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Does your home printer need a fax machine?

Does your home printer need a fax machine?
(Image credit: HP)

Printers have been flying off shelves as more and more office workers make the switch to working from home. Compact printers and all-in-one models offer all the features you’d generally need from a home office, mainly printing, scanning, and a limited form of photocopying, but some may miss the addition of a fax machine to this tally.

In the days of 56K modems, your PC could be turned into a fax machine, but hardly anyone has one of those installed any more. The job has been left to all in one printers, which have the scanner bed to digitize your document, before feeding it to the phone line as a fax signal. 

And while it may seem like thoroughly 20th-century technology, the fax still has its place in the modern business world. The first reason for this is one of practicality. If a business you’re trying to send documents to demands a fax, then that’s what you need to use. No amount of arguing that alternative, modern, services are available is going to change the mind of a business that’s set up to use faxes. They’re like container ships, and only change course gradually. And if fax was good enough for the US and Iran to communicate with to avert war in 2020 then it’s good enough to send purchase orders to a supplier. 

Many modern HP printers still have fax capabilities

(Image credit: HP)

Perhaps the most important reason for the use of a fax is the sheet you get back once you’ve sent one - the proof of receipt. When a fax is received, the fax machine generates a signal that it sends back to the sender, containing information like the date and time, and both parties’ fax numbers. This kind of paper trail is important, and is one reason that the legal profession is still reliant on faxes.

Sometimes, though, you want to bring the whole system up to date. There are many fantastic online fax services such as Fax.Plus and RingCentral Fax that you can use to send and receive faxes from your home computer or other smart device. You can directly fax a document you're working on, including a Microsoft Word document (or similar) or a PDF. If you are a remote worker, your company will likely have access to one of these fax services, or will be looking to sign-up as more of its employees work from home.

You can use these same fax services to save incoming faxes as PDF files to avoid printing and filing a bunch of papers and the resulting clutter. If you have to print and sign a document like an auto insurance policy, you can use your all-in-one printer's scanner and return the signed document as an email attachment, or fax it from your computer with a fax app.

Canon PIXMA TR8620 is also a fax machine

(Image credit: Canon)

There are also some PDF software apps that allow you to digitally sign PDF documents safely, legally and securely, including Adobe Acrobat X and PDFpenPro. With this feature, you'll be able to skip printing, signing and scanning (or faxing) documents that require your signature. Simply add your signature by using a mouse, trackpad or smart pen. Or, you can scan your signature and save it as an image file, which you can then add to documents that require your signature.

It isn't necessary to own a fax machine now that fax software and online fax services are available for both Windows PCs and Macs. If you're in the market for a new, wireless all-in-one printer and the particular model you’re drawn to doesn't come with a built-in fax, don't let that be a deal breaker because you have plenty of other options.

Looking for more advice on home office equipment? We've got a list of the best home computers right now, and a look at the best laptops.

Ian has been a journalist for 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as video games, technology, PC hardware, popular (and unpopular) science, gardening and astronomy. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables.