About PostScript errors

Quick contents

Introduction - what is an error?
What is the error?
Use an error handler
Still no error details?
Things to try first
Checking for corrupt graphics
About us

PostScript error details (alphabetical by error name)
HP Laserjet Error codes (30 PS ERROR nn)

Since I wrote this, another PostScript error page, from Luminous Corporation, has appeared.


Introduction - what is an error?

This is intended for people who have to try and deal with PostScript errors. You don't need to know anything about PostScript, except that it is a language that gets sent to a printer.

By 'errors' I mean specific errors detected by a PostScript printer, that make it stop printing. This won't help you if the results are complete, but not what you expect.

Good information on errors is hard to come by. The information here may help. It is long and detailed, and best used as a reference.

Still, be prepared for a long struggle. Sometimes a file simply cannot be printed on a particular printer, particularly if it is old or has limited memory. (The amount of memory supplied by default with most new printers is not adequate for complex graphics or using many fonts).

Some people will be dealing with PostScript files sent to them, that they must try to print; others will be generating the PostScript themselves. Not all of the advice in this document can be followed by both groups. Although I refer to 'printers' throughout, you might be using a printer, a printing or previewing package on a PC or workstation, or a high-end typesetter.

This file is definitely not intended to help people writing their own PostScript. The discussion is confined to errors likely to be found when a program writes the PostScript on your behalf. If writing PostScript you will need a good manual, and lots of patience!

A particularly unpleasant source of problems is bugs, either in the programs that write the PostScript, or in a few cases in the PostScript interpreter itself. As bugs can cause anything to happen, this document may not be much use either, but I have included information on some bugs that have been discovered in common software.

Good luck! You may need it.

What is the error?

PostScript errors are reported in various ways. Before you can get anywhere with a problem you need to know the error name and offending command. For instance
  Error: limitcheck; Offendingcommand: clip
Many people skim this information and say that they have received "an offending command error", but this information by itself is worse than useless. Accurate information is the first step in solving any problem.

Sometimes the information appears on a printed sheet, and this often has supplementary information. Keep it, it may be useful. The information might not be presented exactly as above. For instance the Microsoft Windows PostScript driver would present the above error as:

  Offending Command = clip
  Error = nametype : limitcheck

Given the error and offending command, you can proceed straight to looking them up in the error details below, but you may want to return and check the rest of the advice below.

Use an error handler

What if you don't see an error message like this? One solution is to download an error handler to the printer. This is a special file which, once sent to the printer, sits there until it is switched off. When an error happens it prints out an extra page of information. Sometimes the error handler is included inside a job, and does not sit in the printer.

Many applications or PostScript printer drivers include an option 'download error handler' or similar. In Microsoft Windows there is an option 'Print PostScript Error Information' hidden under Advanced printer options. Always use it. Note, however, that the original Microsoft Windows PostScript driver had an error that prevented the error handler from working.

One error handler can be obtained from Adobe, the inventors of PostScript, by downloading the ehandler.ps file.

Still no error details?

Are you sure you have an error? A common cause of problems is trying to print an encapsulated PostScript (EPS) file. These are not designed to print and may produce nothing at all, or a completely blank sheet.

The correct use of EPS files is to be embedded in other applications, which then take care of printing.

Things to try first

Before you look into the error in any great detail, it is often worth trying again (especially for error name undefined). Is the problem repeatable? Do you get exactly the same results, or lack of them, each time?

If a problem is not exactly repeatable, you probably have a problem where files are being corrupted. This could be on your disk, as a result of cabling (check cables are tight and undamaged; remove any switch boxes or extensions; use a different cable if possible), or, if the printer is connected by serial rather than parallel cable, the serial port setup could be wrong.

Corruption can occur even before the file is printed - say as it is read from a network. Different types of network, and network software, have different reliabilities. See the next section for how to check for corrupt graphics.

Sometimes switching a printer off and on will make a difference. This probably means that the printer is slowly running out of memory, but if you share the printer, it is not impossible that someone else if affecting its setup (they would have to be pretty conversant with PostScript, though). Beware of using a font downloader - these use up printer memory.

It is often worth splitting printing into two processes. First, print to file (note that some applications allow you to save as EPS - this is not the same as printing to file). Now send the print file to the printer. Do you get the same error consistently? This not only helps to establish whether the problem is getting in before or after printing, it gives you a file to use as evidence if you need to take the problem further.

Checking for corrupt graphics

Even if the results are consistent, corruption could be to blame. Check the error descriptions below to see if corruption is listed as a possible cause. If so, and you are working composing pages on screen, check for corrupt graphics (especially EPS graphics).
  1. Make a copy of your file (important!)
  2. Remove all of the graphics. If the file prints up to a particular page concentrate on that page. It doesn't matter how small a graphic is.
  3. If you find that removing all the graphics from a particular page means it now prints (albeit incomplete) add the graphics one at a time. If there are a great many try to isolate them by making a fresh copy of the original and removing half of them. If the file still fails, remove half of the remainder, and so forth.
  4. If the file apparently works with either half of the graphics removed, first check very carefully that you have not been overlooking a particular graphic. If you are sure, you are probably running out of printer memory.
The key to solving, or at least identifying, problems is to be systematic. If you are in a muddle, don't bother to write down error messages, or won't devote the time needed, you probably won't solve the problem and you might as well give up now.

Finding out more

What if this doesn't help?

The fullest description of PostScript errors is in the book PostScript Language Reference Manual, 2nd edition, Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-201-18127-4. This will help only people who want to understand the PostScript.

It is just possible, but not very likely, that the printer or your computer is faulty. More likely, but still not very, is the possibility that your software is damaged, and reinstalling it will help.

There may be a bug in the program you are using, or possibly even in the printer. If you are convinced of this, you will need to take this up with the relevant parties.

Otherwise, you may have to seek expert help, or try to produce the information in a different way.

And don't forget to check Luminous Corporation's PostScript error page. They are a spin off from Adobe so they should know!

About us

Quite Software (that's us!) offer a product called PSAlter, which allows PostScript to be debugged or previewed using Microsoft Windows. PSAlter does offer greatly improved error messages, and the chance to see exactly where in the program the problem has occurred. This may be of great interest to PostScript programmers, but don't view it as the universal solution to all PostScript errors, especially if you haven't learned any PostScript - there is a difference between knowing all about where an error occurs, and knowing how to fix it. But, it certainly helps in a proportion of cases. Why not read about PSAlter and decide if it it is likely to help you.

We are sorry, but we don't have the time or resources to offer a consultancy service. Please, no unsolicited PostScript files or problems. We do welcome suggestions for improving this page, our other PostScript pages or anything else in our site.

A good place to get help with PostScript on the internet is the comp.lang.postscript usenet group.


Error details

What are the PostScript errors? There are not very many error names, and this is part of the problem. Each name usually covers a number of different problems. The error names are as follows.