Everything You Need to Know About How to Create a Signable PDF Right From Your Smartphone or Tablet

Have you ever wondered how to create a PDF that you can sign from your phone? Well, the answer might be so simple that it shocks even those who are veterans of word processors and office software. A word of warning, in this article, we’ll be covering Android phones because most iOS users have built-in, native tools from Apple available. However, if you decide to follow this guide it should work in a very similar manner with small differences, and we believe in you! First of all let’s lay out what we’ll be discussing and get to it!

Today, we’ll cover free mobile applications that allow you to write documents from your phone; how to create a PDF on our phone; how to use Google Drive and Google Docs to manage and convert our files; ways to workaround mobile document layout issues; how to prepare your PDF for eSignatures; and we’ll discuss different platforms you can use, for free, to get the job done in a jiffy.

Mobile Word Processors

There are a number of free word processors available for use on personal computers, and some of them have variations or adaptations on the Google Play market and Apple’s App Store. Two of these are LibreOffice by The Document Foundation and OpenOffice by Apache. Both of them have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, but so do their paid counterparts. One such benefit of these free software solutions is that they are cross platform for all three major operating systems which are Linux of both rpm and deb, which when combined cover almost every Linux flavor, Windows, and OS X (Mac).

LibreOffice’s mobile applications for iOS and Android are produced by their certified developers under the name Collabora. OpenOffice’s mobile applications are made available for iOS under the name Office 700, and on Google Play under the name AndrOpen. AndrOpen is a port of OpenOffice for Android and was developed by Akikazu Yoshikawa, he was also responsible for the port to iOS.

For the sake of continuity we’ll be using Google Docs and Google Drive for this process.

To start out, we’ll need to make sure both apps are installed. You can either search for them or follow the links here: For Android users, Google Drive, Google Docs, and for iOS users, Google Drive, Google Docs.

You might be wondering why we also need Google Drive, and the reason is that we need a place for backing up our forms and contracts before and after they’ve been signed. In today’s world phones fall into toilets, get stolen (knock on wood!), get chewed on by our beloved naughty dogs, can be dropped, run over, or fall into the eternal void known only as The Almighty Couch while on silent mode like an $800-$1,000 ninja. So to help everyone cover their cushions, we’re adding a #protip #lifehack into the fray.

Once we’ve gotten our apps installed we can get started.

First of all, when you open the app, you can either find a list of your available documents, or with a new account, an empty screen. Since we’ll be using an unused Google Docs account, ours will be empty. You can create a new document by either choosing from a wide variety of templates, or just “New Document”.

Templates cover a wide array of document types, it’s best if you check them out for yourself.

We’ll be using the dark theme, which can be found by using the top right menu, to the right of comments while editing. And we’ll rename our document by tapping on the name of the file, in our case “Untitled document”. It’s important to name your files right away if you have a number of files that you’re preparing to save yourself from the frustration of checking every single one, like the writer of this article has done to himself a ‘few’ times.

We’re going to be using a standard model release form borrowed from the internet, which is used by photographers and models across the world for the purposes of defining the copyright and legal status of images captured by one or both parties.

Now, you might notice that it’s an absolute mess when opened on Android in the Google Docs app, and this can lead you to create documents haphazardly that do not look the part when converted to PDF, opened on PC, or when printed. Let’s fix that.

In the same menu you switched the theme of the app, you’ll find an option called “Print layout”. When selected, it will disable the theme, but also present the document in the same way you’d see it on your computer, as a PDF, or when printed. Having the dark theme enabled is not only a great battery (and eye) saver, but also helps us to show the differences in layout modes.

Converting our document to PDF

If you’re happy with your document, go to “Share & export” in the same menu as earlier, press “Save As”, select “PDF Document (.pdf)”, and wait for the file to be converted. When it’s done, it will open your document automatically for you, but if we close it… Where is it?! When you go to your Google Docs folder, you won’t see it, instead it’s been automatically added to your Google Drive storage.

When you open your Google Drive you’ll see three files, your standard introduction document included for every new user (titled “Getting Started”), as well as both your brand new PDF and original document. If you select the 3 dotted menu next to your PDF’s filename, you’ll be greeted with a wide variety of options. Select “Download” and wait for the download to finish. Now your PDF is on your phone and ready to be used with any eSignature platform.

Mind you, quite a few electronic signature service providers have the ability to interface with Google Drive, as well as other cloud storage services, so you aren’t absolutely required to download your files, but it’s always a good idea to have extra copies of any documentation in the event you lose internet connection or accidentally delete it from your Drive.

