A Samsung fax machine

Fax (short for facsimile), sometimes called telecopying, is the telephonic transmission of scanned printed material (both text and images), normally to a telephone number connected to a printer or other output device. The original document is scanned with a fax machine, which processes the contents (text or images) as a single fixed graphic image, converting it into a bitmap, the information is then transmitted as electrical signals through the telephone system. The receiving fax machine reconverts the coded image, printing a paper copy.[1] Before digital technology became widespread, for many decades, the scanned data was transmitted as analog.

Although businesses usually maintain some kind of fax capability, the technology has faced increasing competition from Internet-based alternatives. Fax machines still retain some advantages, particularly in the transmission of sensitive material which, if sent over the Internet unencrypted, may be vulnerable to interception, without the need for telephone tapping. In some countries, because electronic signatures on contracts are not recognized by law while faxed contracts with copies of signatures are, fax machines enjoy continuing support in business.[citation needed]

In many corporate environments, standalone fax machines have been replaced by "fax servers" and other computerized systems capable of receiving and storing incoming faxes electronically, and then routing them to users on paper or via an email (which may be secured). Such systems have the advantage of reducing costs by eliminating unnecessary printouts and reducing the number of inbound analog phone lines needed by an office.



Wire transmission

Scottish inventor Alexander Bain worked on chemical mechanical fax type devices and in 1846 was able to reproduce graphic signs in laboratory experiments. He received the first fax patent in 1843. Frederick Bakewell made several improvements on Bain's design and demonstrated telefax machine, the Pantelegraph, was invented by the Italian physicist Giovanni Caselli. He introduced the first commercial telefax service between Paris and Lyon in 1865, some 11 years before the invention of telephones.[2][3]

In 1881, English inventor Shelford Bidwell constructed the scanning phototelegraph that was the first telefax machine to scan any two-dimensional original, not requiring manual plotting or drawing. Around 1900, German physicist Arthur Korn invented the Bildtelegraph, widespread in continental Europe especially, since a widely noticed transmission of a wanted-person photograph from Paris to London in 1908, used until the wider distribution of the radiofax. Its main competitors were the Bélinograf by Édouard Belin first, then since the 1930s the Hellschreiber, invented in 1929 by German inventor Rudolf Hell, a pioneer in mechanical image scanning and transmission.

Wireless transmission

As a designer for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), in 1924, Richard H. Ranger invented the wireless photoradiogram, or transoceanic radio facsimile, the forerunner of today’s "Fax" machines. A photograph of President Calvin Coolidge sent from New York to London on November 29, 1924 became the first photo picture reproduced by transoceanic radio facsimile. Commercial use of Ranger’s product began two years later. Radio fax is still in common use today for transmitting weather charts and information to ships at sea. Also in 1924, Herbert E. Ives of AT&T transmitted and reconstructed the first color facsimile, using color separations. Around 1952 or so, Finch Facsimile, a highly-developed machine, was described in detail in a book; it apparently was never manufactured in quantity.

In the 1960s, the United States Army transmitted the first photograph via satellite facsimile ("fax") to Puerto Rico from the Deal Test Site using the Courier satellite.

Telephone transmission

Prior to the introduction of the ubiquitous fax machine, one of the first being the Exxon Qwip[4] in the mid-1970s, facsimile machines worked by optical scanning of a document or drawing spinning on a drum. The reflected light, varying in intensity according to the light and dark areas of the document, was focused on a photocell so that the current in a circuit varied with the amount of light. This current was used to control a tone generator (a modulator), the current determining the frequency of the tone produced. This audio tone was then transmitted using an acoustic coupler (a speaker, in this case) attached to the microphone of a common telephone handset. At the receiving end, a handset’s speaker was attached to an acoustic coupler (a microphone), and a demodulator converted the varying tone into a variable current that controlled the mechanical movement of a pen or pencil to reproduce the image on a blank sheet of paper on an identical drum rotating at the same rate. A pair of these expensive and bulky machines could only be afforded by companies with a serious need to communicate drawings, design sketches or signed documents between distant locations, such as an office and factory.[5] Western Union began a "Faxcimile Telegraphy" service in 1935. Their first coast-to-coast message contained images of Mickey Mouse.

Computer facsimile interface

In 1985, Dr. Ayaz Asmat, founder of GammaLink, produced the first computer fax board, called GammaFax.


There are several different indicators of fax capabilities: Group, class, data transmission rate, and conformance with ITU-T (formerly CCITT) recommendations.

