Sending a fax is a great way to take a short mental trip back to the 90s, but it’s also a requirement for some businesses and government institutions that haven’t been able to make the digital leap yet.
If you live in Japan, where a lot of faxing is still done, you can often send one from a nearby convenience store, but otherwise you may be a long, long way from the nearest publically accessible fax machine.
But fax machines send their data over the phone lines, which have long been internet-accessible, so there are plenty of options that don’t involve ever touching an actual fax machine.
This article will cover services that are mostly available via desktop or laptop computers, but you can also find smartphone apps, if that’s more your speed.
There are a few different options in the world of digital faxes, with varying levels of difficulty and convenience:
- Easy/fast: online fax services
- For frequent users: email fax service
- Advanced: connecting your computer to a phone line
Online fax services
Most people won’t have to look much further than one of these. They’re easy to use, work well, and are generally free for at least a few pages. The free options don’t generally let you receive faxes, though. If you’re worried about security, but not worried enough to do some extra work, most of the services promise at least some level of encryption. Some popular companies include:
These all include different pricing tiers and features, but sending faxes isn’t that hard – pretty much any service will be able to do the basics. You just need to enter the recipient’s number, choose from a few options, upload a scan of the document you want to fax, and send it over. The fax service will then send it over the phone lines for you.
Faxing through your email
If faxes are somehow a part of your daily life, the most convenient option is probably setting up a fax service that lets you send and receive from your existing email address. Many of the services listed above offer this feature to paying customers, and the process is usually the same:
- Sign up for the service and get assigned a fax number that you can give to anyone who needs to send you faxes.
- Link your email account.
- With most of the services (like MyFax, pictured above), you can just enter the fax number of the recipient into the address bar when composing your email and use @[onlinefaxservice.com] as the domain. The fax service receives the email and sends the fax to the phone number in the address bar.
Send faxes from your computer directly over the phone lines
Given the two options above, it doesn’t make much sense for most people to go to all this extra trouble, but if you send and receive high volumes of faxes, don’t want to pay, and feel better running your own security, this could be a good option for you.
If you’re running Windows 10, your computer has a built-in fax program, meaning you can hook up a fax modem and use it. Many Linux distributions also make it pretty simple to fax things. MacOS stopped supporting USB modems in Sierra, though, and while there are workarounds, they’re quite a hassle. Apple recommends using a multifunction printer or an online service.
With Windows, here’s what you’ll need:
- A fax modem (it’s generally easiest to get one you can plug into a USB port)
- A working telephone line
Once you have those things, just find the “Fax and Scan” program from the Windows search bar and run through the wizard that sets you up to send and receive faxes through your phone line. Keep in mind that if you want to receive faxes, your computer has to be turned on and connected to the phone line when the fax is being sent.
Enjoy your blast from the past
While not as satisfying as seeing a piece of paper magically sent from somewhere far away slowly appear, online faxes are far more convenient. For most users, a simple online fax service (free if you don’t need to receive, paid if you do) will do everything you need. Power users may prefer an email-based service or opt for running their own fax modem. Or, if you’re just nostalgic, a real fax machine (if you can find one) or a combination printer/fax machine will give you that vintage experience.