Your Ultimate Guide: What Is the Difference Between a Signature Stamp and an Electronic Signature?

Stamp and an Electronic Signature

In today’s modern era, there are so many technologies of so many similar functionalities that it is no wonder some share similar names. What is worse is when they share the same acronym, making it impossible to know which is which! Sure, it might seem confusing, and it can take some time to clear the smoke to find a satisfactory answer. But it can be done! One such muddled area of confusion is the difference between a signature stamp, also known as a digital signature, and an electronic signature.

The unfortunate thing about the internet is that anyone who has anything to say can post on it. On many websites (many being credible sources for information) you might find the terms for both digital and electronic signatures being used interchangeably, however, this is very far from the truth. Digital signatures, or signature stamps, and electronic signatures are both unique, although they serve a very similar purpose.

To start, let’s begin with what an electronic signature, also known as an eSignature, is.

What is considered an electronic signature?

What is considered an electronic signature?

An electronic signature is a signature that is written, typed, or drawn in a digital medium for use in agreements, contracts, or other official documentation. Basically, it’s a mark signifying that you as an individual or on behalf of an entity, agree to do business digitally. An esignature can be:

  • An image that was already created and saved by the signator
  • Drawn on a touchscreen or with a mouse and keyboard
  • Written with a stylus on a pad at places such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), an immigration office, or even when UPS comes to your front door

What is the difference between an in-person signature and an electronic signature?

An eSignature, while just as legally valid and binding and equivalent to paper or wet signatures, does not necessarily in and of itself prove the identity of the signator; the same as wet or paper signatures. To combat this, many services have implemented authentication procedures to identify the signator.What is the difference between an in-person signature

For example, when using signNow and sending an invitation to sign, it is possible to choose an authentication method to confirm their identity. Under Authentication, as seen above, you can select one of several options to verify and authenticate the signator. These include No Authentication, Password, Text Message (SMS), or Phone Call. Each are extra steps you as the author/originator of a document can set to assure that the person you want signing is the one signing.

Tip: For both the Text Message (SMS) and Phone Call options, please check that the number is in the list of available countries. For now, the available selections include: The United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, France, New Zealand, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Brazil.

With authentication also comes a paper trail, which helps to protect you, and the signator. Text message records, call records, or email records can help to vindicate or prosecute against signature and/or contractual violations.

Additionally, most providers of eSignature services have the option to access the history of each document and download it. History can also assist in audits of your team, or to pursue or protect from official courses of action, if necessary.

Unfortunately, when it comes to paper signatures, there is no such protection in some cases. Of course, every contract should have a third-party witness to sign and verify that the process took place with all parties named within the document as being present. However, this is not always necessary, nor is it always the case. Some agreements, such as Model Release Forms, entrepreneur or small business contracts, or Tenant Agreements are between the provider and the recipient. Thus, often, no third party is involved; and if a problem arises, it can be difficult to resolve the matter legally as the truth can be obfuscated by one, or several parties, unbeknownst to the Judge or Magistrate.

The ability to download document history, access the files, audit your teams, request a subpoena of (or submit your own) phone, email, or text records in a court of law, and more make electronic signatures a significantly more secure system than wet signatures for all parties involved.

download document history

In regards to the procedure of viewing a document’s history using signNow, the process is as simple as selecting More next to the corresponding document, and selecting History. You can also Download with History for recordkeeping, as well as Archive the document in order to maintain a historic backup.

viewing a document s history

With the document’s history shown, we can see various details about the actions taken. These data points include which IP Address the actions were performed from, the time in which the actions occurred according to both Server Time and Client Time, the actor’s email address, and the software used to interact with the document under Client. We can also see the Document ID, Name, Creation Date, Status, and who the Sender and Signer are.

IP addresses are probably the most important piece of information when disputes occur as they offer insight into the geo-location of the user if needed in a court of law. This makes denial claims very difficult if the actions were done from their home, specific mobile device, internal network, or office. Document history can help to significantly boost customer and partner confidence in contractual or agreement based arrangements. Something that is crucial for companies looking to work B2B or B2C.

What is a digital signature?

What is a digital signature?

A digital signature is a cryptographically encrypted hash algorithm and includes a Public Key that is tied to a person’s identity. Let’s try to unpack this mystery box and figure out what that means.

The cryptographically encrypted hash algorithm is sent along with a key. The key is like a password for unlocking the algorithm, and the key itself is a set of numbers and letters that are randomly generated, and are provided by a Trust Service Provider (TSP), like a Certificate Authority (CA). An individual has two keys available, technically speaking. The signer provides their Private Key, and a Public Key is generated using a hash algorithm, or mathematical permutation. This Public Key and encrypted algorithm keep the Private Key safe and secure, as only the provider can know the algorithm used to convert the Private Key.