Signing a PDF on mobile

Here comes the part we’ve been waiting for, cue the fanfare! But wait, there isn’t a standard method across all of the platforms available so we’ll need to compare platforms and see which is the most robust for your needs.

Now that we have our PDF on our mobile device and Google Drive, let’s see what our options are. We’re going to compare signNow, SignEasy, DocuSign, and HelloSign. Unfortunately, HelloSign is out of the race already on Android, and iOS anywhere outside of the United States; we’ll have to try their service using our mobile web browser. In our case, that’ll be Chrome with the DuckDuckGo browser app.

Let’s take a look at signNow and how to create a PDF that you can eSign from your phone.

Using signNow’s Android App – From Start to Finish!

First of all, we’ll need to download and install the app for Android or iOS. Be advised, the app on different operating systems may change in color, design, or function; we’re looking at the Android app today, but iOS users should be able to follow along.

Now that we have the app on our phone, and we’ve registered an account, if we didn’t already have one, we can proceed. On the main landing page you’ll find a list of your existing documents, you can see here that we have a lot of Sample documents for our guides! If we select one of them by pressing the three dotted button, we’ll be greeted with a lot of options. We’ll remember that for later.

Let’s start by preparing a document for practice, to see how it works. We’ll click the + button to expand the Document Upload menu. We can upload a file by selecting Load From Device, add one from our gallery, load a file from a cloud service, using our device’s camera, handle file management, or make a template for later use. Our last option which can be found at the top is Sample Document, that’s our pick for now.

After we’ve opened our sample document which is provided by signNow for practicing with various features, we’ll be greeted with a pretty simple and clean user interface. Now it’s time to figure those out.

First of all, if we press the Settings button represented by a cogwheel, we’ll find date and color options. Next up, we can also edit and manipulate the document by selecting the three dotted lines on the bottom right, which is available when the document doesn’t yet have any signatures and hasn’t yet been saved to prevent unscrupulous amendments to keep you safe.

If we touch anywhere on the document, we’ll be greeted with the fields menu which consists of both the Basic and Field categories. To start, we’ll go over Basic fields first.

If we select text under Basic, we can add text that’ll be imprinted into the document permanently when the document is saved; to prevent this imprint on author specific fields, save the document as a template. The Add Text UI is pretty simple, but easy to understand. When you’ve finished writing, just press the tick button on the top right of the screen; you can always edit this field before we save it, or save it as a template, so don’t worry!

If we select Insert Signature under Basic, and if we have any signatures saved, we’ll be greeted with a list of our existing signatures; if it’s empty or we want to make a new one, don’t worry, we’ll just press Add New Signature. We’ll discuss that process in a moment, first, let’s look at the screenshot on the right. Once we’ve selected or added a signature, it’ll appear where you touched on the document to open the fields menu. You can hold and drag the field anywhere you need to. If you press the field you’ll be greeted with three options; Remove, Edit, and Adjust Size.

We’ll quickly go over the Add New Signature option, it’s really simple. All you need to do is select your preferred color, for example blue on certain government or official documents such as the United States Air Force. Once you’re set, touch, press, hold, and draw your signature on the screen of your device and use the available options if you’ve made any mistakes. Press Done to apply and save your signature. Once your signature has been selected the first time on a document, you only need to touch further signature fields to fill them; it’s automagical.

Once we’ve finished our signature, we can use the Adjust settings we discussed to change the size of our signature. All we need to do is move the slider that appears at the bottom of the document to scale our signature.

Don’t forget that if at any time you need to save the document quickly, you can find your document on your landing page (the Homepage) when you reopen the app, open its settings, and select Open in Editor.

We’re going to scrub our document for the Field tab, which is the signator’s fields. Let’s Remove our fields and begin! Opening the fields menu, and selecting Field will yield a number of results. Let’s break them down:

  • Signature captures the signers signature (tongue twister).
  • Initials for… Well.. their initials.
  • Text Field allows them to answer a question, insert data like phone numbers, or give a quote for their services.
  • Radio is a set of radio buttons which are best used with Conditional Logic.
  • Checkbox allows them to tick agreements or to select something like their gender on employment applications.
  • Dropdown is a dropdown menu in which they can select one from several available options that you choose. You can also apply Conditional Logic here.
  • Attachment Request is useful for proof of identity like identification cards, or just a curriculum vitae.
  • Calculated Field allows you to use mathematical equations based on the signer’s input.

Before the field is placed, we can choose who’s going to sign it, if it’s required to complete the signature process, add additional signers, and change the name of the field to something we can recognize if we have a lot of data to collect. Press the checkmark, or tick, when ready to finish placing it.

