Even in the digital age, fax machines remain crucial for businesses. Fax machines are still the easiest way to transmit hard copy to hard copy. There are two main types of fax machines -- dedicated fax machines, which are single component units that only send and receive faxes, and multifunction devices (aka MFDs), which are also called all-in-one printers and can send and receive faxes, print, copy, scan, and wash your dirty socks.
All-in-one printers save desk space and money. Instead of having a copier, scanner, printer, and fax machine, you have one device. Instead of having to maintain ink or toner in all your machines, you only have to buy for one. This convenience makes them an attractive option. However, there are more things that can go wrong: when one function of the machine goes awry, the whole machine must go to the shop. Nowadays, multifunction models are becoming more and more common, and you can buy one at a reasonable price. They are gaining popularity, as they are integrated into computer systems. Their dominance in the market also means that most of the technological advances may be tracked to the all-in-one market.
Choosing Your Fax Machine
* '''Inkjet, Laser, or Thermal Printing? '''Although thermal-ribbon printing technology is the cheapest, the quality is usually very poor, and the paper tends to fade over time. Most up-to-date fax machines use inkjet or laser technology. These offer a color printing option as well as higher resolution. Inkjet fax machines tend to be standard these days since they are precise and reasonably priced. Laser fax machines are the fastest, but they are also the most expensive.
* '''How fast should my fax machine be?''' Transmission speed is important, especially if you need to send many faxes. About 3 seconds per page is considered top-notch, as on the Brother IntelliFax 1940CN or the Canon FaxPhone L80. A 15-second transmission is found on less expensive models such as the Brother 575 (around $60). Fax modem speed is measured in bps (bits per second) and usually come in 9600, 14,400, or 36,000, which is the fastest. A faster speed on your end means less costly faxes, which is especially important if international faxes are a regular part of your business.
* '''You say you want good resolution... '''Resolution is measured in dpi (dots per inch). The more dots, the better the resolution. However, depending on your needs, you may not want to shell out for photo quality printing. 600x600 dpi is considered good for everyday text, 1200x1200 is very sharp for text, and 4800x1200 will create very sharp photos.
* '''Don't forget about memory!''' At some point, your fax machine is bound to run out of paper. You can't afford to lose important faxes while reloading the paper tray! Fax machines have integrated memory; that is, they can remember where they left off printing so that they can start up at the same spot. You can also program many fax machines to save all your faxes to memory while you are out and opt to print them when you return. Minimum requirements are around 512KB but more expensive models offer from 8-16MB, which save more than 400 pages.
* '''Automatic Document Feeder''' (ADF) This is very important if you want the ability to insert your fax and walk away. Feeding 30 pages one at a time is time-consuming and, frankly, annoying. ADF takes care of this for you. Most can handle 10 to 20 or even 30 sheets at a time.
* '''Flatbed Document Scanner''' -- This allows the user to fax or scan documents (like receipts or photos) that are not standard letter size without worrying about the machine jamming or damaging the document.
* '''Phone Features''' -- Built-in answering machines, call-waiting, caller-ID, call recognition (deciphering whether the incoming call is made by a human or another fax machine), remote fax retrieval, and fax forwarding are all some of the extras that you may find on some models. At present, phones are standard attachments on dedicated fax machines, but not on all-in-one printers. The assumption with all-in-ones is that the user has a phone system already. You do not need a separate line.
* '''Multi-Copying Ability''' -- Even dedicated fax machines have some copying abilities. Most fax machines can make up to 100 copies.
* '''Size Adjustment Capabilities -'''- Some fax machines allow for making reductions as low as 20% and enlargements as high as 400%.
* '''Wireless Capability''' -- Some of the highe-end multifunction machines have integrated wireless technology, meaning a simplified office network.
* '''Computer Compatibility -- '''Mac users, beware! If you buy an all-in-one, make sure you buy one that is compatible with your computer.
Dedicated Fax Machine (Inkjet)
Dedicated Fax Machine (Laser)
Cost And Maintenance
Those on a tight budget should also consider the costs of consumables beyond just the upfront price of the machine. For example, you will almost certainly need to buy replacements for your toner or ink cartridges. While laser fax machines and toner cartridges are generally more expensive than inkjet fax machines and ink cartridges, they also tend to be more efficient, so the cartridges do not need to be replaced as often.
It has been said that if the price seems too good to be true, it just may be that the machine is poorly made. Cutting costs on quality may be frustrating in the long run. Depending on your needs, buying a high quality machine with fewer functions may be a viable option.
When you buy your fax machine, you should also find out how long the warranty lasts. A 1-year warranty is considered to be good, while a 90-day warranty is considered risky. Since many frequent faxers have come across technology glitches, make sure you hold onto your warranty no matter what make or model you purchase.