Unfortunately, the algorithms used are still not standardized amongst all industry providers. Additionally, an individual’s keys can expire, rendering them inoperable after their subscription date has ended. While many organizations have attempted to push standardized implementation, and many have complied, it has not yet come to be standardized by practice, everywhere. This means that when you choose a digital signature provider, you may very well be locked into their service if the Public Keys embedded into your documents prove insufficient when verification or auditing is necessary. It is important to do research on the subject, especially if a significant amount of time has passed since the publication of this article.

That being said, there is an industry-standard known as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) which ensures the digital signature’s authenticity and validity.

Some algorithms used in the past, and today include (from Wikipedia):

  • RSA
  • DSA
  • ECDSA
  • EdDSA
  • SHA
  • RSA with SHA
  • ECDSA with SHA
  • ElGamal signature scheme
  • Variants of Schnorr signature
  • Pointcheval–Stern signature algorithm
  • Rabin signature algorithm
  • BLS
  • NTRUSign
  • Undeniable signatures
  • Aggregate signature
  • Signatures with efficient protocols

The document will have a copy of the Public Key embedded into it and is usually locked so that any tampering can be detected. With the Public Key, the signature can be verified either by the Public Key itself and the encrypted hash algorithm or by inputting the Private Key and running it through the provider’s algorithm, should the encrypted algorithm be unavailable.

Essentially, or as they say TL:DR, digital signatures are a generally formidable secure method of ensuring a signator is who they say they are, and in the majority of cases, ensures that the document is authentic. Unfortunately, it can be prone to security flaws, such as algorithmic weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It is always recommended to research any provider, read user reviews, and check the provider company’s history if you have anything that requires such a secure method of verification.

Digital signatures are generally overkill for the needs of a business entity or individual. Knowing when and why to use them can save your organization a lot of trouble.

The difference between the US and the EU when it comes to eSigning

Typically, businesses in America stick to electronic signatures, but digital ones can still be found. Europe is much more prone to using digital signatures than America is. Electronic signatures are legally enforceable in both the EU and the US. Although, the European Union and the United States have each taken on different approaches to legislation and points of view with regard to electronic signatures and what they are. The US provides a wider more broad definition of electronic signature, while the EU distinguishes between various types and prefers doing business digitally where digital stamps and certificates are always provided.

What is the difference between an electronic signature and a digital signature?

While eSignatures provide a more secure method of authentication and verification than wet signatures on paper, digital signatures generally offer a much stricter and verified result. Sometimes a signator may refuse to sign either electronically or digitally; at which time, a paper copy must be provided by law. However, there are many other key differences in how the technologies and industries have evolved apart from one another.

eSignature platform subscriptions usually come at a relatively low cost, even for Enterprises. Generally, less than $100 per month and are valid, by default, on any document covered under the UETA or ESIGN Act — both of which apply to both eSignatures and digital signatures in the United States.

Digital signature service providers can quickly exceed $500 per month for Enterprises and can vary greatly in possible usage per package. Some providers have packages that can be used in business such as customer situations or are limited to online auctions only.

eSignatures only require that the participant signs and fills out all necessary information, and verify, or authenticate themselves if the sender requested them to do so. You are not necessarily required by most vendors to add users to your account to get their esignatures at an additional cost.

Meanwhile, digital signatures require that all parties have a private and validated key. The validity and usage of signing can be limited to a certain number of documents, a length of time, or based on subscription payments. These limitations can even carry over into paid subscriptions. For example, how many contracts you can sign per month with your account in total, not per user, can be limited to something like fifteen; if you work in an industry such as logistics, it is like eating a cracker after a period of fasting. If you are a business, you must cover the cost of your employees’ accounts on your Enterprise account. And of course, the more users there are that need them, the more the cost increases per month or year.

Maybe cost isn’t an issue, but you’re worried about security and legally-binding contracts while outsourcing or making international arrangements. There are some caveats you should be aware of before proceeding. Some notable outsourcing nations have laws stating that digital signatures are valid, but eSignatures are not; in others, the opposite is true. Once more, the European Union has a system known as Electronic Seals or Stamps, which acts as a form of digitalized wet stamp on official documents. Depending on your business arrangements, it is important to choose the solution that best fits your needs by researching the laws of the outsource company’s host nation.

Let’s break down what we have learned so far:

Digital signatures are more secure, but generally cost the issuer more on a subscription basis. The recipient also must pay a certain fee to acquire a digital key, which will expire if their subscription isn’t renewed. Also, in some rare situations, it can be important that they are both using the same service provider to accomplish the task.

