I've done this myself on many occasions, even though I know it's a common mistake I need to watch out for.

The steps seem to go as follows (with typical thoughts in brackets):

  1. Walk up to photocopier carrying sheet/book to copy.
  2. Insert sheet. ("Which way round does this need to go?")
  3. Figure out the controls. ("How does this thing work again?")
  4. Stand for a while as lights flash and cogs whirr. ("Is it working? I hope it's quick.")
  5. Copy comes out. ("Great. At last.")
  6. Grab copied paper and rush out of room, leaving the original in the copier.

Can anyone suggest a way that the photocopier could be designed to prevent users making this mistake?

A sign would seem to be the most obvious way, but the trouble is that the moment I need to read it is likely to be the moment I'm least inclined to stop and read anything.

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    Many photocopiers these days come with feed input, rather than flat-bed, and this doesn't suffer from this problem. – Brendon Jul 31 '13 at 11:53
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    @Brendon But I assume those don't allow for copying thicker documents or books. Although they would prevent sheninigans with the photocopier at the Christmas party :-) – Urbycoz Jul 31 '13 at 11:57
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    @Urbycoz - I've never seen any body part involved in Christmas party shenanigans get left on the photocopier. Unless our Christmas party shenanigans are of a different caliber than the norm... – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jul 31 '13 at 16:43
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    @Kheldar: I think you're misunderstanding the goal here. No one cares if someone leaves the original behind -- except the person who left it behind. The goal here is to help that person, by helping them remember. Increasing the penalty for forgetting just aggravates the problem. – ruakh Jul 31 '13 at 20:21
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    tldr: I've seen some copiers that beep if a document is left on the glass. – TecBrat Aug 1 '13 at 3:06

14 Answers 14


This is a similar question to the one about ATMs, and a similar approach could be adopted.

Since modern machines can detect that there is an original on the glass (or in the ADF), it would suffice to prevent access to the copies until the original is removed.

For that, the completed copies would have to remain inside the machine behind a door which is only unlocked when appropriate to do so.

I used an industrial-size Kodak copier in the mid-Eighties which did this. The finisher where copies ended up (whether actually collated, folded or stapled, or not) was inside the main body of the machine. Because it was a very fast machine which moved paper with compressed air and vacuums, all paper movement was internal and doors were only unlocked when it was safe to do so.

The only thing which would be needed is a lit indication near the output door handle (as well as on the main display) to explain why it's locked shut.

enter image description here

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    I've got 20 sheets to copy, but I want to check the first one has printed ok before continuing with the rest. Do I have to take out the original before I can see the newly printed one? – Urbycoz Jul 31 '13 at 11:51
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    Most copiers now are basically scanners and printers. The don't actually use the xerox process any more. So scanning 20 sheets to disc, getting you to take the originals away and then printing all 20 sheets isn't a problem. (The fact copiers do this is a security issue - their hard drives need to be treated as having sensitive info on them!) – Peter Bagnall Jul 31 '13 at 12:16
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    I do like this answer quite a bit, but... One thing that bugs me is the use of the word "platen" in the graphic. Does the average user have the slightest idea what a "platen" is? I would guess that they do not. I would suggest using a different, common English word instead of the more technical "platen". – MikeS Jul 31 '13 at 19:45
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    @MikeS "Original still present. Remove original copy." – Andrew Leach Aug 1 '13 at 9:03
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    @LarsH Newspaper Headline: "Employee burned to death, while locked in photocopier room. 'They must have forgotten to remove the original' claims colleague." – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 15:46

In addition to my other method, a cheaper indication would be to have the copier beep when it's finished until the original is removed from the platen. Accompany the beep with a display message and warning light indicating the cause of the "error"1.

This would also allow the original to be removed after scanning, while printing is happening (there would be no need for the beep). A refinement would be needed to cope with removing the current original and replacing it with the next; that shouldn't cause the beep either unless it looks as though nothing is going to be done with it.

1 It's not an error, of course, so its code should not start with E for Error, and it should have a yellow indicator light, not a red one.

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    I could see this being very disruptive in a shared office environment – jk. Jul 31 '13 at 12:57
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    I was going to write something similar, but I would start the beeping not until the copies are lifted. This will train people to take their original first and then the copies. So they'll get into that habit even if there are some old copiers, which don't have an alarm. – Christian Strempfer Jul 31 '13 at 14:27
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    @Chris Is it going to be reliable enough to correctly detect when copies have and have not been lifted? Tesco always seems to struggle- "Unexpected item in the bagging area". – Urbycoz Jul 31 '13 at 15:03
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    Our copier does exactly this. If you do not pick up the original when the copies have been completed it makes a beeping sound and displays a message to remind you. It works well. I have never left an original behind. – DQdlM Jul 31 '13 at 16:04
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    @KennyPeanuts Glad you told me. I was about to apply for the patent. – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 8:27

Design the copier so that the original is deposited with the copy.

