How to Align Inkjet Printer Cartridges

Q   Every time I print to my HP color DeskJet, I get a message that tells me I need to
align the cartridges. I have taken them out and put
them back in several times, but the printer still
complains. How can I fix this problem? — N.C.

A   Many color printers, including your DeskJet, use two separate print cartridges: a black
cartridge and a color cartridge. Having two separate
cartridges is nice from the standpoint that you tend
to consume black ink at a different rate than color
ink, particularly if your color printer is the only
printer you have. You save money because you only have
to replace the cartridge you use up.

However, having two separate cartridges also
introduces some technical difficulties. For one thing,
you have to install the cartridges in the proper
receptacle (or "cradle") of the printer. That usually isn’t
too hard to figure out because the cartridges are
generally different sizes or shapes.

The hard part is getting the two cartridge
nozzles to line up perfectly so the black and color inks
align properly on the paper. Fortunately, the
printer handles this task, with a little assistance from you
and the software that comes with the printer. I will
give you the instructions for dealing with your
specific printer, but the basic technique should apply to
other color printers as well.

In your case, you need to run the HP DeskJet Toolbox software that came with the printer.
The printer driver setup program loaded the toolbox
software when you installed the printer driver.
You should have an icon for your toolbox program
somewhere in your Programs menu or on your Windows desktop.

Run the toolbox utility. Click the Maintenance
tab, and then click the Align Print Cartridges button.
The software will print out a sample page for you that
has registration marks printed at different alignment
settings. Your job is to identify the alignment
setting that looks best, and then tell the software which
setting to use. When you are done, you can click
the Print a Self-Test button to test the new printer setup.

After you align the cartridges, the printer
driver should stop pestering you with the
alignment-warning message. But, keep in mind that you must
go through the alignment procedure every time you
install an ink cartridge, even if you reinstall a
cartridge you just removed temporarily.

Other readers should note that their color
printer probably has an alignment feature as well,
especially if the printer has multiple cartridges. If your
cartridges are out of alignment, graphics may look
fuzzy or some colors may appear to be shifted out of
position. If you experience these problems, try
running the utility software that came with the printer
and look for an alignment feature.