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.
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.
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. Collating can occur as the various components are being created on the digital printer (inline collation) or it can occur as a separate step after the components have been printed and removed from the printer (offline collation).
Depending on the complexity of the project, 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.
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