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What Does “Collate” Mean When Printing?

Quick Answer

Collate means that when printing numerous copies of a multi-page document, the printer finishes printing the first copy entirely before moving on to the next. The result? Correctly assembled documents instead of multiple single pages.

The rest of this article dives deeper into collating when printing, so you can decide whether it’s the right option for your project.

The Difference Between Collated and Non-Collated Printing

Non-collated (sometimes called un-collated) printing is when originals are printed and sorted separately. In other words, the printed documents aren’t sequenced. For instance, a print run of 20 copies of three originals would print page one in a set of 20, then all 20 copies of page two, and then all 20 of page three. 

Conversely, collated printing is the term used to refer to multiple originals printed in numerical order. So, each set contains a single copy of every original in the current sequence. Following the example above, the printer would eject pages one, two, then three 20 times. 

Should You Collate Pages When Printing?

Whether or not you should collate pages when printing depends on your project. Generally speaking, if you’re printing multiple copies of a document, collating makes it easier to keep every copy separate

If you’re printing documents to share with 15 people, non-collated printing gives you a pile of pages, ones, then two’s, etc. Afterward, you’d need to sort them by hand, which can be incredibly time-consuming. 

Essentially, it ensures consistency by completely printing one copy of the document before beginning the second. 

Depending on your printer setup, collating may be enabled by default.

The Advantages of Collated Printouts

As you can probably imagine by now, there are a couple of advantages to collated printouts, including but not limited to:

  • It saves time — Perhaps the most prominent and vital benefit is that it saves time. If you’re dealing with loads of printouts, arranging them by hand doesn’t bear thinking about. By collating, the printouts are arranged for you.
  • It’s fantastic for businesses If you run a business that prints large PDFs, prospectus, leaflets, or books, the collate feature reduces the cost of labor. You won’t need to pay somebody to stand and arrange the pages. You just need them to take the printouts from the tray.
  • It ensures accuracy and consistency — Repetitive, mindless tasks like sorting pages leave room for human error as the brain wanders and focus dwindles. You don’t need to worry about missing pages or out-of-order booklets by letting your printer do the work. 
  • It won’t fail While you might want to check the print quality, as long as the “Collate” box is checked, the print job won’t fail. 

How to Collate Pages When Printing

No matter your printer, you should be able to setup collation by following the six steps below:

  1. Navigate to the document you wish to print.
  2. Select “Print” to bring up the dialogue box or preview.
  3. Find the checkbox by the “Collate” option. Usually, it’s depicted by a symbol containing three stacked pieces of paper. 
  4. Check the box. 
  5. Press “Print.”
  6. Watch your collated documents come to life!

Provided the pages within your document have similar characteristics, collating them with automated equipment should be easy. But not every job lends itself to this type of printing. 

When Is Collating by Hand Essential?

There are times when collating by hand is essential. While there are many instances where this might be the case, the most common are as follows:

  • Different sizes — Sometimes, the document includes pages of varying sizes. If every sheet of your file is a tad smaller or larger than the one before, you’ll need to trim and collate by hand.
  • No bleed and bleed mix Books can come with a few photo pages that need to print to the edge (i.e., bleed), while the rest are filled with plain text and a blank margin (i.e., no bleed). Since you must perform bleed trimming after printing, these particular sheets have to be re-installed by hand into the correct place.

The Bottom Line

The collate function is easy to use on almost all printers. It’s worthwhile for those printing numerous copies of multi-page documents. Just be mindful of any page size or bleed variations!

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