What Is a Fax Machine and How Does It Work

upclose of a fax machine

What Is a Fax Machine and How Does It Work

Key Points

  • Fax machines were first launched by the Xerox Corporation in 1964 and are still used today.
  • Fax machines use a scanner, processor, and printer to send and receive faxes over telephone lines.
  • Benefits of using a fax machine include low cost, security, and reliability for important documents.
  • Downsides to using a fax machine include obsolescence, the need for a landline phone, paper waste, and expensive ink costs.
  • You can send faxes using a computer or smartphone with apps like eFax, JotNot, and HelloFax.

Some people today may look at a fax machine and ask, “What is that?” And honestly, the rest of us wouldn’t be too shocked by that question. Fax machines tend to be thought of as defunct technology, such as a Walkman or a corded phone. However, unlike a Walkman and a corded phone, many people still use them. While people typically send faxes for business reasons, there are a few instances where a fax machine can come in handy. But what exactly is a fax machine? 

In this article, we’ll take a look at this aging technology, as well as who still uses fax machines and why. We’ll also explore how you can use modern tech to send a fax today. 

Fax Machines Explained

A fax machine sends faxes using telephone lines. The word fax is short for facsimile which means “make similar.” It was in 1964 that the Xerox Corporation launched the first fax machines. 

A fax machine comprises a scanner, processor, and printer. And as mentioned, they use a telephone line. All of these incorporated make up the basic features of a fax machine. 

The scanner: Once you enter a document, a scanner will interpret the information as a digital signal. The signal is then transmitted over the phone line. 

The processor: The signal is converted into digital bits on the sending side. On the receiving end, the processor converts the information into what the original document looks like. 

The phone line: The bits travel to the receiving end device through the lines. Once they reach the end line, the bits are coded information. 

The printer: The receiving party will need a printer to print and view the fax. 

old fax machine on the table and stack of paper.
The fax machine was once one of the most used devices in busy offices.

How To Use a Fax Machine

Not all fax machines are the same. Luckily, there are a few basic steps you take when sending a fax. It’s not terribly complicated, but you do need to have the phone number you are faxing to. 

  1. Find the feeder tray and insert your document into it. If you’re sending multiple sheets, you can add them simultaneously. You can also choose to send a cover sheet.
  2.  Enter the fax number you’re sending to. 
  3.  Press the Send button. The button will vary by device, but it should be easy to locate. 
  4.  Wait for a confirmation. 
  5.  Be sure to remove your original documents from the tray. 

Benefits Of Using a Fax Machine

Let’s take a look at why people may still want to use a piece of technology from the 1960s.

Low Cost

Fax machines have been around for a long time. However, today, they’re rarely used. Because they’re too highly in demand, they’re typically low-cost items. For example, you can pick one up for approximately $30.00. And while they do need paper for you to see what someone sent you, you can also get inexpensive paper. Of course, if you work in a legal office, you may want to splurge a little on the paper quality.  Probably the most expensive thing about using fax machines is the printer ink.


People will still use fax machines because they are safer than emailing or sending a physical copy of an important document. Anyone who uses technology understands that there’s a risk to privacy involved. Not to mention, you’ll experience issues with bugs and viruses. 

However, because a fax machine uses a dedicated phone line, there’s little to no risk in sending one. Fax machines are completely malware-free and are reliable and safe when handling important documents. 

Downsides To Fax Machines

Like most tech, there are downsides. Here are the most considerable downsides to using a fax machine. 

Becoming Obsolete

People rarely use them anymore. If you tell someone you’re going to fax them, they may not be set up to receive a fax. Most people today feel it’s easier to use email to share documents.

Some work environments still use fax machines. Some of these include healthcare, government, and law offices. People choose to use this technology instead of sending an email because it can introduce security risks. In addition, it’s possible sending some personal or business information over the internet can be illegal. 

Landline Phone Required

The very way a fax machine works requires you to have a dedicated phone line. That’s why you’ll typically see two phone numbers listed for a business on their website, at least for those businesses that still use faxes. But with the decline of landlines worldwide, most people also do not keep a line open to get faxes.

Paper Waste

Going green for most people includes going as paperless as they can. Faxes need paper, but modern technology allows us to conduct business without using paper products. One way to lessen your use of paper is to use a computer or smartphone to send documents.

Ink Cost

In addition to needing paper to work, your fax machine will also need plenty of ink. You will need both to receive any fax, so you will always need to keep a supply on hand. Unfortunately, ink cartridges are expensive, and they tend to dry up quickly. You should consider if these costs outweigh the benefits of using one.

Using Your Computer or Smartphone To Send a Fax

You can send faxes if you don’t own a fax machine. Some apps, like eFax, let you send a fax using multiple devices. All you’ll need is the recipient’s number and an internet connection.

Or, it may be easier to use a smartphone to send your fax. Typically, you can download an app, scan your document, and dial a number, all within a few minutes. We’ve created a list of apps that let you send faxes using a computer or your Android or iOS device. These apps are all compatible with Android, iOS, and Web browsers.

Concept of printing machine office paperwork. Businessman using virtual touchscreen presses printer icon. Print service.
There are a number of apps that let you send a fax without a fax machine.

Fax Apps To Try:

Fax AppSupported Files
Microsoft iFaxDOC, DOCX, PDF,​ JPEG, JPG, PNG
GeniusFax  DOC, PDF 

Using A Fax Machine

While most of us don’t have a need for a fax machine, there are some times they are needed. Whether you need to send important documents for business or personal reasons, using one is a safe option. Because they are free from malware and other issues that plague modern technology, fax machines continue to do their job as the humble, even if some of us consider them outdated, gadgets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main use of a fax machine?

A fax machine allows us to send documents from one place to another using telephone lines.

Why fax instead of email?

Emails can introduce various security risks. Also, they can be unreliable.

What is the disadvantage of using fax?

You wouldn’t want to rely on a fax machine for a few reasons. Some of these include the need to maintain the machine, the need for a landline phone, and they need for a steady supply of paper.

What is required for a fax machine to work?

To have a working fax machine, you need a phone line as well as ink and paper to print the fax out.

Which is better fax or email?

A fax is good for sending sensitive, private documents or those needing a signature. Email is a good choice for sending documents quickly.

Does a fax machine have to be on to receive a fax?

Yes, you will need to turn your fax machine on to get faxes.

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