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Adobe Acrobat - Printing Problem
Monday, Dec. 8, 2008

(The following was tested with Windows Vista and Acrobat v8. Details may vary for other versions)

The Adobe Acrobat Reader is used for displaying PDF format files on the computer. These days it is hard to get by without it, there are too many files on web sites that use this format. It is available as a free download from the Adobe web site (ref. 1).

I have been using the Acrobat Reader for some years, by and large with no problems, so I was a bit surprised to run into an odd problem that I had not enountered before.

The problem

The problem arose when I tried to print a PDF document. It is something I have done earlier on my computer without problems, but this time I was presented with the following error dialog (Fig. 1):

Fig. 1 - Before you can perform print-related tasks such as page setup or printing a document, you need to install a printer

Figure 1 - Cannot print because no printer found?

This was puzzling. When I checked the list of printers in the Printers control panel (Start -> Control Panel -> Classic View -> Printers), I seemed to have the usual printers that I have always seen. I had not recently added or removed any printers.

I tried printing from a few other applications (MS Word etc.) and they all printed just fine. I tried printing another document via Acrobat Reader - that also failed.

I checked my version of Acrobat Reader, and it was v8.1.2 (Fig. 2), which was the newest version available at the time.

Fig. 2 - Adobe Acrobat Version

Figure 2 - Adobe Acrobat Version

What did not work

Doing a web search, I learnt that in some cases Acrobat problems can be fixed by doing a "repair" on the program. This can be done by launching Acrobat Reader, selecting Help from the menu, then "Repair Acrobat Reader...". I did this (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 - Adobe Acrobat repair

Figure 3 - Adobe Acrobat repair

This launched a repair or configuration process (Fig. 4) that ran for a few minutes, and appeared to complete normally.

Fig. 4 - Adobe Acrobat repair in progress

Figure 4 - Adobe Acrobat repair in progress

After this was done, the printing problem still remained, with the same symptoms.

I worked around it by printing the document using another computer, and later that day the problem was solved in a somewhat unexpected way.

The Solution

Later that same day, I happened to look at my list of printers for some other reason (via Control Panel -> Printers). It showed the usual list of printers that I always see, but I noticed something was different. After some thought, I realized that none of the printers had a check-mark next to it (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 - No default printer

Figure 5 - No default printer?

Windows places a check-mark next to the printer that is the default. This printer appears selected when you try to print from any application. Somewhere along the way my default printer had been de-selected, and none of the others were marked as default either.

I rectified this by right-clicking on my normal default printer (Xerox Phaser 6250) and selecting "Set as default printer". This caused the check-mark to appear next to that printer as I hoped it would (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6 - Default printer selected

Figure 6 - Default printer selected

Remembering the problem I had with printing from Acrobat earlier in the day, I opened a document in Acrobat Reader, and selected File -> Print from the menu. This time, it worked as expected. Instead of the error message, I got the normal print dialog (Fig. 7) and the document printed OK, along with all subsequent documents.

Fig. 7 - Acrobat printing working now

Figure 7 - Acrobat printing working now

Clearly, the problem was caused by not having at least one printer selected as the default. Problem solved.


This rather simple problem illustrates how things can go wrong when lazy programming practice is followed. When I had tried printing from other programs (such as Word) they had all worked. This was because those programs made a more intelligent decision when faced with the lack of a default printer - they still presented the print dialog and allowed the user to print. Adobe Acrobat, on the other hand, treated this as a fatal error and halted all possibility of printing.

Second, the error message posted by Acrobat was insufficient and misleading. If, instead of "you need to install a printer", it had said "you need to select at least one printer as the default", the problem would have been solved almost immediately.


  1. Acrobat Reader download page

(in order from older to newest)

"Thank you so much - because of this post, I solved the problem immediately after a web search found this page."

Jan. 26, 2009, 6:10 PM by SN

"I had the same problem, thanks for your solution."

Mar. 12, 2009, 12:36 PM by Cruttera

"Thank you. Your tip helped me in a tricky spot. After I'd completed filling a HUGE pdf form (which could not be saved with the data) I got this print error. Greatly appreciate it."

May 2, 2009, 11:39 PM by Ravi

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