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.
We’ve previously covered ways to electronically sign documents without printing and scanning them. With this process, you can digitally sign a document and fax it to a business — all on your computer and without any printing required.
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 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
Most online fax services charge money for subscription plans. These only may make sense if you’re a heavy user.
If you do need to send the occasional fax, we recommend HelloFax. It lets you send five free fax pages per month. This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more pages per month than most people have to fax per year. HelloFax will have you covered in the rare case you need to send a fax.
To send a fax with HelloFax, just create an account on the website, upload the document file you want to fax, and enter the fax number you want to send it to. It’s as simple as sending a fax should be in the first place.
HelloFax also offers a 30-day free trial of their more expensive plans, so you could use the trial if you ever needed to send more pages.
If you need to send more than five faxes per month, try FaxZero. It allows you to send up to five three-page faxes per day, entirely free. You don’t even have to create an account. The downside is that there’s an advertisement on the cover page included with the fax. Depending on who you’re sending the fax to, this may or may not be a problem.
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. HelloFax and many other services will do this if you pay.
Luckily, you should at least be able to get a free trial — HelloFax offers 30 days of free fax receiving, for example.
HelloFax is also integrated with HelloSign, which we covered in our list of easy ways to electronically sign documents. This means that HelloFax could be your one-stop location to digitally sign documents and fax them — useful if you need to do this regularly.
There are many other fax services yo use, but they generally come with more strings attached than HelloFax does. HelloFax also offers a much cleaner, more modern interface than the average online fax service does.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 07/29/13