What Does Collated Printing Mean?

In printing, the term Collate refers to the gathering and arranging of individual sheets or other printed components into a pre-determined sequence. Basically, Collating creates consistent, logical sets from multiple parts.

What does Collate Mean when Printing?

In printing, "collate" refers to the process of arranging multiple sets of printed documents in a specific, sequential order.

When the collate feature is enabled, the printer organizes the pages so that they appear in their correct, readable order as part of a set.

For example, if you're printing multiple copies of a document with pages numbered 1, 2, and 3, with collation enabled, the printer produces sets like this:

  • Copy 1: Pages 1, 2, 3
  • Copy 2: Pages 1, 2, 3
  • Copy 3: Pages 1, 2, 3

Without collation, the printer would print all copies of each page together, like this:

  • All copies of Page 1
  • All copies of Page 2
  • All copies of Page 3

Collation is particularly useful for preparing packets or booklets where each copy needs to be in the correct order, saving time and effort in manual sorting.

Examples of Collated Documents

A short-run perfect bound book would require its pages to be collated in numerical order before it could be bound. Also, multi-part forms and checks are created from individual sheets collated in a specific sequence.

Diagram A illustrates four sets of documents that have been collated. Diagram B illustrates four sets of documents which have not been collated.

Related article: What is Finishing?

Bear in mind that the individual parts of a print project can be collated without having to be bound or fastened together. For example, promotional packets - like those used for seminars, sales presentations, trade shows and other marketing purposes - are often collated in advance for easy distribution. Likewise, printed instructional handouts may be collated in a particular order but are not necessarily bound or fastened together.

Several Ways to Collate Documents

Collating can occur as the various components are being created on the printing press (online collation) or it can occur as a separate step after the components have been printed and removed from the press (offline collation).

Depending on the project's complexity, offline collation can be automated or performed as a manual operation. Generally, if the pieces within a document set have similar characteristics they can be collated with an automated piece of equipment.

However, if the components of a particular document set are dissimilar - such as a saddle-stitched product catalog, two Z-folded brochures, a dozen multi-part order forms and a business card - this would not be a good fit for automated collation and would require collating by hand.

Related article: What is Book Binding?

Collating is Often Part of a Fulfillment Program

In my experience, fulfillment programs often involve the collation of print materials. Whether a one-time promotion or ongoing campaign, many assembly and kitting operations generally have a collated subcomponent. This is particularly true for fulfillment programs that require the distribution of literature, info packets, folders or binders.

If you have an upcoming print project, give Formax Printing a call at 866-367-6221. Or, if you already know your specs, submit our easy quote form. As always, we look forward to assisting you!

Take care! Rick

About the Author

Rick Stallings is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing and mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Rick is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221 or by submitting our easy quote request form. Rick and the Formax team have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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