How to create an electronic signature without a PDF editor

You’ve received a document that you need to sign and send back to the sender. You could print out the document, sign it, and then scan it and email it back. But there’s a much better, faster way.

Use this guide to find out how to quickly add your signature to any document and save it as a PDF file compatible with any device and platform out there.

What is an electronic signature?

First, let’s clarify some terminology. This article focuses on electronic signatures, not digital signatures, which are something completely different. A digital signature is actually more related to cryptography. While an eSignature might be just a person’s name typed into a box, a digital signature uses mathematical algorithms to create a unique digital fingerprint for each document. It verifies that someone with a private signing key (in other words, you) has viewed the document and authorized it.

Simply put, an electronic signature is an image of your handwritten autograph overlaid on top of a PDF document.

An electronic signature is an electronic symbol attached to a document, used by someone with an intent to sign. A digital signature guarantees that the document is authentic.

An electronic signature aims to quickly authenticate a document with a uniquely identifiable mark that doesn’t require the use of paper and pen.

Today, there are multiple ways to create an eSignature and apply it to a PDF document. An electronic signature — not digital signature — is what you will most likely require from your business partners and/or customers and clients when sending them a document to be certified. Send them a PDF file with a digital signature or one that requires one and they won’t know what to do with it.

eSignatures are used for a variety of document transactions and document signing purposes, including contracts and agreement forms, loans and leases, tax forms, court orders, school field trip slips, and many more.

Are eSignatures legal?

Yes, eSignatures are legally binding in the United States and most developed countries around the world. The U.S. Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN, 2000), and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA, 1999) establishes eSignature legality. ESIGN and UETA address that electronic records and signatures and traditional physical signatures carry equal weight. ESIGN and UETA also confirm that a document or signature cannot be denied legal effect solely because it is an electronic signature.
Note: Any eSignature you add in signNow is legally binding.

Integrate electronic signatures into your daily tasks: reasons to digitize your workflow

  • Most paper trails begin with printing the document, passing it to a customer to review and sign, scanning the signed document, converting it to PDF, etc. eSignatures eliminate routine actions like shuffling papers from one pile to another. They also reduce the need to fax, scan, and email documents every time a signature is needed.
  • Collecting signatures from clients located far away geographically slows down your daily workflow and takes a lot of energy. eSignatures eliminate the need to meet in person and significantly shorten negotiation processes. In addition to that, up-to-date eSignature services, like signNow, have a freeform invite feature that allows your recipients to participate in completing a document in real time. Even multiple signers can sign any document or form electronically in the desired order you set.
  • eSignatures are secure. It’s hard to keep track of paper documents unless you keep them in sight at all times. Relying on hard copies means that confidential information cannot be entirely restricted. Additionally, paper docs are fragile and can be easily damaged or lost. In contrast, most eSignature solutions today provide your data with layers of security, ensuring the confidentiality of your sensitive information. Some platforms also provide audit trails that contain information about the exact time of the signature and prevent attempts to tamper with a document after it was signed.
  • eSignatures make it possible to go green and free up some space on your desk. By reducing the amount of paper you use, you can finally stop contributing to the paper industry’s massive amount of waste. Around 400 million tons of paper and cardboard are produced every year, making it one of the leading factors in the destruction of the natural world.
  • The costs associated with physical paper can often reach up to $20 per document. The most common costs include printing and storing documents. eSigning saves money on paper and ink (ink is also considered especially dangerous for the environment) and reduces the need for scanning equipment and copy machines.
  • Electronic signing minimizes the impact of human error. When it comes to traditional signing methods, it’s all too easy for human error to enter the equation. This can be disastrous when it comes to important legal or business dealings, causing setbacks, fines, or even legal action should the appropriate signature be lost.
  • While ensuring that everything is in order, eSignatures prevent the cost of having to fix issues. They ensure everything is in order, saving you from the cost of having to fix problems by preventing them from even happening. You can minimize risks by setting up automated alerts about suspicious records or compliance issues associated with a document.
  • eSignatures provide better customer experience. The process of signing a document electronically also offers customers more time to look over and understand what they are signing. During in-person interactions, customers look at piles of paper as something you have to get through. They rarely read what they are signing, because they feel pressured to complete the transaction. Customers feel better informed when they can take their time and go through documents at their own pace.
  • eSignatures keep you organized and free up time for more important tasks. Most eSignature solutions today allow you to set up automatic reminders and notifications to make sure no important deadline has been missed.

How did Portable Document Format (PDF) become the standard despite being difficult to modify?

The PDF, or Portable Document Format, was primarily designed to view documents and share them between users working on various platforms. PDF documents have always had a fixed, hardware-independent layout. This enables users to view PDF files in the same layout, independently of the software, device, or operating system being used.

If the creator of a PDF file does not want the document to be edited, they are likely to «flatten» the PDF file. That’s why the majority of PDF files are single-layered and that’s why trying to edit a PDF can be quite frustrating. Since most programs cannot distinguish between objects in a PDF file, things like editing a sentence or adding an electronic signature may affect other objects in the PDF.

Quite ironically, these «disadvantages» of the PDF format have actually added to its current popularity. Here’s why:

  • PDFs are court-admissible. For an electronic document to be admissible in a court proceeding, it must be created in a format that cannot be altered without leaving an electronic footprint. PDF format meets all legal requirements in a court of law. Moreover, the PDF format is practical and economical. It eliminates the need for additional hardware (except for extra hard drive space) and allows for exceptional integration into any network.
  • PDFs provide better document security. Document security is vital to businesses sharing information over a network. With the PDF format, organizations can take User-Password security to the document level. This allows the emailing of documents between people or locations without the fear of an unauthorized person viewing the document.
  • PDF files are compatible across multiple platforms. The PDF format represents a document independently of the hardware, operating system, and software used to create the original PDF file. Its cross-platform acceptability is another reason to use PDF when transferring data over a network.
  • Most PDF viewers are free. An enormous advantage of PDF files is that they can be retrieved, viewed, and printed with freeware. It allows you to share documents easily with anyone inside and outside your organization with no additional expenses.

How to create an electronic signature using popular tools

How to add an eSignature to a PDF on a Windows PC

Windows users have Microsoft Word. For many years, it’s been one of the world’s leading document processing software used by organizations and individuals to create and modify documents. Many Windows users prefer to add electronic signatures to documents directly in Word, hoping it will save them some time.

Indeed, MS Word has a built-in feature that allows users to create electronic signatures and add them to documents. However, its eSignature toolset’s functionality is limited, making it a somewhat outdated choice for most individuals and organizations.

Create an electronic signature in Microsoft Word:

  1. Place the cursor exactly where you’d like to add your signature.
  2. Go to the Insert tab, click Signature List, then Microsoft Office Signature Line.
  3. Fill in the required fields in the Signature Setup window.
  4. Select and upload an image of a signature that you have stored on your computer or type your name directly in the box. If you are on mobile, draw your signature using your finger or stylus.

At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with signing a document in Word. Issues come later when you face more complex eSignature workflows that involve multiple signers.

Imagine if you had to send a document to every flow participant manually. Upon receiving the document, they would have to open it in Word, follow the steps mentioned above to add their signature, save the document and send it back to you. This method is prone to human error and significantly slows down the signing process.

While remaining a powerful document editing and management tool popular with millions of users worldwide, Word wasn’t initially designed to be an eSignature solution. It can still be used for creating electronic signatures, but its faults in speed and complexity outweigh its benefits.

If all you need to do is add an image of your autograph at the end of the document or use basic eSignature functionality, it will probably work. But if you are looking for a more diverse set of features, an advanced electronic signature solution is the way to go.

How to add an eSignature to a PDF on macOS

Mac users are, in a way, luckier than Microsoft Word users in terms of built-in eSignature tools. Preview, which comes with macOS by default, has integrated features for signing online.

Thanks to MacBook’s and iMac’s excellent trackpad, you can quickly draw your signature and apply it in Preview.

Apply a signature using Preview:

  1. Open a PDF document in Preview and click the Show Markup Toolbar icon.
  2. Click on the Signature icon, then Create Signature to create an electronic signature by dragging your finger over the trackpad or scanning a handwritten version of your signature with your webcam.
  3. Save your signature for future use.
  4. Select your signature from the menu that appears after you click the Signature icon.
  5. Drag and drop your signature wherever you’d like and then adjust its size.
  6. Save the document when finished.

Once your e signature is added, use the dotted area around the signature box to resize it. You can also use Preview’s drag-and-drop feature to move the box around your document. Every time you save the document, the signature is saved as well.

Despite its accessibility, Preview has the same disadvantages as other built-in signing services. For example, you most likely won’t use this method for eSignature workflows that involve multiple signers.

How to add an eSignature to a PDF on iOS

Signing documents on an iPhone or iPad is possible via the Markup tool in iOS’s Mail app. Again, this tool is only helpful if you want to sign documents in Mail. If you receive a PDF and need to eSign it and send it right back, you will need to perform the following steps:
  1. Open the attached PDF and tap the Markup and Reply icon at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
  2. Add your signature by tapping the signature button at the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. If needed, type text and draw on the document.
  3. Once you tap Done, Mail automatically creates a reply to the email with your signed document attached. It also gives you an option to add a message before sending it.

While this is convenient, it’s also very limiting. If you are looking for a different way to eSign your document with your iPhone or iPad, you will need to download and install a standalone electronic signature app.

How to add an eSignature to a PDF on Android

Traditionally, the process of eSigning documents on Android devices has been quite frustrating. Android devices aren’t equipped with any built-in apps that allow you to create electronic signatures.

The only option here would be to download and install a third-party app. Luckily, there are several apps in the Google Play Store you can use to sign PDFs for free.

How to create an eSignature using signNow: a step-by-step guide

In a way, each of the methods described above has limited capabilities and is only suitable for performing simple tasks. To manage your document-driven processes regardless of the device and operating system you use, you will need an advanced eSignature tool.

signNow offers a range of useful editing tools for changing your files’ content and further formatting. Choose the instrument that suits you best and finish any urgent task in minutes.

Step 1. To get started, log in to your signNow account and choose a document that you want to eSign. You can either pick an existing document or template from your signNow Documents folder or import a new document from your device’s storage. signNow supports all the popular document formats, including DOCX, PPTX, JPG, PNG and, of course, PDF.

Step 1

Step 2. Use the signNow web-based PDF editor to customize your document according to your needs before eSigning it or sending it out for signature. If your document needs to be signed by other signers except yourself, use the Tools section of the signNow editor. Here, you can add necessary fillable fields and assign them to your signer(s). You can add/remove signers and set a signing order by clicking the Edit Signers button.

If you like to edit the document and then eSign it yourself, use the Edit & Sign section of the signNow editor. It allows you to place permanent text or signatures on a document.

Click/tap the respective field to activate it. Once you’ve activated the field, click on the document to indicate where you want your signers to put the requested information. You can also drag fields directly onto the document.

Step 2

Step 3. Click the signature field to start signing. A new window will pop up, where you can specify how you want to eSign your PDF. The following options are available:

  • Upload an image of your handwritten signature from your device in JPG, GIF or PNG formats. The image you upload must be less than 4 Mb.
  • Draw your signature using your mouse or trackpad.
  • Type in your full name and choose one of the automatically generated samples. Click the Change style button to select a style for your signature.
  • Additionally, the signNow mobile app enables you to import files from your Photo Library, capture documents using your phone’s camera, and even collect in-person signatures with your iPad in Kiosk Mode.
Step 3

Step 4. Check the Set as My Default Signature bar to save your signature for later use. If everything looks fine, click Sign. Remember; you cannot remove or edit your signature once you’ve signed a document. By saving changes made to a document, you confirm that it cannot be altered in any way.

That’s it. Your PDF has been successfully signed! Click Save and Close to return to the Documents folder.

There are many other ways you can manipulate your PDFs in signNow. For example, you can download the document to your device, download the document History, archive it, rename it, move it to another folder, and much more.

How to collect signatures from other users

Send a signature invite

The easiest and the quickest way to send a document for signing in signNow is by clicking the Invite to Sign button. In the new window, fill in the signer’s email (if there is more than one signer, add each signer’s email) and carbon copy anyone else who needs to track the signing process. If necessary, personalize the signing invitation for your recipient by creating a customized message. Specify a signing order if you wish to invite more than one person to sign your form or contract.

Click Advanced Option for additional settings. Set an expiration date or add reminders for the document that you send out for signature. Extend the expiration date from a minimum of 30 days to a maximum time frame of 180 days. You can also set an automatic reminder email to be sent or provide the recipient with the option of forwarding the invite email to someone else.

Request signer authentication to ensure your document cannot be accessed by anyone other than your intended recipient. Add a second layer of authentication by setting a password for your document or have a password automatically generated and sent to your recipient as a text message. Once all the parameters are set, simply click Send invite.

Create a signing link

signNow allows you to collect signatures via signing links. A signing link is a unique link to a document that you can distribute to others. Each person who visits the signing link can sign their own fresh copy of the document.

Click the Create Signing Link button next to the document and copy the link. You can copy your signing link and paste it into emails, post it on websites, blog posts, etc.

A signing link won’t expire unless you make edits to or delete a document, or if a guest signer enters the signing session. As a document owner, you can track the signer’s IP address and other information related to the signing process. To do so, simply click the Download with History button.

Send a freeform signature invite

A freeform invite gives the sender the option to send a document to a signer without fields. When the signer receives the document, he or she inserts fields manually, anywhere they want. Freeform invites can be beneficial and time-efficient for the sender, however always double-check that the signer fully signed and completed all the essential requirements for your document.

Signers can drag and drop fields (Signature, Text, Date/Time, or Checkboxes) onto the document, adjust the field locations, and remove the fields, if needed. Using the freeform invite makes the document sending process simpler and more comfortable for the sender, too.

Your signer will receive an email containing the invitation to sign the document. Once they open it, the signer will be prompted to input their name. Then they can start inserting fields.

A few more amazing signNow features that will improve your signing experience

  1. signNow allows you to convert your documents into templates. A template is a reusable document from which you can generate new copies for signing. With templates, you can: re-use your most common documents and forms as many times as you need, get multiple individually signed documents with one signing link, share templates with your team, trace the status of your documents and much more. You instantly get a link to share a fresh copy of a document for collecting individual signatures from each recipient.
  2. signNow allows signers to make payments while signing documents. As a signNow Organizational Admin, you can connect your signNow account to your merchant account for accepting payments on invites. To do so, you will need to have a valid payment system account to receive payments.
  3. When sending a contract or agreement to be signed, you may request a recipient to attach documents. With signNow’s Request Attachments feature, you can easily add fields to your document and indicate what attachments you need.
  4. signNow can automatically detect fields in a document. This feature is called Magic fields. To activate it, upload a document and open it in the editor. Go to Settings. The dropdown menu will open containing the Magic fields tab.
  5. In signNow, multiple signers can collaborate on a single document simultaneously using the Conditional routing feature. It allows you to predefine how a document will appear for each signer by making fillable fields conditional. Conditional fields become visible and can be filled in only when the other field, pre-conditioning it, is already filled in (or left empty, depending on how you set it).
  6. With signNow, you can automate business calculations by adding calculated fields to a document using formulas that calculate values from text and dropdown fields. Calculations include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and parentheses. Use Calculated fields for product order forms, donation forms, expense reimbursements, event registration forms and others. The recipient can’t fill in the Calculated field manually. After all required fields are completed, the result will automatically appear in the Calculated field.

In a nutshell

PDFs have already replaced paper documents in offices around the world. They are more flexible, portable and convenient to use. Nearly every PDF-reading application features some way to sign documents and forms electronically.

With the right tools and know-how, putting your autograph on a PDF and re-using that signature when you need it again is a breeze. The ability to quickly and securely sign PDF documents will give you an edge in today’s business world.

Serge Kuzkov
Serge Kuzkov
Digital content writer at signNow
August 27, 2020