Send and receive a fax from a computer (3 simple options)

LAST UPDATE: July 12th, 2017

Even though days of fax have been left behind to the 1980s and 90s, fax is still an active part of business communication.

While the traditional fax machine lives on in some offices, many have switched to a computer-based system for faxing.

Summary

There are three ways to fax from a computer:

  • With an online fax service, which operates as a virtual fax machine located accessed through email and the internet.
  • fax machine or multifunction printer with connected faxing capabilities.
  • Using fax software, turning a computer into a direct replacement of a hardcopy fax machine.

On this page

Using an online fax service to send or receive a fax

An online fax service is a dedicated fax number that is hosted by a service provider.

Compared with fax software or a fax machine, an online fax service offers the ability to fax directly from the Internet without a dedicated phone line. It can also access or manage fax communications from anywhere you can access the internet.

Interfaces are very much similar to a web-based email account (with the exception that you have the ability to send and receive faxes), and features such as faxing through email, the web, and integration with popular programs such as the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) are available.

Online fax services can also be combined with other devices – for example faxing to and from another computer, a tablet, or a smartphone through the same account.

Each service has different instructions. Most can start with faxing to and from an email address the moment that sign up has happened.

Using a connected fax or multifunction (copy/print/scan/fax) printer to send or receive a fax

Many connected fax and multifunction printers have the option to fax through the machine from the computer.

Specific options depend on the fax machine’s manufacturer and the software they offer. Many of today’s units can send and receive faxes directly to the computer through the fax machine. Instead of having to print a document and then fax it (or receive over the fax then scan it), connecting a fax machine this way will let you send and receive faxes from the computer.

In this method, the fax/printer will be acting almost as if we were feeding a document into the document feeder and faxing as we would with a traditional fax machine. Instead of printing the document and faxing it we are “printing” to the fax machine eliminating the middle step.

Important note

This method will not fax over the internet. A landline phone line is still required just like a traditional fax machine.

Wireless printing is possible with this method. However, the “wireless” portion is only between the computer and the fax machine (through WiFi or Bluetooth). The fax machine still needs to be connected to a phone line.

What you’ll need

  • Computer (will need to be on to receive faxes)
  • Fax machine or multifunction printer (print/copy/scan/fax) that can fax from the computer
  • Active land-line phone line to connect the fax/multifunction printer. The phone line should not be a VoIP phone connection as VoIP signals usually scramble a fax signal.
  • Document to send

The connected fax/printer cannot send faxes over the internet – a phone line is necessary.

How to set it up

  1. Set up the fax/printer by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Connect the fax to the phone line.
  3. Install the fax/printer’s drivers onto the computer

How to send a fax

The way of sending the fax depends on some factors such as the manufacturer, model of the fax machine, the age of the fax machine, and any updates to the print drivers.

The typical way of sending a fax with a connected fax machine is to “print” the fax.

The printer driver is typically used to control fax functions.

How to receive a fax

When a fax is received, either it is printed off of the fax machine relays it to the computer. Sometimes that is via an email, other times it is through software that needs to be running on the computer to receive the fax.

Using fax software to send and receive a fax (Windows PC)

Windows 10, 8, 7, and Vista (business editions only for Vista) all include the program “Windows fax and scan” has been included with the Windows operating system. Windows XP includes “fax console,” a predecessor to Windows fax and scan.

“Fax and scan” and “fax console” can both be used to turn a computer into a direct replacement of a fax machine.

There is third party software available. All types of fax software follow the same basic requirements and

Important note

This method will not fax over the internet. A landline phone line is still required just like a traditional fax machine.

The computer cannot be connected to the phone line wirelessly. This method will not work for users expecting to use this method to fax wirelessly through WiFi, Bluetooth, or a cellular connection.

It would, however, be possible to access the computer wirelessly by remotely controlling the desktop. This approach is very cumbersome.

What you’ll need

How to set up and configure the software in Windows 10

Step 1 – Connect the fax modem (on a USB dongle or in the computer) to the landline phone line using a simple phone cord.

It helps to test the phone line ahead of time to make sure that there is a dial tone.

As well, ensure that the landline phone line you’re using is not a VoIP phone line, even a VoIP phone line that will accept a phone cord.

Step 2 – Open the program and configure the software. We have separate guides for Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, and XP. However, most of the steps are the same regardless of the operating system (except for Windows XP’s fax console).

Windows Fax and Scan is in the start menu under “Windows Accessories.”

Starting Windows Fax and Scan
In Windows 10, Windows Fax and Scan is in the “Windows Accessories” folder.

Once the program opens, it looks and feels very much like an email program.

Welcome screen for Windows fax and scan
Windows Fax and Scan looks and feels very much like an email program. There are inboxes, drafts, and outboxes. There are areas for new faxes, forwarding, and replying.

Step 3 (optional) – configure sender information and your profile.

Windows fax and scan tools menu
Most configuration options are in the Tools Menu. This area lets you make changes to the sender profile (name, fax number, and address), cover page templates, and manage fax accounts and set options.

Sender information includes name, fax number, and other contact information. The contact information is automatically placed in the appropriate parts of the cover sheet template (if used).

Windows fax and scan sender information
The sender information screen lets us put our contact information into the system. The contact information is put in the proper place of any cover sheets we make.

Step 4 (optional) – adjust settings.

Options within Windows Fax and Scan include notifications for the progress of a fax. These notifications help for knowing if the fax was successfully sent or not.

Setting options for Windows Fax and Scan
Configuration options are available including progress of the fax transmission.

Confirmation pages and email receipts send to an email address. When a receiving fax machine sends a “successfully received” message, the sending fax machine prints or emails a confirmation page.

Email receipt options in Windows fax and scan
Options for confirmation pages and email receipts are available as well

Step 4 (optional) – configure cover pages.

Screenshot of the cover page editor in Windows fax and scan
The cover page editor is used to build a custom cover sheet. Fields marked with ‘{‘ and ‘}’ will change depending on the specific information in each fax (subject line, recipient’s fax number, etc.)

Once options are configured, you’re ready to send and receive a fax.

How to send a fax

Step 1Click the “new fax” button on the main screen. A window will open up to create a new fax.

Starting a new fax in Windows fax and scan
Select “New fax” to begin building the fax.

Step 2 – enter the fax number and first-page information. The “to” field is the fax number of the person you want to send the fax to. The “to” field can have multiple fax numbers (just like an email can have multiple recipeints). Contacts are imported by pressing on the “to” button.

Windows Fax and Scan example
The “to” field is for the fax number to dial to send the fax. The body of the email will become the first page of the fax transmission (if no cover page is selected – if one is used, it becomes the second page of the transmission).

Step 3 (optional) – attach any files to be sent with the fax transmission. Many popular file formats used in Windows are available, including Word and PDF documents.

Attaching a document to a fax in Windows fax and scan
Files, pictures, and scanned documents can be attached to the fax.

 

Step 4 – press send to send the fax. Windows fax and scan will automatically dial the destination fax numbers one after another to send the faxes.

How to receive a fax

For the computer to receive a fax, it will need to be on and the software running.

There are two ways of receiving a fax: automatically and manually.

Automatic reception should only be active if there is a fax line ready to receive faxes at any time. If voicemail shares the line, there will be a problem (either the fax or voicemail answer the call, but not both). Users who want automatic fax pickup and voicemail on the same line will need a second line. Distinctive ring (also known as DRPD) technology is not available with Windows fax and scan.

Only use manual reception if you are prepared to be at the computer with the program open ready to receive a fax the moment the fax line rings.

Automatically receiving a fax

Only use this method if the fax line is prepared to receive faxes at all times.

Users who are looking for “always on” service will want to consider having the program start automatically when the computer starts and manage the computer’s restarts after updates as software updates and automatic restarts can make the computer restart automatically. A restarted computer can mean that the fax software is not available until it Windows fax and scan restarts.

Manually receiving a fax

Only use this method if you are ready to receive a fax when you’re expecting it. If you are not at the computer with the software open when the fax line rings, the fax will not be received.

To manually receive a fax, make sure that all automatic receiving functions are turned off.

When the phone line rings, click “Receive a fax now.” Windows fax and scan will answer the phone line and answer the incoming fax.

 

Storing faxes

Faxes are automatically stored on the system’s hard drive for access later.

 

Using fax software to send and receive a fax (Mac)

There is no fax software currently compatible with MacOS.

Fax modems have not been compatible with OSX or MacOS since OSX 10.7 Lion and the discontinuation of the Apple USB fax modem.

Programs such as PDF Fax used to be a way to fax with Mac. However, they have not been compatible for many years.

The only current way to turn a Mac into a fax software for replacement of a fax machine is to run Windows or Linux through a virtual machine such as Parallels.

Using fax software to send and receive a fax (Linux)

Linux fax software powers everything from smartphones to desktop applications to fax server systems. Linux packages also exist for niche markets such as radiofax and hamfax receivers.

Debian (including Ubuntu and Mint) and Fedora (including Red Hat and CentOS)

Each program is different, and availability may vary based on the distribution of Linux used. HylaFAX and HylaFAX+ are the most commonly mentioned packages.

Ubuntu fax programs
Ubuntu has a few fax programs available in the program manger. There are more programs available on SourceForge or GitHub.

Check your Linux distributions packages as well as SourceForge and GitHub for available programs.

Chrome OS & Chromium OS

There are no packages for the Chrome OS-based systems and no fax software that directly works on Chrome OS.

The only options for faxing with Chrome OS are to use an online fax service or compatible connected fax machine.

Using a fax app to send or receive a fax (smartphone)

Most fax apps we’ve seen are a portal for an online fax service.

There is no way to connect a smartphone to a fax machine to send and receive faxes.

While there are smartphone apps for sending and receiving faxes, we’ve found that most users prefer to send and receive through their phone’s email instead of using the smartphone app.

Sources and more resources