Generally, eSign providers require an account with a paid subscription for agreement and contract issuers, but not for the recipient. For example, using signNow, it is possible to invite a non-user to sign a document and they do not even need to login to the service or create an account to complete the process. However, should the issuer desire the recipient to be authenticated, they can do so by including a password, or by either an automated text message (SMS) or phone call PIN.

How is signNow different from most eSignature solutions?

signNow makes it a goal to keep user experience and ease of use, top of mind. Any invite or signature request sent to recipients is delivered right to their email and asks them if they are willing to do business digitally before letting them sign. In addition, every recipient can eSign anything sent to them WITHOUT having to create or register a signNow account.

Let’s take a closer look at signNow and why millions of companies trust it over the competition:

  1. Cross-platform capability  — Close deals and eSign forms and contracts while in the office or on the go, on any device, even without an internet connection.
  2. Powerful API integration  — Easily embed eSignatures into your app or website in less than ten minutes.
  3. Top-notch security and compliance  — Stay compliant with industry-leading security standards ensuring your documents are signed, shared, and stored with multiple levels of protection.
  4. Full-featured PDF editor  — Easily edit PDF documents online just as you would edit a Word document. Edit, add and remove text, annotate, highlight, and black out important data and information.
  5. Seamless contract negotiation  — Collaborate on contractual documents with your team and clients in real time. Redline contracts, track all the changes made, and approve the final version in hours rather than days.
  6. Tactical document generation and reusable templates  — Save time by generating documents pre-filled with CRM or spreadsheet data. Speed up sales, HR, and finance processes with automatically-generated invoices, agreements, receipts, and much more. Save your most-used documents for later use as templates.
  7. Innovative Robotic Process Automation (RPA)  — Automate document routing and any steps in your workflow with easy-to-set-up, Automation and Integration Bots — no coding or API integrations required.
  8. Integrated payment collection  — Automate receiving payments along with collecting completed contracts and invoices. Apply built-in payment forms and make payment processing faster than ever before.

Now that we have had a chance to go over in detail the difference between a signature stamp and an electronic signature, let’s look at how to create a legal, court-admissible signature in signNow and apply it to any document you are working with or need to work with.

How to generate a form or contract, self-sign, and send it for signing with the easiest-to-use, most-comprehensive eSignature solution on the market

Let’s talk about producing and completing a contract or agreement from start to finish. In this example, we are going to use a standardized Model Release Form easily found online that offers a good basic template. We will call this file «Sample Document.» First of all, we need to upload it.First of all

We can upload our file by either clicking and dragging it into the signNow Dashboard, or by clicking Start Uploading Documents Now, and selecting our file. We will need to wait for the document to finish uploading.

Once the process has started, a small information pane will appear on the bottom right of your screen. And when it is finished, it will change to a green header titled Uploaded.

Once the process
And at the same time

And at the same time, our document will populate in the Dashboard, like in the image above.

And at the same time

But first of all, before we continue, let’s select More, and Create a Copy. This will be useful in a moment.

Now, to open your file to add element fields for signing and completing, simply click on the name of your document and wait a few moments for the editor to load. It doesn’t take long.

Now, to open your file

Once open, you will be taken to the editor (the picture above is the editor’s view). This isn’t our document, but it highlights the layout. We will get back to it in just a moment. We have a number of options here.

Under Tools:

  • Signature Field lets us place an element for the signator to esign.
  • Text Field allows us to add a field in which the signator can add information, such as their name, address, or contact information.
  • Date/Time Field is for allowing the user to input the date in which they have signed.
  • Calculated Field is for mathematical purposes, e.g., calculating the total of the transaction.
  • Initials Field is for, well, their initials.
  • Checkbox Field allows the user to mark a checkbox showing that they agree to something, or not.
  • Radio Button Group allows for selecting an option from multiple choices, such as Veteran status, or gender.
  • Dropdown Field is like Radio Button Group, in a different format.
  • Request Attachment is used when you need the signator to add a file, such as a copy of their State ID, or Passport Information for an international business trip.

Under Edit & Sign:

  • My Signature is for, well, your signature. We will get to that in a moment.
  • Text is for adding text to the document that the signatories cannot change.
  • Today’s Date is for applying today’s date to the document.
  • My Check is for adding a checkmark.

To add a field, select the appropriate type on the left, and click on the document. To move an element field around, you can select it and click and drag the Move button cross. While moving it, you may notice orange lines in relation to the document or other elements.

These orange lines are

These orange lines are a snapping alignment function to help you organize your document quickly, easily, and beautifully.

When the orange snap is present, and you’re happy with the element field’s placement, just release the mouse button and it will settle where you placed it.

If this is not accurate enough for you, you can visit the properties in the right-hand pane by going to Location and adjusting its position in pixels.

