartridge and everything worked perfectly!

So why should printing function normally with other applications and not with FileMaker Pro? Why should it matter if the color cartridge was spent when the black cartridge was doing all the work? And why didn’t the HP 6210 display an error warnings to explain what was going on?

Indeed, you’d think there would be some sort of status message received from the printer driver that something was wrong, but the printer’s Dock icon delivered nothing more than a bogus message that the print processing procedure was working normally.

Now I understand there may be valid reasons why the manufacturer insists that both the color and black and white cartridges be filled with ink, because I suppose there might be the risk of damaging the print heads.

What’s more, HP makes good stuff. They’re a huge, responsible company that’s attained number one status in the PC market across the planet; also-ran Dell only occupies the top position in the U.S. these days. What’s more, HP is the number one printer maker as well, and its products have consistently garnered top ratings for performance and reliability.

Now I don’t pretend to know if the lack of a proper warning message is the fault of the driver, the printer, or both. But it all goes to show how even the little things can sometimes cause huge problems that aren’t always so easy to figure out.