E-signatures on PDF documents tackle an interesting challenge that has made the business world much smaller. Before you could eSign PDF documents, everything needed a physical signature. Not anymore. Before we get into that, let’s start at the basics. What is a signature and why do we need one?
A signature is a stylized word (usually the person’s name) written in a distinctive style or font to identify themselves and to authorize a document. The document can be of personal or an official nature such as a check, a contract, a simple letter, etc. All legally binding documents require a person’s verifiable signature.
Similarly, all legally and contractually binding documents exchanged online also require a signature. This presents us with a problem, how do we sign a document that we have received online?
There are two ways to go about it. One way to resolve this problem is to print the document, sign it, scan it, and then send it back to the designated person. The other way is to simply use an electronic signature (e-signature).
For convenience, e-signatures have become much more popular than the former option.
More than convenience, it has become more popular because it allows people to shrink distances and become more efficient.
But more on that in the article.
What is an electronic signature (e-signature)
An electronic signature (e-signature), simply put, is a digital copy or alternative to your manual signature. It’s a way to authenticate your digital documents and can replace your manual signature on all personal and official documents.
A couple of benefits related to e-signatures:
- Electronic signatures are legally binding and are accepted the world over. Most of the industrialized world that relies on IT for business now accepts e-signatures. Some of the countries that accept e-signatures are South Korea, Turkey, Brazil, the US, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, etc. Other developing nations are fast adopting electronic signature legislation as well.
- E-signatures are extremely time-efficient. Exchanging formal documents that require multiple people to sign can be tedious. This is especially true when people are far away from each other. When you eSign PDF docs, it makes distance irrelevant and the entire process is easier.
- It’s cost-efficient. By moving to e-signing you can save a lot of money otherwise spent on stationery such as pens, paper, ink, postage, and printer cartridges. The largest expense – travel – is also made obsolete.
- E-signatures are now being used for multiple online processes. Industries such as online marketing and sales have moved to e-signing which saves a lot of time and resources on physical admin-related tasks. Similarly, legal processes in a lot of countries now accept e-signature for documents such as NDAs and liability forms that can be filled and submitted online.
How to create your e-signature
To sign MS Word, PDF, or other online documents you need to have an electronic signature. There are many ways to create an e-signature. We are going to explore 3 of those here:
Manual e-signature creation
This is a simple and somewhat primitive way of creating your e-signature, but it works. First, take a pen/marker and sign a plain white piece of paper. It’s recommended you use large letters with a bold black marker or a blue gel pen.
You should sign the paper several times so there are more options to choose from. Try different pens and sizes. The second step is to scan the signed paper and save it to your local or cloud storage. Set the scan quality to the highest resolution possible.
If you don’t have a scanner try going to a local office supply store, they usually offer services like scanning and printing. Many libraries offer it as well. If those aren’t options, you can use your smartphone camera and take the picture of your signature
Just make sure the picture quality is set to ‘high’ and the lens of the camera is parallel to the paper. The third and final step is to open Adobe Photoshop (or your image editor of choice) and import the scanned image of your signature.
Choose the version you like the best and then crop it. Use the magic wand tool and select the area around the signature. Then select ‘inverse’ from the drop-down menu and copy the image. Now create another file with a transparent background, paste, and edit your signature as per your requirements.
Once done, save the file with a new name in PNG format (it supports transparency) That’s it. Now you can use this signature on any digital document by simply inserting it as an image.
Adobe Acrobat Reader Software:
The second and more popular way of creating a signature, especially for when you want to eSign PDF docs, is through Adobe Acrobat Reader. Keep in mind that this method is only effective for PDF documents.
First, install Acrobat Reader. Once installed, open the PDF document you need to sign through it. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you’ll see an option to fill and sign your document. From there you can click the ‘sign’ icon on the panel on the right and choose the option you want.
Through there you can add a signature or your initials. If you choose the ‘add signature’ option, you can either type draw or insert an image of your signature. If you type your signature (with a handwritten style font of your choosing) you can drag and drop it anywhere in the document.
There are many online tools that offer a seamless solution for instantly developing an e-signature right in the browser. Many of them like HelloSign can be integrated with other document reading software on your phone and your pc.
There are several different ways of creating an e-signature through these software solutions. One way is to draw your sign using a stylus or your finger on a device that’s responsive to touch. This is particularly helpful when you are signing a document on the go through your smartphone.
Another way is to upload a scanned or photographed image of your signature. Once it’s uploaded the image will be converted to a PNG file that can be neatly placed on the signature line of any document you have.
It’s as simple as it sounds, just drag your cursor and draw your signature. Another neat little option these software solutions offer is the ability to type your signature and then use a preset of stylized fonts that match your manual signature.
Considerations for eSign PDF users
E-signing is a fast and efficient way of authenticating digital documents, but it comes with its own set of risks. There are some important points to bear in mind when using e-signatures.
- Theft is one of the common problems faced by people using e-signatures. Once you have uploaded a document with your electronic signature on it, there’s always a risk of it being stolen and misused. Remember that an e-signature is legally binding in most cases and can therefore be used to defraud you by forging and authenticating documents under your name.
- Due to the above-mentioned reason, most software or companies that let you eSign PDF docs use encryption and other methods to protect your signature. This e-signature with increased security is called a Digital-Signature. This service is acquired through subscription and requires regular maintenance on the vendor’s end. Its price can vary from moderate to very expensive.
- The encryption process can be a bit tedious in more than one way. More often than not, if you use a software or service for protecting your e-signature, you and your client are bound to use the same service. Some of the famous e-signature vendors are PandaDoc, HelloSign, DocuSign, AdobeSign, etc.
- The routine process for a safe e-signature transaction is to upload all documents you want to get e-signed by yourself and your client to your vendor’s database. Not all of the e-signature vendors offer unlimited space for data storage. If you want to change your e-signature vendor at some point, getting your previous vendor to hand over the entire data and digitally shred its copies can be time-consuming.
eSigning is fast, simple, and accepted for almost all kinds of agreements and legal documents. It is the future of documentation and paperwork. Where it beats the conventional method of signing a piece of paper with a pen, e-signature comes with its own unique set of problems.
Our suggestion isn’t going to be one-size-fits-all. If you are an individual or a small firm that doesn’t deal with highly regulated industries such as bureaucratic government institutes or high-end banking, don’t invest in digital-signature and stick to simple electronic signature. Make sure you are careful when sharing your e-signature with your clients and cover your tracks.