If this is not accurate enough

Let’s get back to our document. It looks like we have a lot of work to do, so let’s get started. First of all, we need several Signers. After that, we will need to add a number of Text Fields, Date/Time Fields, and Signature Fields.

There are two ways we can add a  Signer; we can select an element and under Role, simply select Add Role, or visit Edit Signers at the top right in the left pane.

Don’t forget to name your roles to prevent confusion later! Keep things organized here, and things will be simpler later.

These orange lines are
Keep things organized here

Now that we have managed to get all of our necessary users and element fields in and added the information we needed to, we have a working layout! So let’s save this as a template before going any further. Press SAVE AND CLOSE to return to the signNow Dashboard.

Now that we have managed

Find your document and hover your cursor over More and click, then press Make Template, and we have done it! We have a template we can reuse at any time. All we need to do is open our copy that we made earlier.

Once open in the editor, select SETTINGS at the top, and in the dropdown menu, select Import Fields. In the new pane, navigate to the folder Templates, and select your new template. We can reuse this on any document before it has been signed by others, and it will also import the file.

Let’s move on to adding your signature to the document. In our example there is not a place for the photographer to sign, so for the sake of practice, we will click on the area for the photographer’s name.

Find your document and hover

Once you have clicked to place the My Signature element, you will be greeted with a new pane, overlaying the window. You have several options here.

Once you have clicked

The first option is to  Type Your Full Name, which will auto-populate the Initials field. You can change the initials if necessary. If you decide to type your name, you can change the style of the signature and initials to what you like most by clicking Change Style and selecting the option that best fits you.

The last two options are Draw Your Signature, and Upload Your Signature. If you already have an image file of your signature, uploading it is quick and painless.

Draw Your Signature

Drawing Your Signature is also painless, though most people don’t have much practice drawing with a mouse and keyboard (just look at my example). Drawing your signature is as simple as clicking, dragging, and releasing between strokes. You can press clear to start over as many times as you need to. Once your signature is complete and you are happy with it (or in my case, reluctant acceptance), press Sign.

Drawing Your Signature

Your signature will automatically populate on your document where you clicked. Do not be afraid to move it around as we discussed earlier. And what is even more exciting, once you have drawn your signature once, the system remembers it! Yep! You only need to draw it once and if you ever need to fix it up, you can edit it at any time.

So we have navigated the process so far, now we need to get our model and witness to sign.

So we have navigated the process

As with everything in signNow, there are a number of ways to invite signatories to the document.

In the editor, you can click INVITE TO SIGN at the top, next to save and settings; on the Dashboard, you can select Invite to Sign next to the document; and in the More section, next to your document, you can also Invite to Sign.

In our example, I will reduce our number of signers to two.

In our example, I will

Once you have selected to invite our model and witness to sign the release form, this pane will appear.

The roles we discussed earlier are here as  Signer 1  and Signer 2. The reason it is a good idea to rename them is to be sure that we send the appropriate elements to the appropriate people. It is also helpful to avoid confusion when using the Signing Order function in the case of Corporate or Government processes where signatures need to happen in a particular sequence.

If you select Customize Signer Email, we can edit the subject and message of the email to add instructions, a personal touch, or anything else that you deem necessary.

Let’s move onto creating a signing order just in case you need one. To open the pane, simply click Edit Signing Order.

Let s move onto creating

Now that we are here, we can rearrange our signers. To do so, click and drag the vertical arrangement button burger icon to move the signers above or below each other, in whichever way you deem necessary. Once done, just click Save Signers and we will be returned to the invitation pane.

We will not go over the Advanced Options here, there is another article dedicated to emailing e-contracts and agreements on our website.

Advanced Options

We have talked about the differences between eSignatures and digital signatures for use in agreements and e-contracts. We have also covered how to utilize signNow’s service for electronic signatures, and much more, for use in a standard release form.

So let’s sum up; Electronic signatures and digital signatures are variations of the same concept, though wildly different in application. Electronic signatures are like signatures with paper and pen but in a digital format with history, logs, authentication methods, and other features which ensure your contracts and agreements hold up and are legally binding. In contrast, digital signatures are a form of high-security encryption-based technology which can be quite costly and difficult to maintain. Digital signatures aren’t accepted in every country, and in some countries where electronic signatures aren’t legally binding, digital signatures are. Alternatively, the opposite is also true.

We sincerely hope that this article has cleared up any confusion that you might have had and helped you to get started in the journey towards business digitalization. With signNow, it has never been easier to electronically sign or to prepare documents for the process. You do not need to download anything, our fees are straightforward, our editor is one of the best, our security is industry leading, we accept multiple file formats, and we also have an extension for Chrome browser, Gmail, and native mobile apps for both Android and iOS.

David Lasher
David Lasher
Contributing Writer
August 12, 2020