Fax Paper

Q: What makes fax paper special? Where can I buy good, old-fashioned thermal fax paper on a roll? Why is it getting so hard to find and so expensive?

A: Fax paper comes in two kinds. The first is impregnated with chemicals which turn dark when heated, while the second is just plain paper on a roll. They work with two different kinds of thermal fax printing technology.

The first printing technique hammers heated pins against the chemically treated paper. Where a hot pin strikes the paper, a dark dot appears. Note that no other consumable supplies are needed; the “ink” is in the paper itself.

A ribbon impregnated with ink is used in the second technique. Heated pins strike the ribbon, melt bits of ink, and the bits are transferred to the paper where they instantly cool and form dark dots.

You can still find thermal fax paper at office supplies stores and online. Whether the specific type of paper needed by your good, old-fashioned thermal fax machine is available at a store near you is something I can’t answer. It may no longer be available anywhere, at any price.

That’s because thermal fax machines are as dead as horse carriages. Once, thermal fax machines and their paper enjoyed a price advantage over inkjet, toner, and other fax technologies. But the cost and quality of those other technologies has fallen to the point where only the most penny-pinching buyer will choose a thermal fax machine.

Thermal fax paper is flimsy. It curls. The print fades over time. The printing is often fuzzy. The size is odd. It’s getting more and more expensive because it’s made in smaller and smaller quantities, because people are buying less of it.

A plain-paper fax machine can be had for far less than $50 these days. Multi-function machines that scan, copy, print, and fax cost between $50 and $100. Inkjet cartridges are expensive only when purchased new; refilled cartridges are quite reasonable. There are few good reasons to keep searching for and paying ever-higher prices for thermal fax paper.

But if you must have thermal fax paper, start with some of the price comparison Web sites such as BizRate.com or Google Shopping. Amazon.com also has a variety of fax paper. Virtually every office supplies store Web site has fax paper.

eBay and Buy.com are other places where you may find exactly the type of paper you need at bargain prices. It is best to plan your purchases well in advance so you can take advantage of auctions that start at a very low price. There is likely to be few bidders and you may end up being the only one, taking home your thermal fax paper for the lowest possible price.

But for all the time you spend on finding thermal fax paper, you might as well buy a plain-paper fax.

Do you have a question about faxing? Send me your fax question.