How to sign electronically, WITHOUT printing and scanning

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Have you ever gotten a PDF file by email, and you had to sign it and send it back by email?  For most people, that process is a real hassle.  You have to print the PDF file, then you sign the printed copy, then you have to scan that paper back into a new PDF file and save it to your computer, then email it back to whoever sent it to you.  It’s a lot of steps for what should be a pretty simple process.

electronic signature

 

Good news… there is a much easier way!  And it does not require any printing or scanning.

This is one of the advantages of having Adobe Reader as your default PDF program.  I know there are others that are “lighter” and don’t have updates as often, but Adobe Reader has some excellent features (like the one I’m about to show you) that most of the others don’t have.

The most recent time this came up with me was when I purchased a new car.  My insurance agent emailed me a PDF file, which I needed to sign and return to him in order to confirm the changes to our car insurance policy.  The document was very straightforward, and at the end there was a place for my signature.  It looked like this:

electronic signature

As you can see, there’s a line that needs my signature.  But it’s only on my computer screen!  What to do?

There are actually a few ways to accomplish this.  But they all start with this first step:  Click on the “Sign” link in the top right area:

electronic signature

 

Then, in the “I Need to Sign” section, click on “Place Signature” –

electronic signature

 

 

This will bring up a new window, and that’s where you will find a few options about how to place your signature where the form requires it to show up:

electronic signature

 

I’ll cover each of these options individually:

Type my signature – This is probably the easiest and fastest option.  The downside is that most people that look at it will be able to tell that it’s just a computer-generated signature, not one that you wrote by hand.  You just type your name in the box, and the computer displays your name in 4 different fonts so you can choose which one to use.  I think the 4th one is the one that would most resemble an actual signature:

electronic signature

 

Draw my signature – This is where you would actually use your mouse to drag the virtual “pen” on the screen and sign your name.  The disadvantage to this one is that it will look like it was written by a monkey with a broken hand.  You just can’t control the mouse the way you would control an actual pen in your hand.  Here’s what my try looked like:

electronic signature

 

Use a certificate – This one doesn’t apply to most people.  If you already have a digital certificate  you probably don’t need an explanation about this anyway.

Use an image – This is one of two options that will result in a signature on the page that actually looks like your signature.  The disadvantage to this one is that you need to sign a blank piece of paper, then scan it and save that signature image as a file on your computer (all of the common image formats are acceptable).  Then you just browse your computer to find that image file and select it for use as a signature.  If you sign a lot of PDF files, this might be the quickest way to get a real-looking signature, after you’ve completed the scan and save process:

electronic signature

 

Use a webcam – My favorite!  First you sign your name on a white piece of paper (I just used a regular 3×5 index card, on the blank side).

electronic signature

Then you click “Start Webcam” and just hold up your signed index card to the camera so it can read your signature.  You need to make sure the signature is on the blue line.  You also need to hold it still – I just rested my elbow on my desk while I held the signature card up to the camera.  When you like the way it looks in the preview box, click Accept.

electronic signature

 

When you click Accept, you are taken back to the PDF file itself, and you can drag the signature so that it sits exactly on the signature line (you should make sure that page is already displayed before you start creating the signature).  There are editing corners so you can make the signature larger or smaller if needed.

electronic signature

 

Now the document is signed!  At this point you can click “Signed. Proceed to Send” and then you have the option to send it by email through Adobe (requires an Adobe ID), or you can save a copy of the signed document to your computer (for your records) and then attach that to an email.

An important distinction to make here is that what we’ve done in the process above is create an electronic signature.  This is not a digital signature.  They might sound the same, but they are two different things.

An electronic signature is just that – your signature on a document, which you did electronically rather than signing the actual printed paper document.

A digital signature is done with a security certificate, meaning that it was verifiably signed by you and only you.  In most cases this is not really a requirement.  You might need to do that if you were signing documents to purchase real estate or some other situation where security is needed.

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