Bugs & Fixes: Solve scanning problems via HP’s hidden settings

If you have a Hewlett-Packard all-in-one (AIO) printer, and you’re having trouble getting some of its scanning features to work, take heart. HP’s printing software offers a collection of settings that will likely provide the solution. The only problem is that HP keeps these settings so hidden that even some of their tech support employees don’t know about them.

I first became aware of these settings when I was unable to resolve a scanning failure with my Hewlett-Packard OfficeJet 8600 Pro. I had no trouble initiating a scan from software on my Mac. In fact, there are multiple ways to do this. HP’s printer software includes two separate scanning utilities, Scanner and HP Scan. The former is accessed from the printer’s Print Queue or the Print & Scan System Preferences pane; the latter is found in the Applications folder. Additionally, OS X provides Image Capture. These all get the job done.

However, I was more interested in initiating scans from the printer itself. Doing this comes in handy when scanning material, such as pages from a magazine, where it is more convenient to stand by the scanner (to turn pages and hold down the material) rather than sit by the Mac.

As the HP 8600 includes a Scan to Computer feature, accessible from the printer’s touchscreen, I thought I was set. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the feature to work. I would navigate through a series of screens until a Start Scan button appeared. I pressed the button and… nothing. No scan, no error message, no anything.

Neither HP’s online support nor the printer’s User Guide offered any relevant advice. After I posted a message to the HP Support Forums, two HP employees replied with queries: Had I installed all the HP software that came with the printer? (Yes, I had). Had I checked the “Enable Scan to Computer” option from the Scan to Computer section of the included HP Utility application? (Yes, I had). While these steps are necessary, they were not sufficient to be the solution. No further suggestions were offered.

To initiate scans directly from the printer, you first have to enable the HP Utility option shown here. But this may not be sufficient.

As a last resort, I telephoned HP tech support. After rehashing much of the same fruitless territory as covered in the Forums, the support person put me on hold. When he returned, he had a new tactic for me to try:

Return to the Scan to Computer section of HP Utility. Select the Scan Tasks tab. This revealed a list of “shortcut” tasks with the same names as appear on the 8600’s touchscreen. I had been unsuccessfully trying both Save as PDF and Save as JPG. Fixing the problem with these choices required that I edit each of the tasks.

To fix problems with Scan to Computer's Save as PDF task, you need to edit the relevant Scan Tasks item in HP Utility.

In particular, I needed to change the “Move Finder Items” destination folder from its default selection (Documents) to any other location (I created and selected an HP Scans folder). After doing this, Scan to Computer worked! Why was this change necessary? The support person claimed it’s because of a known bug in the HP software.

One more glitch remained. PDF scans were in grayscale, not in color. I wanted color. To fix this, I once again had to return to HP Utility and edit the “hidden” Scan Tasks settings. This time, I clicked the Show Details button in Save as PDF. This brought up a set of options that included a Mode menu. I changed the Mode from Grayscale to Color and all was well.

If you’d rather avoid bothering with any of this editing, try the printer’s “Everyday Scan” option. I later discovered that this item works out of the gate—presumably because its default is to open scans in an application rather than saving them to the problematic Documents folder.

By the way, the editable Scan Tasks are Automator workflows. In fact, HP Utility includes a button to open these workflows in Automator. From here, assuming you are skilled in using Automator, you could presumably customize a task’s actions even further. I didn’t try this.

Finally, while I’m grateful that HP support was ultimately able to resolve my scanning problem, the incident highlights some familiar troubleshooting laments: Why is a “known bug” not documented anywhere on the company’s website? Why is a required solution so obscure that even employees that monitor the company’s Support Forums are not aware of it? Why is a significant feature of HP’s printing software not even mentioned in its otherwise detailed 250 page User Guide? I can only assume it’s because technical support does not get the attention and financial support it deserves. To be fair, HP is far from alone in this regard.

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