Fax machines utilize standard PSTN lines and telephone numbers.



Group 1 and 2 faxes are sent in the same manner as a frame of analogue television, with each scanned line transmitted as a continuous analogue signal. Horizontal resolution depended upon the quality of the scanner, transmission line, and the printer. Analogue fax machines are obsolete and no longer manufactured. ITU-T Recommendations T.2 and T.3 were withdrawn as obsolete in July 1996.

  • Group 1 faxes conform to the ITU-T Recommendation T.2. Group 1 faxes take six minutes to transmit a single page, with a vertical resolution of 96 scan lines per inch. Group 1 fax machines are obsolete and no longer manufactured.
  • Group 2 faxes conform to the ITU-T Recommendations T.30 and T.3. Group 2 faxes take three minutes to transmit a single page, with a vertical resolution of 96 scan lines per inch. Group 2 fax machines are almost obsolete, and are no longer manufactured. Group 2 fax machines can interoperate with Group 3 fax machines.


The CCD chip in a fax machine. Only about one quarter of the length is shown. The thin line in the middle consists of photosensitive pixels. The read-out circuit is at left.

Group 3 and 4 faxes are digital formats, and take advantage of digital compression methods to greatly reduce transmission times.

  • Group 3 faxes conform to the ITU-T Recommendations T.30 and T.4. Group 3 faxes take between six and fifteen seconds to transmit a single page (not including the initial time for the fax machines to handshake and synchronize). The horizontal and vertical resolutions are allowed by the T.4 standard to vary among a set of fixed resolutions:
    • Horizontal: 100 scan lines per inch
      • Vertical: 100 scan lines per inch ('Basic')
    • Horizontal: 200 or 204 scan lines per inch
      • Vertical: 100 or 98 scan lines per inch ('Standard')
      • Vertical: 200 or 196 scan lines per inch ('Fine')
      • Vertical: 400 or 391 (note not 392) scan lines per inch ('Superfine')
    • Horizontal: 300 scan lines per inch
      • Vertical: 300 scan lines per inch
    • Horizontal: 400 or 408 scan lines per inch
      • Vertical: 400 or 391 scan lines per inch ('Ultrafine')
  • Group 4 faxes conform to the ITU-T Recommendations T.563, T.503, T.521, T.6, T.62, T.70, T.72, T.411 to T.417. They are designed to operate over 64 kbit/s digital ISDN circuits. Their resolution is determined by the T.6 recommendation, which is a superset of the T.4 recommendation.

Fax Over IP (FOIP) can transmit and receive pre-digitized documents at near realtime speeds using ITU-T recommendation T.38 to send digitised images over an IP network using JPEG compression. T.38 is designed to work with VoIP services and often supported by analog telephone adapters used by legacy fax machines that need to connect through a VoIP service. Scanned documents are limited to the amount of time the user takes to load the document in a scanner and for the device to process a digital file. The resolution can vary from as little as 150 DPI to 9600 DPI or more. This type of faxing is not related to the e-mail to fax service that still uses fax modems at least one way.


Computer modems are often designated by a particular fax class, which indicates how much processing is offloaded from the computer's CPU to the fax modem.

  • Class 1 fax devices do fax data transfer where the T.4/T.6 data compression and T.30 session management are performed by software on a controlling computer. This is described in ITU-T recommendation T.31.[6]
  • Class 2 fax devices perform T.30 session management themselves, but the T.4/T.6 data compression is performed by software on a controlling computer. The relevant ITU-T recommendation is T.32.[6]
  • Class 2.0 is different from Class 2.
  • Class 2.1 is an improvement of Class 2.0. Class 2.1 fax devices are referred to as "super G3"; they seem to be a little faster than Class 1/2/2.0.
  • Class 3 fax devices are responsible for virtually the entire fax session, given little more than a phone number and the text to send (including rendering ASCII text as a raster image). These devices are not common.

Data transmission rate

Several different telephone line modulation techniques are used by fax machines. They are negotiated during the fax-modem handshake, and the fax devices will use the highest data rate that both fax devices support, usually a minimum of 14.4 kbit/s for Group 3 fax.

ITU Standard Released Date Data Rates (bit/s) Modulation Method
V.27 1988 4800, 2400 PSK
V.29 1988 9600, 7200, 4800 QAM
V.17 1991 14400, 12000, 9600, 7200 TCM
V.34 1994 28800 QAM
V.34bis 1998 33600 QAM

Note that 'Super Group 3' faxes use V.34bis modulation that allows a data rate of up to 33.6 kbit/s.


