Some slow-moving businesses and government agencies may not accept documents over email, forcing you to fax them in. If you are forced to send a fax, you can do it from your computer for free.
How Fax Machines Work (and Why They’re So Inconvenient)
This isn’t as easy as it should be. Fax machines are all connected to the plain old telephone lines. When you use a standard fax machine, that fax machine places a phone call to the number you specify. The fax machine at the destination number answers and the document is transmitted over a telephone call.
This process was invented before the Internet and seems laughably archaic at this point. To perform a fax, a person may type up a document, print it out, and scan it into the fax machine which sends it over the phone line. The person receiving the fax may then scan the faxed document and turn it back into a digital file. They’ve come full circle — the document was sent from one computer to another computer with much additional work and lost image quality.
Ideally, you’d be able to submit a document via email or a more secure online method. Many businesses consider fax a secure method of transmitting documents, but it really isn’t — if someone was snooping on the phone line, they could easily intercept all the faxed documents.
There’s no way to connect to a fax machine directly over the Internet, as the fax machine is only connected to telephone lines. To perform a fax online, we’ll need some sort of gateway that accepts documents via the Internet and transmits the document to a fax machine. That’s where the below services come in. Give them a document and they’ll do the annoying work of dialing up the fax machine and sending your document over the telephone line.
You Could Fax With Just Your Computer, But…
You could skip the below services, of course. Microsoft Windows even contains a Fax and Scan application that allows you to send faxes. The catch is that you’d need your computer connected to the phone line — yes, this means that you’d need a dial-up fax modem. You’d also need a landline telephone connection and you’d have to tell people to stay off the phone when you’re sending faxes, just like in the old dial-up Internet days. Of course, if you were faxing a lot, you could pay for a dedicated fax telephone line — this might even be necessary if you were receiving a lot of faxes.
This obviously isn’t ideal. Sure, if you need to send quite a few faxes, go ahead and buy a fax machine or modem and hook it up to your landline. But you probably don’t need to send and receive faxes this often — you hopefully just need to send the occasional fax whenever you bump into an organization that’s stuck in the past.
Scan the Document or Use an Existing Digital File
The basic process is simple. First, you’ll need to scan the document you want to fax, just as if you were going to send that document over email. if you don’t have a scanner lying around, you may want to try scanning it with your smartphone. If the document is already a file on your computer, congratulations — you don’t have to scan anything.
With the document now in digital form, you can send it along to a service that will do the annoying fax work for you.
Send Faxes Online, Free
There are so many online fax services out there that it’s hard to make an informed decision about which one to choose. The first thing to consider is what kind of a user you are, how often you’ll be faxing, and what features you need.
If you are going to be sending sensitive faxes all the time, or you work for a company and you’re trying to choose a service, RingCentral Fax, which is partially owned by Cisco and AT&T, is probably the best choice for your needs, especially since they have a lot of great security features and support for multiple users with separate fax lines.
It has all the features you can imagine, including integrations with Outlook, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and you can even get a toll-free number. It also has a lot of security features that would be useful for businesses or people that are transmitting secure information.
Of course, if you just want to send a few faxes, you can sign up for one of their cheap plans… and then just cancel after a month or two.
If you do need to send the occasional fax, we recommend signing up for a free trial of MyFax, which will let you send up to 100 pages, which is more pages per month than most people have to fax per year. If you do need to fax frequently, you can upgrade to a regular plan.
If you do need to receive faxes, you’ll have to sign up for a paid service. The service will need to establish a dedicated phone number for your fax line, and that costs money.
RingCentral, MyFax, and many other services will do this if you pay.
Luckily, you should at least be able to get a free trial —
RingCentral offers 30 days of free fax receiving, for example.
There are many fax services to use, and if you just need to send the occasional fax, you can manage to do that for free, but if you want to receive a fax, you’ll end up needing to sign up for a trial account. You can always cancel if you want.
Image Credit: Matt Jiggins on Flickr, David Voegtle on Flickr