What is a Fax Machine?

Last Update: August 9th, 2021

A fax machine is a device that is used to send documents electronically over a telephone network.

The transmissions it sends are called “faxes, ” and these can be between two fax machines, or between a fax machine and computer or online fax service that is equipped to send and receive faxes.


The American Heritage Dictionary defines a fax machine as:

A device that sends and receives printed pages or images over telephone lines by digitizing the material with an internal optical scanner and transmitting the information as electronic signals.

fax machine. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fax machine (accessed: January 13, 2015).

As technology has evolved, many fax machines are now part of a larger multifunction unit, and some can send and receive over email or IP (Internet) networks, and are no longer “phone only.”


Fax machines are used to transmit documents between locations.

The majority of the time these are business documents. However, there is still some personal use of fax transmission, especially with the generations that grew up with them.

Today’s fax machine

Today’s fax machine is less frequently a stand-alone machine and more often part of a multifunction unit that also has printing, scanning, and copying features.

As well, many fax functions now happen through an online fax service or fax server – internet-based systems that facilitate the fax transmission but don’t need the end user to maintain the hardware.