As well as specifying the resolution (and allowable physical size of the image being faxed), the ITU-T T.4 recommendation specifies two compression methods for decreasing the amount of data that needs to be transmitted between the fax machines to transfer the image. The two methods are:

Modified Huffman

Modified Huffman (MH) is a codebook-based run-length encoding scheme optimised to efficiently compress whitespace. As most faxes consist mostly of white space, this minimises the transmission time of most faxes. Each line scanned is compressed independently of its predecessor and successor.

Modified Read

Modified read (MR) encodes the first scanned line using MH. The next line is compared to the first, the differences determined, and then the differences are encoded and transmitted. This is effective as most lines differ little from their predecessor. This is not continued to the end of the fax transmission, but only for a limited number of lines until the process is reset and a new 'first line' encoded with MH is produced. This limited number of lines is to prevent errors propagating throughout the whole fax, as the standard does not provide for error-correction. MR is an optional facility, and some fax machines do not use MR in order to minimise the amount of computation required by the machine. The limited number of lines is two for 'Standard' resolution faxes, and four for 'Fine' resolution faxes.

Modified Modified Read

The ITU-T T.6 recommendation adds a further compression type of Modified Modified READ (MMR), which simply allows for a greater number of lines to be coded by MR than in T.4. This is because T.6 makes the assumption that the transmission is over a circuit with a low number of line errors such as digital ISDN. In this case, there is no maximum number of lines for which the differences are encoded.

Matsushita Whiteline Skip

A proprietary compression scheme employed on Panasonic fax machines is Matsushita Whiteline Skip (MWS). It can be overlaid on the other compression schemes, but is operative only when two Panasonic machines are communicating with one another. This system detects the blank scanned areas between lines of text, and then compresses several blank scan lines into the data space of a single character.

Typical characteristics

Group 3 fax machines transfer one or a few printed or handwritten pages per minute in black-and-white (bitonal) at a resolution of 204×98 (normal) or 204×196 (fine) dots per square inch. The transfer rate is 14.4 kbit/s or higher for modems and some fax machines, but fax machines support speeds beginning with 2400 bit/s and typically operate at 9600 bit/s. The transferred image formats are called ITU-T (formerly CCITT) fax group 3 or 4.

The most basic fax mode transfers black and white colors only. The original page is scanned in a resolution of 1728 pixels/line and 1145 lines/page (for A4). The resulting raw data is compressed using a modified Huffman code optimized for written text, achieving average compression factors of around 20. Typically a page needs 10 s for transmission, instead of about 3 minutes for the same uncompressed raw data of 1728×1145 bits at a speed of 9600 bit/s. The compression method uses a Huffman codebook for run lengths of black and white runs in a single scanned line, and it can also use the fact that two adjacent scanlines are usually quite similar, saving bandwidth by encoding only the differences.

Fax classes denote the way fax programs interact with fax hardware. Available classes include Class 1, Class 2, Class 2.0 and 2.1, and Intel CAS. Many modems support at least class 1 and often either Class 2 or Class 2.0. Which is preferable to use depends on factors such as hardware, software, modem firmware, and expected use.

Fax machines from the 1970s to the 1990s often used direct thermal printers as their printing technology, but since the mid-1990s there has been a transition towards thermal transfer printers, inkjet printers and laser printers.

One of the advantages of inkjet printing is that inkjets can affordably print in color; therefore, many of the inkjet-based fax machines claim to have color fax capability. There is a standard called ITU-T30e for faxing in color; unfortunately, it is not widely supported, so many of the color fax machines can only fax in color to machines from the same manufacturer.

Stroke speed

Stroke speed in facsimile systems, is the rate at which a fixed line perpendicular to the direction of scanning is crossed in one direction by a scanning or recording spot. Stroke speed is usually expressed as a number of strokes per minute. When the fax system scans in both directions, the stroke speed is twice this number. In most conventional 20th century mechanical systems, the stroke speed is equivalent to drum speed.[7]

Fax paper

Paper roll for thermal transfer printer fax machine

As a precaution, thermal fax paper is typically not accepted in archives or as documentary evidence in some courts of law unless photocopied. This is because the image-forming coating is eradicable and brittle, and it tends to come off after a long time in storage.[8]


One popular alternative is to subscribe to an internet fax service. Fax service providers allow users to send and receive faxes from their personal computers using an existing email account. No software, fax server or fax machine is needed. Faxes are received as attached TIFF or PDF files, or in proprietary formats that require the use of the service provider's software. Faxes can be sent or retrieved from anywhere at any time that a user can get internet access. Some services even offer secure faxing to comply with stringent HIPAA and Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act requirements to keep medical information and financial information private and secure. Utilizing a fax service provider does not require paper, a dedicated fax line, or consumables.

