What is a Collator?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A collator is a piece of office equipment which facilitates the sorting of documents. It arranges the pages of a document in order, and is often attached to a copier that produces multiple document sets. For offices that handle a large volume of multi-page documents, a collator is an extremely useful tool, because it saves time and money. Hand collation can eat up a lot of time in a busy office, and it leaves room for error as the human operator tires. A number of different collator styles are available, depending on how the collator is to be used.

Some copy machines feature collator functions.
Some copy machines feature collator functions.

The term “collate” in reference to sorting documents first appeared in 1628. The word has several different meanings depending on the context, but usually suggests that documents are being compared and/or set in order. In printing, for example, collation includes the concept of printing a book in a set order and checking to confirm that the printing was done correctly. Scholars use collation to refer to comparing different documents, looking for areas of similarity or difference. Within the context of office document production, a document is considered to be collated when it has been put in readable order.

The most common type of collator is a series of trays which attaches to a copy machine. When a document is prepared for copying and a “collate” function is selected, the copier will spit the copies into the trays of the collator. When the copying is done, each tray holds a complete ordered copy. This type of collator is limited by the number of trays. A small office might have a copier with 10 trays, allowing for 10 collated documents, while industrial copiers may have 50 or more. Many copy collators also include a stapling or binding function to further process the document once it has been produced.

Desktop collating machines are also available. In this type of collator, each tray holds a different page of the document. When a lever is pressed, one page from each tray is pulled out, creating a complete set of pages. Once again, the number of trays limits the functionality of this type of collator. Desktop collating machines are also available with electronic controls, rather than a manual lever.

While a collator is not a vitally necessary piece of equipment in all offices, it can be very useful. Many supply companies offer collators with varying numbers of trays and functions. For an office which is considering the purchase of a collator, the buyer should consider how many trays might be needed, what kind of volume the collator needs to handle, and whether or not functions such as stapling and binding are needed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Markerrag -- if you do have a digital copier with that type of collating function that has a built-in stapler, then that job of separation is done for you.

The great thing about digital machines is that collating is a heck of a lot simpler. Collating copiers in the past lacked the ability to store a set of documents in memory, so they had to collate by copying the first page several times, outputting them separately, then moving to page two and so on.


A lot of digital copiers have done away with the once common set of collating trays completely. They simply scan the documents to be collated and print them in order. The problem with that method is that the user has to manually separate the copies. You might have 20 different sets that are copied in one, collated mass of paper.

Still, that's a lot easier than sorting by hand or feeding them through a copier one set at a time.

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