Remember, we can move fields by pressing, holding, and dragging them into position. If you want to do it precisely, here’s a little #protip #lifehack for you: press, hold, and simply roll your finger in the direction you need to nudge it in.

With all of our fields placed, we should double check to make sure we didn’t forget anything. Now, just hit the checkmark in the top-right corner and select Invite to Sign. We’ll be guided to choose a name for our file, if we haven’t already saved it.

Next up is the Invite Signers page. Add your signer’s email address, your CC recipient(s), a custom subject, and a message body. You can use your own email address for testing, or as one of the signers when you organize the signing order. A message body is recommended to give the email a personal touch, which can go a long way in business.

If you just remembered something you need to add, press Add Fields or Text under Send.

If you’re all set, press Send and we’ll be greeted with a notification telling us that our invite has been sent and that we’ll receive a notification when the signer has completed it.

We’ll be redirected to our main page and, as you can see, we have a little box and dot letting us know what the status of our document is. You can select it and view the Attachments, History, and Signers anytime. We can also sign the document or open the More menu to see a wide range of options available to us.

For the basics of getting from point A to point B, that’s about it using signNow and the Google services earlier. That wasn’t so bad, right? It seems a little complicated on the surface, but once you get started, it’s a very swift and straightforward process to get your document from nothing to a signable PDF on your mobile device.

When your document is signed, or even before, you can find Download in its settings which comes complete with the document’s history.

Competitor comparisons

Now that we’ve walked a mile in the signNow Android App, let’s take a look at how to accomplish the same using the competition.

Our roster is SignEasy, DocuSign, and HelloSign; so let’s talk apps.

SignEasy, DocuSign, and signNow all have Android and iOS apps available; whereas HelloSign only has an iOS app that is only available within the United States. As stated earlier, we’ll be trying their service as we write using our mobile browser; results may vary depending on your browser version.

1. SignEasy

With a clean UI but buried menus, SignEasy’s App is mostly straightforward. To sign a document you can grab one from a cloud service like Evernote or Google Drive, or upload one directly from your phone.

There’s a pretty glaring caveat with SignEasy’s service – when you start the process of editing, the document opens and you must select from one of three options that are locked in once you select them. These options are: Sign Yourself, Sign In Person, and Request Signature. If you do self-sign, you cannot invite others to sign the document, and the use case for this is pretty slim.

Signing in person is a handy feature but has it’s limited use-cases as well. In-person signatures cannot be created beforehand if you don’t have templates available to you, you can do this only in the editor on mobile, so you’ll need to open the document, select in-person signing, and place the fields with the person there; which seems a little awkward, even if you already do have a template for other fields.

Requesting signatures is the only real viable route for remote signatures which include your own. You will have to set yourself as one of the signing parties and open it via email. It’s also the only option with a reliable paper-trail to fall-back on.

However, that being said, you’ll need to have the document already prepared on PC before you can request signatures on the mobile app, in the editor. It’ll go to the email address and message entry screen, then immediately send itself to their email without any input fields; nor will it prompt you to add any fields after making your choice like it does with self-signatures and in-person signatures.

Speaking of fields, they’re pretty limited. The fields include:

  • Signature
  • Initials
  • Date (not fixed via the machine’s clock for today’s date)
  • Text
  • Freestyle (drawn)
  • Checkbox
  • Image

There doesn’t appear to be any conditional logic present, at this time, even on PC.

To make a long story short, if you do not own a computer and want to do everything on your mobile device, it’s currently impossible using SignEasy, unless you choose to do so in-person, and to prepare the document with them present. Otherwise, if you need to self-sign, you can however, there are only so many uses for this procedure.

There’s also a bug where you may not see your library to find original documents and templates, you’ll have to close the app and reopen it for it to correct itself.

2. DocuSign

The DocuSign app does not allow you to take screenshots by default (in the security settings). This is good to know if you need to walk anyone through the process remotely.

When you open the app for the first time you’ll be greeted with your actions required, how many documents are waiting for others to sign, a prompt to add new documents, account usage, recent documents, and quick actions. It seems pretty simple so far. If we hit the menu button on the top-left, we’ll find Home, Sign & Send, Documents, Library, and Settings.

Let’s add a document by pressing the + button on the Home page. We can ‘scan’ (take a picture of a document), find a document in our library (the writer didn’t figure out how to add anything to the library), pull a template from ones we’ve already created and saved, add a file from Google Drive, or pull from our phone’s memory. The More button only opened the writer’s device storage.

For the sake of argument, let’s pull a file from our device’s memory. When we finish the uploading process we’ll be greeted with the document, the ability to view it, or rename or delete it. Press Next on the bottom-right to continue.

Here, before you can add any fields or get into the editor you must choose between who will sign and how. The selections are Me (self-sign), Only Others, and Me + Others. We’re going to select only others, and continue.

Now, we need to choose if the recipient Needs to sign, is an In-person signer, or Receives a copy of the completed and signed document. For the sake of logic, we’ll go with Needs to sign, and now we need to fill in their full name and email address. Next up, we can hit + on the page listing our recipient and repeat the same until we’ve reached our needed total of signers.

When we’re finished adding signers, press next. You’ll be greeted with your signer selection at the top, and if you slide the bottom row of fields, we have a total of 8 fields to choose from. The fields available to us are:

  • Signature
  • Initials
  • Date
  • Textbox
  • Full Name
  • Checkbox
  • Title (job title)
  • Company (your company’s name)

While looking around, it appears conditional logic isn’t available on the DocuSign mobile application, which is unfortunate.

To place fields, you’ll need to hold your finger on them for a few moments and then drag them into the document; it doesn’t work if you try to drag quickly. Additionally, you cannot select the field type and press on the document to add it.

When you’re adding fields, you’ll need to pay attention to who you have selected at the top and which colors are assigned to different signers. If you don’t change who fields are assigned to, you can press the existing fields you’ve placed and Reassign them.

The fields are pretty limited on this app, but they function. Interestingly, you have the ability to take a picture of a signature, which seems like a dangerous design choice.

When you’re all set, the next page allows you to set a custom message and subject, which are limited in character size, and are universal to all recipients. It doesn’t appear that you can personalize messages for each of the recipients.

If you’re a signer, you’ll be redirected to the signing page after the message has been sent.

The process is a little long winded, but you have the ability to achieve the desired results in pretty good time with DocuSign. It does lack some automation and simplification so the process isn’t so clear when you first get on; for example, you can’t just upload documents for later use or editing without going through the entire process. Imagine that you’re trying to set everything up for a colleague, you can’t do it quickly without the recipient’s emails and basic information; nor can you save it as a draft until after you’ve already run through the entire process. After all of that, you may as well have prepared it yourself.

3. HelloSign

Because HelloSign lacks apps, albeit they do have an iOS app that’s only available for those registered on the Apple store as living within the United States, we’re going to use their website on mobile and see what happens!

When logging in, attempting to do so with Google can have an error which takes you to the first or second tab in your browser and closing one. If you’re a normal human being then you probably have 40+ tabs open at any given time on your device. If one closes like it did for the writer, you likely won’t remember what juicy information may have been lost forever to the murky depths of overly SEO oriented Google results.

Once you have logged in, we can immediately see an issue that isn’t fixed using desktop mode. It appears the site is trying to read what device you’re viewing from and attempting to adapt itself, but it fails to do so. As a result, the right-hand side is either off-screen, or completely clipped out, depending on the page.

This was tested on Android One using the latest version as of September 15th, 2020 with a rather standard Chrome extension, DuckDuckGo.

When you do finally find a file that will cooperate, the editor hangs for a moment while it loads. Regardless of the filetype tested, it seems you are unable to place any fields via select and touch, or hold and drag. Additionally, the editor faces a clipping issue on the right, which means that properly viewing the document is impossible without zooming out to space in the editor, and even then you are still missing parts of the document. Unfortunately, almost everything tested failed to work, and pressing Next just to see the next step without fields on the page yielded an error that it was unable to proceed. Mind you, this error appears as a red box behind the document itself, so we’re speculating about what the message probably says.

Unfortunately, it looks near impossible to reach our desired results using HelloSign on mobile only without having iOS. If you aren’t registered with the Apple Store with an American home and billing address, you’ll need to look elsewhere for mobile solutions.

In a nutshell

Well, there you guys have it. We’ve gone over pretty much everything there is to know about how to create a PDF that you can sign from your phone. We’ve also gone over, in detail, PDF downloading and how to sign, and even how to create a PDF that you can sign right from any Android smartphone or tablet.

Assuming that you read this comprehensive how-to guide with the intention of taking mobile eSignature workflows seriously, we hope we’ve provided you with value. signNow is dedicated to helping individuals, entrepreneurs, SMBs, and enterprises reach the future of work and their full potentials in the easiest, most convenient way possible.

For more information, check out signNow’s Blog and/or our Questions & Answers page. There, you’ll find everything you need to know from customers-success stories and specific use cases, to even more comprehensive how-to guides covering everything from eSignature laws to specific functions. Get started with your free trial today and start creating signable PDFs right from your smartphone or tablet!

 

Grady Andersen
Grady Andersen
Contributing Writer
November 04, 2020