Take the Paper out of Paper Jam

July 27, 2023 | Kyle Kopp

You know that experience.  You’re zipping along, making great time and everything is going smoothly when, out of nowhere, everything comes to a grinding halt.  That’s right, it’s a paper jam in the copier.  This can be one of the most frustrating experiences with your copier or multifunction device because it makes no sense.  Why, all of a sudden, did the paper get stuck?!  Of the more than 16,000 service calls we took last year, almost 20% involved a paper jam in the device, so you’re not alone with this struggle.  But before you start calling the tech or cursing the manufacturer, understanding what causes a paper jam might help you avoid many of these situations in the future. 

What you may not realize, is that it might have nothing to do with the machine itself.  In fact, the majority of paper jams actually start with paper.  That’s a no brainer, you think.  The paper getting stuck is what a “jam” is, after all.  But let’s stop and consider the state of the paper before it is pulled into the machine for use.

First of all, is it the right KIND of paper?  Are you trying to print on thicker or thinner specialty stock?  If so, is your machine rated to handle that size?  Not all devices are built to pull in and properly feed paper that is rated higher than 28 to 32lb, which is the weight for most standard copy paper.  Those that are rated for specialty paper usually require settings to be changed so that the machine can adjust for the changes in paper size.  If this is not done, the rollers may be too close together for the thicker paper, resulting in an eventual jam. 

Similar to the paper weight is that actual size of dimensions of the sheet of paper.  If you’re using something other than A4 or 8.5x11 paper, you need to be sure that your machine is rated to handle that size and that your settings are in place.  Paper too large will get crumpled in the input feeder as the device gets more than it expects; paper too small can skew internally and get lodged between the rollers as it moves through the unit.  In both of these situations, you may need to consider if the machine you have is capable of doing what you need it to do.  There are several lines of production and specialty style devices that are specifically designed for use with a wide array of unique size and weight papers, and it might be worth exploring if this a better machine for your operation.

Secondly, are you OVERSTOCKING the paper tray?  You’ve got a paper feed drawer, or bank, that is part of your machine.  You open the drawer, drop in the ream and click go.  Well, those paper feeds also have a rating on them as to how much paper they can hold at one time.  They are “fed” into the machine via a spring system that pushes the floor of the bank upwards so that the top paper can reach the feeder and be pulled into the system.  These accessories have a maximum storage capacity designation.  If you’re over filling these banks to make life easier for yourself, what can happen is the paper inside gets overly compressed and the sheets start to stick together.  This can result in more than one sheet being pulled in at a time and, you got; jammed. In these cases, it’s best to explore why you feel the need to overstock.  Are you doing large runs and the continual refilling is a pain point?  Perhaps you need to explore a larger paper bank option, or maybe a higher volume rated device for what you’re doing.  If that’s not the case, try only filling the paper bank half way and make sure the paper has plenty of space.

Third on our list is the STATE of your paper.  Paper is most commonly sold in reams of 500 sheets.  These are individually wrapped and boxed in reams of 10 and palletized in boxes of 40.  Are you with me on the math, so far?  This means that most folks will buy between 500 and 200,000 sheets of paper at a time.  The average copier paper bank will hold around 2000 sheets at maximum capacity.  So depending on how much daily printing you’re doing, and what kind of a deal you’re getting from your Dunder Mifflin sales rep, you could be sitting on a lot of paper for a very long time.  If your paper is stored somewhere where it’s hot, or where there’s moisture, it could affect the sheets and cause sticking of the pages.  This results in the same issue as overstocking the paper drawer, when multiple pages are pulled to the feeder because their stuck together.  In these cases, it’s best to make sure you’ve got a good, indoor space to store paper that’s regulated by interior environmental settings, like climate control.  And maybe avoid those “buy a pallet, get a pallet” sales deals if you’re not running that many daily print jobs.

Quick note not related to paper: your toner is subject to the same storage threats as your paper.  Toner is a consumable item not intended for long term storage.  Toner kept in hot or damp environments, or for long amounts of time, can result in the toner clumping together and either failing to pull into the unit’s hopper, or building up on the device rollers and taking the machine down.  So avoid stockpiles or keeping toner on hand that you don’t expect to put into the device within 90 days or so.  Better yet, talk to our team about automating your toner shipments so you get toner right when you need it.

Back to your paper problems.  QUALITY of the paper can also be an issue.  We’re always on the lookout for the best deal.  It’s our human nature and as operators of a business, it’s our responsibility to effectively manage the bottom line.  But cheap paper, which is different than inexpensive paper for this conversation, is not made well and has tendency to fall apart at a microscopic level.  We call this paper dust.  Paper dust will enter the unit with the sheet of paper it’s on but will stick behind when the sheet runs under the rollers.  This dust will build up over time, like a shoe walking through mud, until the buildup is so bad that the paper can no longer pass through the feeder, and it gets stuck.  This is why it’s so crucial to find a reputable and trusted source for your paper.  It doesn’t mean you have to purchase the most expensive brand out there, but make sure it’s from a quality source and you’re getting a deal, not a future jam.

Finally, make sure the paper is properly ALIGNED when you put it in your drawer.  Sometimes we’re in a hurry and we throw the paper in to get finished with our print job, but you’re dealing with a delicate machine with a lot of complex moving parts making something fairly extraordinary happen.  Take a moment to make sure your paper feed guides are properly aligned so that the paper is on the right track to enter your device.  If it’s askew heading into the device, it’s going to end up askew inside as well.  Askew is another word for jammed, just so you know.

Now, to be fair, it’s not all on the paper.  There are other things that can go wrong with a unit, and not all of them are as preventable as what we’ve outlined so far.  There could be a blockage left over from the user before you that you can’t see.  There could be dirty or worn-out rollers from just the standard wear and tear usage of the machine.  Or the device could just use a good old fashion cleaning.  For all of these situations, its best to give your service technician a call to come down and help.  And if you’re on a standard maintenance plan, the best part is these services are covered for you at no charge.

Paper jams are obnoxious, and they can really add frustration to your day.  These tips should help you dramatically reduce the amount of jams you see by taking the paper out of the equation.