Another alternative to a physical fax machine is to make use of computer software which allows people to send and receive faxes using their own computers. See Fax server, Unified messaging and internet fax. A virtual (email) fax can be printed out and then signed and scanned back to computer before being emailed. Also the sender can attach a digital signature to the document file.

See also


  1. ^ http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/definition/fax
  2. ^ Istituto Tecnico Industriale, Rome, Italy. Italian biography of Giovanni Caselli
  3. ^ The Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Giovanni Caselli biography
  4. ^ New York Times. An Exxon Sale To Harris Unit, New York Times, February 22, 1985.
  5. ^ McCarroll, Thomas. Just The Fax, Ma'am, Time Magazine, New York, August 31, 1987.
  6. ^ a b Peterson, Kerstin Day (2000). Business telecom systems: a guide to choosing the best technologies and services. Focal Press. pp. 191–192. ISBN 1578200415. http://books.google.com/books?id=W79R0niNU5wC&pg=PA191. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  7. ^  This article incorporates public domain material from the General Services Administration document "Federal Standard 1037C" (in support of MIL-STD-188).
  8. ^ "4.12 Filing rules: 19.Newspaper extracts or thermal facsimile paper should not be preserved as archives. Such extracts should be photocopied and the copy preserved. The original can then be destroyed." Office of Corporate & Legal Affairs, University College Cork, Ireland

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • fax — fax …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • fax — [ faks ] n. m. • 1987; abrév. de téléfax n. déposé; angl. telefax, abrév. de telefacsimile ♦ Anglic. Système de télécopie passant par une ligne téléphonique. ⇒ télécopie. Envoyer un message par fax. ♢ Par ext. L appareil reproduisant la copie. ⇒… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • fax — (plural fax o faxes fax o faxes) sustantivo masculino 1. (no contable) Sistema de comunicación que permite transmitir textos escritos, dibujos o fotografías, a través del teléfono: Voy a enviar estas facturas por fax. Sinónimo: telefax …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • fax — s. n., pl. fáxuri Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar ortografic  FAX faxuri n. 1) Aparat electronic pentru transmiterea informaţiilor scrise prin linia telefonică. ♢ Fax modem dispozitiv care permite calculatorului să transmită şi să …   Dicționar Român

  • Fax — (Telefax) Sn telegraphierte Kopie , dazu faxen ein Fax schicken erw. fach. (20. Jh.) Kunstbildung. Internationalismus, der auf einer Abkürzung von Faksimile beruht. Mit diesem Wort wurden entsprechende Versuche schon bei der Firma Telefunken in… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • fax — [faks] n. [< FACSIMILE] 1. the transmission of graphic matter by electrical or electronic means, as over a telephone line, for reception and reproduction; facsimile 2. a reproduction produced in this way, printed out or stored as a computer… …   English World dictionary

  • fax — ► NOUN 1) an exact copy of a document made by electronic scanning and transmitted by telecommunications links. 2) the production or transmission of documents in this way. 3) (also fax machine) a machine for transmitting and receiving such… …   English terms dictionary

  • fax — Voz tomada del inglés fax abreviación de facsimile (machine o transmission) , que significa ‘aparato que permite transmitir por la línea telefónica escritos o gráficos’ y ‘documento transmitido o recibido mediante este aparato’. Se pronuncia… …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • Fax — [Aufbauwortschatz (Rating 1500 3200)] Auch: • faxen • Faxgerät Bsp.: • Können Sie für mich ein Fax schicken? • Haben Sie mein Fax bekommen? • Ich faxe Ihnen morgen eine Antwort. • …   Deutsch Wörterbuch

  • fax — (Del ingl. fax, abreviatura de facsimile, facsímile). 1. m. Sistema que permite transmitir a distancia por la línea telefónica escritos o gráficos. 2. Documento recibido por fax …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • .fax — fax,   Erweiterung für eine Datei, die ein gespeichertes Fax enthält …   Universal-Lexikon

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