What Is an Automatic Document Feeder?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An automatic document feeder is a device that feeds multiple sheets of paper into the bed of a copier, scanner or fax machine for automatic rather than manual operation. The capacity of the feeder can vary, and it can handle duplication of both sides of each document, not just one side. Many manufacturers of scanners, copiers, all-in-one devices, fax machines and so forth build an automatic document feeder into their design or sell an attachment for users who want to add one later.

Most copiers today feature an automatic document feeder.
Most copiers today feature an automatic document feeder.

Without a document feeder, the operator needs to manually feed each sheet of paper in or lay it out on the platen used as the bed of a copier or scanner. This can be time-consuming, and it can generate errors. A fax machine, for example, might terminate a connection if the user is too slow and fails to feed the next page in time. Especially if the operator needs copies of both sides, not just one, manual document feeding can be time-consuming and error-prone.

Businesses often rely on copy machines with automatic document feeders.
Businesses often rely on copy machines with automatic document feeders.

The automatic document feeder allows an operator to insert a stack of papers, program the machine and walk away while it copies, scans or transmits the information on the documents. Some machines use a reversing technology to pull data from one side and then the other, and others operate in duplexing mode to scan both sides. The automatic document feeder has guides to keep the paper in place while the machine processes the job, and these can be adjusted to accommodate different paper sizes.

Installation of an automatic document feeder does add bulk and can make the top or opening much heavier than other models. It is important for a user to be careful with a document feeder that is mounted to a swing-up top such as the kind used on many copiers and scanners. If the operator does not handle the top carefully, the document feeder might slam into the table or wall, and it might not work properly if the impact breaks something inside.

Errors can occur with an automatic document feeder. Very thin paper sheets might stick together, and thick paper might be too bulky for the device to handle. Textured paper or paper that has deckled edges can also jam. At best, this might cause a problem with the job, but it also could ruin the original. If paper is fragile, oddly sized, very thick or very thin, it might be a better idea for it to be fed through manually.

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


@SkyWhisperer - The reality is that there are some devices for which you can only feed a page at a time. My flatbed scanner is one such example.

I can only lay one document at a time on the flatbed. I suppose that there are some scanners which have document feeders, but I haven’t seen them. Perhaps they are not for consumer use.

I have no need for it anyway, as I usually have only a few items that I need to scan.


@miriam98 - That’s strange. I only get errors when I feed one sheet at a time into the printer. The paper gets squished and crumpled up.

I have a theory as to why this happens. I think there is a spring or something on the printer feeder that lets it know there is paper there. If you only feed one sheet then there isn’t enough weight so it messes the printing job.

I don’t know if that’s how it really works but that’s just my assumption. However, printing one at a time definitely creates problems. I’ve found that even if I only need to print one sheet I just load a whole stack of paper anyway.


My all in one printer has an automatic document feeder. So far, I say it’s a mixed blessing. Yes, you can lay stacks of paper all at once and let it print them unattended.

However, sometimes I get paper jams and at other times the papers get shifted diagonally so the printing is not straight. What I usually have to do to get best results is to hold the stack with my hand, as the printer sucks in at least the first few sheets.

This ensures that the stack is straight, and if I ever need to give a paper a little nudge I can do so. I definitely don’t load more than twenty sheets at a time.

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