How to fix a printer spooler error message in Windows 10 and Windows 11

Inside a printer.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Most people have printers at home, especially if they work from home regularly, and we're pretty confident that everyone who has a printer has raged at the device when it's not behaving properly.

Imagine the scene: you're rushing to get a document printed or scanned, up against a deadline, and the printer has been working fine for months – but right when you need it, the unit will clam up, refuse to print and throw its toys out of the pram.

More often than not the issue is impossible to detect and, even if you do get an error message, it's usually pretty cryptic. That only adds to the frustration and means you cannot solve the problem quickly.

Thankfully, though, we're here to help. Many printer errors are caused by the spooler rather than the printer itself, and they can be remedied if you know some basic tricks.

Once you've had a look at those – and got your printer working properly – take a peek at our password security tips or the best ways to choose antivirus for your business

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What's a printer spooler?

If you come across a broken printer then more often than not it's going to have gone wrong because of the spooler. And while you might assume this is an obscure component inside the printer itself, that's not actually the case.

The printer spooler is a little bit of software included with Windows 10 and Windows 11 – and with older versions of Windows, too. It transfers print requests from your computer to the printer, and allows them to be queued up for printing in sequence. If this service isn't working properly, your PC can't send print instructions to the printer, and you won't get very far.

Indeed, anyone who's done lots of printing will be familiar with error messages that say "the local print spooler service is not running" or "print spooler error" or "printer connection failed".

While that's frustrating, there are some simple steps you can take to get your hardware working properly again. With a bit of luck you won't have to get too technical, either, and the methods we've explained here work on Windows 10 and Windows 11, so you don't have to look up different methods for different operating systems.

Starting strong

The first thing you should try if you have a printer spooler error? Reboot your PC. Seriously. It's uncanny how often that simple step will resolve a computing issue.

If that's not done the trick, hit the Windows button and type "windows update". Load the Windows Update app, click the Check for Updates button, and apply all of the available updates for your operating system.

It's important to keep your printer drivers, software and firmware up to date because that software forms a crucial link between the spooler and the printer. If you've got an app from your printer manufacturer installed on your PC or laptop, open it up and you'll probably find options for updating your drivers, software and firmware.

If not, find out your printer's model name and head to the manufacturer's website. Once there you should be able to find the latest printer software and drivers in their support or download sections. Download the relevant files, install them, and you'll be updated to the latest version of the software. The installer should provide instructions for how to do all of this.

If you'd like to be thorough about this process, press the Windows key and search for "apps". Load the resulting Apps and Features menu and uninstall your printer software. Once that's done, search Windows for "printers" and use the Remove Device button on your malfunctioning unit to make the operating system forget about it, too.

This should remove the printer from your operating system and allow you to start again from scratch with the latest version of the software. As before, the printer software's installation software should provide instructions for setting the printer up correctly if you've uninstalled everything from your system.

If none of these basic steps get your printer working, tap your PC's Windows key and type "troubleshoot". Click the Troubleshoot Settings option that appears, head into the Other Troubleshooters section, and run the Printer troubleshooter.

This will scan your printing system for common printing errors. If it finds any problems, the troubleshooter will let you know – simply click the Apply this Fix button to solve the issues. This is a great step if you haven't solved spooler issues by updating drivers and your operating system and it doesn't require huge amounts of technical knowledge.

Getting specific

Sadly, if those options don't work, you'll probably have to get a bit technical. And while that's certainly daunting, if you take things slowly, you'll be fine.

Your first step should be clearing the printer's queue of documents and then restarting the printer spooler. Tap the Windows key and search for "services.msc". You'll see an app called Services – open it.

In there, you'll see a huge list of modules that keep your PC running smoothly. Scroll down until you find Print Spooler, right-click, and click Properties.

A panel will open – stay in the General tab. Click the Stop button to halt the Printer Spooler service. Once that's done, press the Windows and R keys simultaneously to open the Run command. Type the following into the little box that appears:


Remember to change the letter C if that's not your operating system's main hard drive. Once that's typed, hit OK, and Windows should open a folder. And if you don't want to deal with the Windows + R shortcut and the Run window, you can open the File Explorer and navigate to the folder manually.

This folder is where your spooler keeps all the temporary files that are created during the printing process, and one of these is probably holding up your printer. Select everything in the folder and delete it. You might get a message asking you for permission to complete that action – that's normal, and that's fine. And don't delete the folder itself.

After you've emptied the folder, head back to the Services app, right-click on Printer Spooler, and select Properties. Press the Start button to reactivate the Printer Spooler service. Now that you've cleared out the dodgy queue of documents, you should try to print again, and it'll probably work.

While you're in the Services app, also locate the DCOM Server Process Launcher, Remote Procedure Call (RPC) and RPC Endpoint Mapper modules. These three tools are also needed for printers to function smoothly. Make sure they're running, and ensure that they're set to start automatically with your PC or laptop. Just right-click each service, head into the Properties menu and change the setting if it's incorrect.

Spool Intentions

If none of these fixes have solved your spooler situation, it's worth staying in the Services app and making sure the Printer Spooler tool is using the correct settings.

Open the Services app, right-click on Printer Spooler, and click Properties. In the General tab, ensure that Startup type is set to Automatic so the spooler loads whenever you boot your computer. Press Apply to save any changes.

Click the Recovery tab. You'll see five options here – First Failure, Second Failure, Subsequent Failures, Reset Fail Count and Reset Service. These options govern how the spooler behaves if it detects its own errors. The first three options should say Restart the Service, and those two text boxes should both be set to zero. If you have to change those, click Apply to save the alterations.

Finally, head to the Log On tab. There's a box labeled Allow Service to Interact With Desktop – make sure it's unticked.

Security scares

You may also find that your security software prevents signals from getting to your printer properly.

If you use Windows 10 or 11's own security tools, click the Windows key and type in "security" to get a link to the Windows Security app. Once that's loaded, open the Firewall and Network Protection module, and use the Allow an App Through the Firewall section to add exceptions for your spooler service and the software provided by your printer manufacturer.

This principle applies if you use third-party security software, too. Open your security app of choice, head to the firewall section, and add exceptions for your printer software. This method isn't ideal if you want to keep your PC as secure as possible, but it's worth trying at least temporarily so you can see if firewalls are tripping up your printer's communications.

If you're willing to wade through firewall exceptions, the Services app, spooler settings changes and software updates then you'll probably be able to solve your printer's error messages – and your day will likely get a little less frustrating. And when you're dealing with a dodgy printer, that's about all that any of us can ask.  

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Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.