I work in IT by day and write by night. I’m pretty good about keeping my work life and home life separated, but every once in awhile work follows me home or family life follows me to my paying gig. This is a little story about troubleshooting. It’s based on true events.
One of the issues we’ve been dealing with at our company of somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 employees is that Word documents with images embedded in them have rather suddenly stopped printing correctly. We have laptops and desktops deployed in the field, as well as several different printer models, including black and white vs color HP LaserJets. The different models generally are a result of items being replaced due to failure. Our base images are pretty standard still for my industry. We are using Windows 7 with Office 2010 and all of the printers that are experiencing the issue have UPD printer drivers. We still have a few legacy apps and upgrading our major applications will require several expensive infrastructure updates which we’ve been putting in place over the last year. So we are getting closer to being more current.
The hardest part about troubleshooting this type of issue is that not all the workstations are the same. We currently have in rotation somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 different models of desktops, and anyone who works in IT and buys bulk units knows even when you get a skid of models that are sequentially numbered with serial numbers, they can have slightly different parts inside, right down to the display adapter. Add to the mix that we don’t have a standard printer for all those different machines and things start to get a little more complicated. Not every document with images was failing to print at every workstation, AND not every document with images was failing to print for just one user. In other words, one user would experience an issue with Document 1 not printing, but Document 2 which looked very similar (a letter with logo) would print just fine. When another user would try to print Document 1, it would print the images just fine.
I spent around 18 hours researching on the Internet and testing everything I could find where anyone reported they were having issues printing Word documents with images. The feeds and support sites had messages going back as far as 2006 to the most current item I could find being 2018, with nothing being definitively solved. I tested every recommendation, possible solution, or setting change, including some that were obviously not going to be a solution. But hey! It’s Windows. I’ve learned to test even the most far out ideas. To give you an idea of just how many things I tried, all in various combinations, I printed nearly half a ream of paper before I finally found a sliver of gold. Some of the popular suggestions I tried included:
There are definite work-arounds which we have shared with our end users, but the work-arounds are applied only after a document failed to print properly, meaning paper, or worse, time, was being wasted. The work-arounds included:
Well, that certainly cleared nothing up, at least nothing obvious. The first work-around suggested it was an add-in issue. Some add-in was preventing docx documents with image files from printing correctly. I removed all the add-ins and tried printing again. No images printed. Tried again with no add-in and with combinations of the various settings turned off and on. The images in the document didn’t print. So maybe not an add-in?
The second work-around suggested it was flat-out Word’s issue. DOC files print correctly if they are in compatibility mode, but the minute I convert them back to DOCX, the images don’t print again. Interesting.
The third work-around seemed to suggest it might be driver-related. Word’s native PDF’ing tool handled the images just fine. They preview correctly after being PDF’d, and when printed from Adobe Acrobat, the HP driver handled the pdf document with embedded PNG images just fine. So not a driver issue?
I’m back to Word being the issue. What’s going on Microsoft? What don’t you like about this document with an image (that doesn’t print correctly) vs this document with an image (that does)?
What’s even more interesting than the fact that it took me so long to figure out the core of the problem is human nature in IT professionals. I had been creating documentation for end users creating screen shots with the Windows Snipping Tool. I probably started having the issue about the same time as everyone else (I don’t ever print letters with the logos because I have no need of doing that.), but because I always generate PDFs for our Intranet instead of uploading Word documents, I wasn’t seeing the issue play out. Or, actually, I did, but I ignored it because I figured out in two quick steps that the PDFs printed fine and I automatically started using that work-around. I thought it was a fluke on my PC and ignored the issue, promising to solve it “later” when I had more time, because that’s what we do in IT. We fix everyone else’s problems and work around our own until we find out our problems are everyone else’s too. (My family gets suuuper frustrated with me when I don’t jump right to fixing our home computer after spending eight hours at work.) It wasn’t until the calls started filtering back to me that others were experiencing the same issue and I finally buckled down to research what was going on.
Then suddenly. Bink! I had my light-bulb moment. Or maybe it was a “Duh” moment (though we had at least four other techs research this issue at various times). The images in the document are different. Seems like I should have figured that out from the very start when one document was printing the images correctly while the other one wasn’t, right? That seems pretty darn logical.
The problem with logical thinking like that is that we hadn’t changed our logos in a long time. Like years and years. Around six or eight years. The logos have been in PNG format for a very long time. In fact, I had to go all the way back to a set of our original templates done over ten years ago to finally find files that had JPG images. Anyone want to take a break from troubleshooting and take a guess why we switched to PNG files? Because of the size. With our one color logo, a PNG image file is significantly smaller than a JPG. In an effort to reduce the document size of the millions of documents we save in our system each year, we switched to PNG files. And that was perfectly fine for some five years or so, maybe longer. Now, suddenly our PNG logos aren’t printing.
And those Snipping Tool images that I was pasting into my end-user documentation? The Snipping Tool creates 32-bit PNGs. I can save an image from the Snipping Tool as a JPG, but if I just use the copy button (because it’s RIGHT THERE and it’s SO EASY), and then paste the image into Word, the image is pasted as a PNG file instead of a JPG. And it doesn’t print.
Well. Not quite. I do now have a better work-around for everyone. Embed JPG images instead of PNGs. But I haven’t solved the issue with why Word isn’t able to print those PNG images anymore. Unfortunately, that’s more testing for another day. Or maybe some Microsoft Office Tech will pick this blog post up, have her light-bulb moment, and leave a little comment that they have gotten everything all fixed up in Word. A girl can dream.