The user will already need to pick up the copy to leave or to verify that the copy is satisfactory.

Updated below for books & bulky original

Alternatively - a conveyor mechanism that gently deposits the book/or push it out the end where you would look to pick up your copies. You can add a timer on the copier cover so that this can be triggered if the cover has not been lifted within 2 seconds. That way it covers the scenario where the user needs to scan the next pages.

I'd also investigate the ROI on supporting books/bulky originals, because I'm not convinced there'd be too many people who'd forget their originals in these cases.

Lastly - I'd investigate the user's work load, as some studies have shown that 'conveniently' forgetting something in the copy room is a subconscious effort to delay work. That can be covered in a different question

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    What if the original is a book, rather than a sheet? – Urbycoz Jul 31 '13 at 12:09
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    Excellent query. We made an assumption that the original was a sheet of paper. – micap Jul 31 '13 at 12:11
  • Would the variations in the form factor of the original impact the scope of your question? – micap Jul 31 '13 at 12:12
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    I don't see a real problem with the book. The problem appears to be that the output is delivered too far away from the input source, moving the focus of attention. You'd be much better off moving the output (which has to move anyway) near the input. E.g. underneath the input, in the space where the line scanner moved, and reachable only by lifting the lid. – MSalters Aug 1 '13 at 7:46
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    I wonder how in the world "studies have shown" "a subconscious effort." Can subconscious things be counted? – LarsH Aug 1 '13 at 13:34

Instead of a copy machine that spits out copies from the side of the machine, redesign it to spit copies out to the same spot where your original is. That way, you will always grab everything you need in one place before you jet off!

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    Install echolocation in the printer to determine the location of the human operator. When a human moves more than 6 ft away from the printer have a gruff voice soundeffect play: STOP! your papers have been abandoned! Open the photocopier for more details. Or place the photocopier in a closet with saloon style doors that lock and display the previous message when the paper is still in the photocopier. – Dale Aug 1 '13 at 6:27
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    @user4380 Could it first detect whether the user has a weak heart before shouting at him? – Urbycoz Aug 2 '13 at 8:08

@Andrew is spot on to say that the ATM design is the right way to think about this - you get your money last, since that makes sure you don't forget to take your card.

So I'd separate the scanning part of the process from the printing part. So first off you put your original on the scan bed, press a scan button to scan, remove, add the next sheet and so on until you're done. Printing would only start once you're done scanning. This might seem like it would slow you down, but you're not going to copy a 400 page doc page by page without a sheet feeder anyhow, so it's not really a big problem. A sheet feeder should pass the original next to where the copies come out so you naturally pick up both at the same time.

For single page copying if you scan, but haven't opened the lid to remove your original then the copier knows that there's something still on the bed. So it can refuse to print until you remove it, with a suitable message to say why it's not printing of course.

Once you've done all your scanning and removed your last copy you hit the print button and your copies come out. Having a prominent display of how many pages you've scanned or a timeout would be useful to prevent accidents (or pranks) like people scanning something, but not printing so that the next user gets more than they were expecting.

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    +1 for the answer I would have written. You said "you get your money last, since that makes sure you don't forget to take your card", Don Norman calls this a "forcing function" which I mention because it is good to have a name to hang concepts on. The reason it works so well with the ATM is that you went there to get cash and you aren't likely to leave until that purpose is satisfied. Contrariwise, you did not go to the ATM with the intention of inserting your card, so it is easy to leave without it. – msw Jul 31 '13 at 16:00

Place the output in a collection bin which is accessible from the front, but only when the top cover is lifted. Lifting it will give access to the output, but also uncover the input, refocusing attention. The problem with the current design is the physical separation of input and output, which moves the focus of attention too far away from the input.

  • I like this solution. Simple and low-tech but effective. – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 8:54
  • The idea is based on the "forcing function" you mentioned in another comment. Lifting the cover is already an established action for retrieving your input, but this makes it also a forcing function for output. Thoughtwise "I need my output -> I need to lift cover -> there's both my in- and output" – MSalters Aug 1 '13 at 12:14

Have the cover of the copier pop up and maybe chime when the copies are done, leaving the original exposed and grab-able.

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    Ow! I was standing too close to the cover, and now I've got to visit the dentist. – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 9:08

For minimal modification to present photocopiers, you could have a sign always placed on top of the stack of output copies. This would be the most suitable place for a sign that reads "Please remove your original." as it would be directly in the path of the only action you know the user is going to take.

