What Causes the Ink to Smear From My Printer?

By Tony Ehrike

There are many reasons why ink might smear on a printed document.
i Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

It can be very frustrating when you get ink smears on your printed documents. Sometimes the ink used to print the words smears and other times you may find a black line or band down one side of the paper. These problems can be resolved by checking your printer settings, ensuring use of proper printing materials and care of your printer will help avoid ink smears.

Print Quality

Sometimes choosing the best print quality will cause the printer to use too much ink, which can cause smearing. Modify your printer settings to print "good" instead of "best". Doing this will tell the printer to use less ink. Check your printer settings to make sure you are matching the appropriate paper type with what the toner is printing out.

Printing Paper

Read your printer manual to determine if the paper or material you're using is the proper material for your printer. If you find that you are using the correct material, consider whether the paper has been exposed to moisture or is water damaged. Printing material should be stored in a dry, temperature-controlled place. Avoid storing paper in damp or moist areas or near windows or doors.


If your printer has dirty media guides or is faulty in some other way it can cause ink to smear, particularly on the edges of the printouts. Wipe the media guides to clean debris away using a lint-free dry cotton cloth.

Defective Toner Cartridge

There are many reasons why your toner cartridge might be defective. Leaking cartridges are the most common issue. This occurs with repeated printer usage. The printer creates heat, which may cause the plastic of the toner cartridge to crack and leak. Your toner cartridge may also be defective or may not work if you wait long periods in between using it.