Advantages & disadvantages of fax machines

Fax/Printer buttons image by Jeffrey Zalesny from

Fax machines were once an essential, high-tech component of offices, just as computers with Internet access are today. Faxes have largely given way to e-mail as a means of transmitting documents electronically. Fax machines are stand-alone devices that use telephone lines to scan, transmit, receive and print paper documents. Despite their disappearance in many offices, fax machines are still useful in certain cases where e-mail is insufficient.

Direct Connection

One of the benefits of fax machines is they provide a direct link between two places. Fax machines transmit documents in a matter of minutes and the printed hard copy appears in the receiving machine's tray, ready to read. There's no need to wait for users on the receiving end to log in or check their messages, as with e-mail and other types of electronic communication. Fax machines also aren't subject to unsupported file types, embedding or encryption, which can slow down the process of printing a document from e-mail.

Mechanical Problems

Fax machines use paper feed motors, toner cartridges and optical scanners to send, receive and print documents. This type of mechanical complexity means fax machines are subject to problems such as paper jams, electronic failure, motor failure and running out of toner. Some fax machines only print or scan in black and white, which limits their usefulness even when fully functional.

Environmental Drawbacks

Fax machines automatically print documents they receive, contributing to excessive paper usage. Users can load fax machines with recycled paper, but this still uses more natural resources than reading an e-mail on your monitor without ever producing a hard copy.

Legal Considerations

Some contract laws consider signatures valid when sent via fax machine, but not legally valid when sent via e-mail. This discrepancy is one of the key reasons some offices retain fax machines despite having embraced e-mail for office memoranda and daily communication.

Size and Cost

Fax machines are generally bulky and constitute an additional cost for an office, both in terms of the purchase price and the cost of toner, paper, telephone service and maintenance. This stands in contrast to e-mail, which is free to use on any computer that can access the email service. Whereas fax machines clutter desks and offices, e-mail communication takes place on existing computers and mobile devices that don't contribute to hardware costs or reduce usable space.

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