The sign could be attached to the machine, and be made to automatically retract once the original cover is opened.

This solution could actually be retro-fitted to existing copiers with minimal modification using just a firmware change, if it were worth using a bit of extra paper and toner (this might be arguable for a public library, say, where forgetting an original could be a big inconvenience (people remembering it after they have left!)): The photocopier could simply be made to add a page matching the sign description above to the end of every copy job.

  • Or just set the machine to print an enforced title page with the sign on it. Wasteful, sure - but simple to do on existing machines in this case. – Oskar Duveborn Aug 2 '13 at 11:08
  • That is Part 2 of my answer, but yes. ;) – A.M. Aug 2 '13 at 15:55

Set up the copier so the glass faces down or vertical and the user has to hold the original in place.


The Stack Exchange bots are asking for a longer answer with more context. So here it goes: With a vertical glass, it would be impossible for the user to walk away without their original since it would fall to the ground when they left.

There are obvious downsides.

  • Photocopying heavy books and magazines would be awkward
  • People with disablities might have trouble holding the original in this way
  • It might be hard to keep the original aligned correctly
  • With a traditional photocopier you'd always be staring into the bright light of the copier

The easiest solution would be to ensure that the capture of the original was as close to instantaneous as possible so that the time required to hold the original against the glass was limited. Software would also be designed to auto-rotate the copies in perfect 90 degree increments. Finally, the hardware could sense where the original is located (perhaps using touch-sensitive glass) so that the scanner light would only shine where the original is placed against the glass.

Obviously this isn't a solution for every use case where a copier is used, but it does solve the original question.

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    It would cause many issues, but I like the lateral thinking. – JohnGB Jul 31 '13 at 18:29
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    I'm trying to copy a page from the encyclopedia Britannica. I've wasted 50 sheets trying to get one that wasn't blurred due to my shaking arms. And now my arms feel like they're going to drop off. – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 9:05
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    @Urbycoz: First, you use the other copier to take a photocopy of that page from the encyclopedia. Then you hold the photocopy up to the vertical glass to make your real copy. – LarsH Aug 1 '13 at 13:38
  • @LarsH Two copies for the price of one. Sorted! (And it only required having two copiers.) – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 15:55
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    I like simple physical constraints too. This is sort of like making diesel nozzles wider than unleaded ones to prevent you from filling up your gas-powered car with diesel fuel. – RobC Aug 1 '13 at 16:06

The major factor in forgetting the copy is because users cannot see their original when the lid is closed. There is an innovative solution to this: make the lid transparent. The user can see their original in the photocopier before, during and after scanning. This makes it significantly less likely that the user will forget to take the original.

From above, it would look something like this:

Transparent lid photocopier

The sliding back drop moves between two panes of glass, in tandem with the photocopier element.

  • Probably easier and more reliable to use an LCD instead of a mechanical solution, but expensive either way. – MSalters Aug 5 '13 at 9:03

What about a photoelectric cell (or a weight, but with paper that's rather tricky) that detects if the original document is still on the scanner before releasing the copies?

One of the most effective methods for "not forgetting what you didn't come for" is the ATM's "get your card so we can give you your money" method.


A couple options:

  • Cheap method: Stick a paper saying "Don't forget to collect the original documents!" on the base of the collection tray. Good chance user will see that when collecting the copies.

  • Modify displays: Most photocopiers/printers have a digital display on them for various purposes. Rather than just saying "Job done", you can tweak the message to say "Collect the documents and the copies" or something to first remind the user to collect the originals.

  • Modify hardware: You can have a backlight or something under the closing lid go on/pulsate (for a while) when the job is completed to draw the user's attention to the lid (and hence the original document). It should be a good enough affordance to make the user take some action. You can make this smarter by doing it only if the lid is not opened following the completion of a job (a few seconds' delay).


An MP3 player triggered to play "Please don't forget your original. Have a nice day!"

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    That wouldn't ever get annoying. – Urbycoz Aug 1 '13 at 8:53
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    Just change it to "Never gonna give you up!" and you're good. – phw Aug 12 '13 at 18:37

Very interesting problem. I think the mental model is that I input in one place and take the output from another place.. so the focus is more on the place the paper is coming out from.

Photocopiers can just scan once and print any number of copies, so after the first scan, the copiers should just send the original out to a tray next to where copies are.

Ofcourse this cannot be done with thicker objects like a book etc.. but they are probably less likely to be forgotten also, as they change the visual of the input space, making it more visible.

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