There are three primary ways to fax from a computer.
The first is with an online fax service, which operates as a virtual fax machine located accessed through the internet.
The second is a connected fax machine or multifunction (print/scan/copy/fax) printer that allows for faxing from the computer through the multifunction device attached to a land-line phone line.
The third is through fax software bundled, which turns your computer into a direct replacement of a hardcopy fax machine.
While options and specific brands vary by operating system, the three concepts are the same across different platforms.
Table of Contents
- Online Fax Services
- Connected fax or multifunction printers
- Fax Software
- More How to Fax Resources
An online fax service is a dedicated fax number that is hosted by a service provider.
Compared with Windows Fax and Scan (or a fax machine), an online fax service offers the ability to fax directly from the Internet without a dedicated phone line in your house, as well as the ability to 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.
For full details on online fax services, see our page on Online Faxing.
Many connected fax and multifunction printers have the option to fax through the machine from the computer.
While specific options depend on the fax machine’s manufacturer (and the software they offer), many 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 a document over the fax then scan it), connecting a fax machine this way will let you send and receive faxes from the computer.
What you’ll need
To send an receive a fax from a computer through a connected fax or printer with fax, you’ll need the following:
- A computer
- A fax machine or multifunction (print / copy / scan / fax) printer that
- An 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 – for more details on faxing with VoIP, see our page on “why does my fax machine not work on my VoIP phone line?“
- A document to send
Things to be aware of
- You will still need to connect the fax or multifunction printer to an active land-line phone line for this to work
- A fax or mutlifunction printer with “wireless” (such as wifi or bluetooth) does not allow you to send and receive faxes without a phone line – the “wireless” portion of the fax / printer is only for communication between the computer and the printer – not between the fax / printer and the phone system. A “wireless” fax / printer cannot connect wirelessly to the internet to be able to send and receive faxes.
- When setting the system up, double check to see what happens with received faxes when the computer is not active. Some models will store a received fax in the fax/printer’s memory until the computer is reconnected. The challenge with this approach is that any stored faxes (that the fax machine has acknowledged as received) may be lost if the power is lost.
Fax software is still available with some titles for both Windows and Linux systems. Since the discontinuation of compatibility of the Apple USB fax modem, Mac OS X users no longer have an option with fax software.
Windows since Vista has had the program Windows Fax and Scan included (Windows XP included the program “Fax Console”), which allows users to send and receive faxes directly through the computer. Linux is used to power everything from simple desktop faxing to enterprise level fax servers with many lines and users.
When configuring a computer to run through fax software, users should be aware that the computer still needs to be connected to an active land-line phone line. Simply having the computer connected to the internet will not allow fax software to work (unless that software is connecting a central fax server or an online fax service).
To send (or receive) a fax from a Windows or Linux computer using Fax software you’ll need the following:
- A computer running Windows or Linux
- Modem or Fax Board on the computer (the majority of computers that have a telephone line connection have this ability)
- A land-line phone line to fax with. The phone line should not be a VoIP phone connection as VoIP signals usually scramble a fax signal – for more details on faxing with VoIP, see our page on “why does my fax machine not work on my VoIP phone line?“
- A document to send
It’s important to be aware that to use your computer as a fax machine the computer needs always to be on and connected to the phone line to receive a fax.
As well, the computer will not be able to use your internet connection to send and receive faxes – only the phone connection.
The most important consideration for users should be software compatibility – while most options are very compatible with Windows 7 and 8, Vista and XP users may have more of a challenge.
Mac OS X compatibility is better than it used to be, but still not as good as it could be.
When it comes to online fax services, the majority of services will work with an Apple computer. However, some (specifically with advanced features that require a user to download software) may not have all features enabled. Our general advice to OS X users is to consider a service from the perspective of using it from the browser & email only.
Connected fax and multifunction printer options that are compatible with OS X have become very popular – while Mac compatibility is better today than it ever has been, users should still check to make sure that any advanced features that are important to them are also available on the Mac version.
As for fax software, at the moment there are no options for fax software that we know of for the OS X platform. While Apple did (does?) offer a USB fax/modem, it has not been compatible with OS X since 2007’s Snow Leopard 10.6 version. Without the ability to connect a fax modem, there is no ability to use fax software with the system.
Users of a Linux computer have few options when it comes to faxing, however, there are options available.
Linux users who are looking to go with an online fax service should to only use the “web” and “email” portion of any service available. The Internet is used to access most fax provider systems. Some online fax systems (especially with downloadable software) only offer all of their functions to Windows users.
Connected fax and multifunction printer options will experience the same challenges as many Linux users who want to use a printer. While many will connect from a printing perspective, users should be aware that advanced features may not be available even on units that can connect for printing.
Linux users have more options than Mac users when it comes to software, however users should do their research when it comes to how up to date and compatible each package is. While software exists for almost every application (from basic home/office use to enterprise level and fax server capabilities), there are few active developer communities.
- How to Fax From a Computer – How To’s and Instructions for Faxing from a Computer
- Windows 7 Fax – How to setup and operate faxing on Windows 7
- Windows XP Fax – How to setup and operate faxing on Windows XP
- How to Fix a Paper Jam in a Fax Machine – Prevention and Maintenance for Paper Jams
- How to Fax Internationally – International Dialing Codes and Calling Methods
- How to Get a Fax Number – Finding Fax Numbers for Local and Toll Free Services
- How to Send a Fax – Methods for Faxing, from Online and Internet Faxing to Fax Machines and Computer Faxing
- How to Use a Fax Machine – Including Configuration, Sending, Receiving, and Troubleshooting
- Where Can I Send a Fax? – How to Find Places and Methods that Can Send Faxes