Guide to Collate Printing and Copies

In document printing, collate printing is a technique in which pages are printed in the same sequence that they will be read and/or bound.

Simply put, if you are printing 20 copies of a 100-page document, you have two options: the collate option, and the non-collate option.

  • Collate printing means printing a complete set of pages 1 to 100 before proceeding to print the next 19 sets of pages 1 to 100.
  • Uncollated printing means printing 20 copies of the first page, then printing 20 copies of second page, etc.

collated vs not collated printing


What does collate mean?

The definition of collate simply means to group text or information together in a logical order. The term collate has many different applications, but in printing terminology it refers to a specific automated print setting. In this context, collated documents are those whose individual sheets are automatically printed as logical sets. This means that collated print jobs produce sets of documents that come out of the printer in the correct order.

Documents can also be collated manually – as they always were in the days of printing press. But thanks to technological advancements, we can take for granted the fact that even the most basic home printers can automatically collate our documents for us.


When should collate printing be used?

Collate printing should be used anytime when you need a number of copies of a multi-page document that is meant to be read sequentially. The more pages in the document and the more copies you need, the more time you can save through collated printing.

collated document printing
Photo by Mark Ordonez

For example, if you need handouts for several dozen people, collating the copies means you won’t have to manually sort the pages after they’ve finished printing. Because the sheets of paper will already be grouped in sets with the proper order, collated print jobs can save you a lot of time, hassle, and paper cuts.

Collate printing is hugely useful, and for this reason it typically comes standard in most home and office printers. You have probably used collated printing more often than uncollated printing, because the vast majority of Microsoft Word and PDF documents are meant to print out in collations. Whenever you print a document from your computer, the check box for collated copies is usually already ticked.

collated printing settings microsoft word
When printing in Microsoft Word, collated copies are set as default.

Collate printing is also used prior to binding leaflets and books. As long as the document file uses the correct layout, automated collation is time efficient for both perfect bound and saddle stitch binding methods.


When should non-collate printing be used?

uncollated business cards
Business cards are an example of prints that probably shouldn’t be collated. Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Depending on how you intend to use your copies and the way your digital file is set up, collate printing may not be ideal. The benefits of collated vs not collated ultimately depends on your application. Here are a few common scenarios in which you might want to uncheck the collate option on in your printer settings:

  • You are printing business cards for multiple people. If you have the designs for a series of business cards all saved into one file with each individual business card on a single page, collate printing probably isn’t the best way to print this file. Non-collate printing may be better in this case, as you could print several copies of each person’s business cards before printing the next. This will simplify cutting the cards and organizing them. This same scenario can also apply to printing coupons.


  • You are printing several versions of the same form. You probably don’t want your documents collated if you are printing multiple versions of the same form, all of which are saved in the same file. Most likely, you will create one stack of papers for each version and let people grab just the form that applies to them.


  • You intend to distribute individual sheets of paper, not complete sets. If you would prefer to hand out copies of the individual pages of a document one by one rather than all at once, non-collate printing is probably the better option. This sort of scenario might find application at trade shows, in seminars, in classrooms, or in particular office environments.


If you are using professional printing services and don’t want your documents delivered to you collated, mention this to the printer. Collation makes sense in majority of cases, and so in many cases the print shop might assume you would like the sheets collated if you don’t explain otherwise.

Even if you didn’t know what collate printing means, there is a very high likelihood that you have often used collate printing. But understanding the term collate, and the difference between collate and non-collate printing, can help save you time. Especially if you have to make a lot of copies of multi-page documents, double-check that you have selected the right printing option! You don’t want to get stuck manually organizing or ungrouping the pages later.