Depending on the software tools at your disposal, creating signed documents using electronic signatures can be a frustrating process.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most common ways that you can e-sign your PDFs, Word documents, Google docs, and more.
Let’s get started!
How to create an electronic signature
Not sure about electronic signatures?
If you’re already familiar with electronic signatures, you can skip this part.
If you’re new to e-signing, you might be wondering why you should sign documents using digital signatures rather than handwritten signatures.
We discuss all of that (and more) in our Ultimate guide to electronic signatures, but the short version is that e-signing is typically faster and safer than signing by hand.
And it’s becoming increasingly common, with many analysts predicting that the value of the e-signature market will grow as much as 25% over the next decade.
Below, you’ll find a list of the most common signing methods in use today.
01. Draw and scan
Pros: Uses an actual, handwritten signature.
Cons: Not as secure as other methods; requires a digitization tool like a scanner or a smartphone with a camera; less convenient once you know how to use other online signature tools; difficult to use when signing PDFs.
The simplest and most straightforward way to create a digital signature is to simply sign your name using a pen, take a photo of it, and upload it to a digital device.
But, while this method is simple and convenient, it comes with some downsides. Signatures created in this way aren’t as secure as those created using dedicated software. You won’t have a digital ID or a digital certificate proving the authenticity of the signature.
Lastly, once you know how to get an electronic signature using some of the other methods, the workflow required to digitize your handwritten signature feels burdensome.
How to do it
- Write your name on a piece of white paper using a ballpoint pen. Black or blue ink is preferred.
2. Using your smartphone, tablet, or home scanner, take a photo or scan the image of your signature.
3. Use digital tools like your smartphone editor or an online photo editor to neatly crop your handwritten signature to an acceptable size.
4. If your signature file was created in a JPEG format, you’ll need to convert it to a PNG format for use when signing digital documents. Use an online conversion tool like JPG to PNG to quickly and easily convert your file type.
5. Once you have a PNG file of your signature, you can sign Microsoft Word and Google Doc files by dragging and dropping your new signature onto your document and placing it above the signature line in the document.
02. Use free online signing tools
Pros: Fast, easy, and free. The signature you receive will already exist in a digital format; no scanning equipment or digitization process is required.
Cons: Extra steps may be required to connect your online signature to your existing document.
There are a ton of free tools available to help you create e-signatures online. These tools typically allow you to sign online documents by either drawing or typing your signature and downloading the image in a ready-to-use PNG format.
If you want an image of your signature for your document signing process, these free tools are the way to go. Our favorite tool for this signing method is CreateMySignature.
How to do it
- Go to the CreateMySignature website and select “Draw Signature.”
2. Draw an image of your signature using your mouse cursor or touchscreen device. Use the eraser button in the top right to try again if you don’t like the result. When you’ve got a signature that you’re happy with, hit “Save.”
3. On the next screen, click or tap “Download” to download a PNG version of your signature.
4. Drag and drop the signature image into a Word document or Google Docs file for fast and easy signing.
03. In Microsoft Word
Pros: Everyone is familiar with the software; adding signatures after contract creation is a logical next step.
Cons: Creating secure signatures isn’t as easy as it should be. Emailing documents requires a lot of extra work, especially in multi-signer situations.
As a document creation suite, Microsoft Office has been the industry standard for years. Though eclipsed by Google in terms of shareability, Word is still the preferred choice for document generation for many companies around the globe.
Unfortunately, without some help, signing documents inside of Microsoft Word can be a real challenge because the software is still essentially an offline platform.
When you need to solicit signatures from multiple signers, you’ll need to send emails to each signer in turn, then wait for them to sign and send it back. That, combined with a lack of document analytics and performance metrics, can make Word a major hassle when it comes to signing.
All that said, it’s still possible to create e-signatures using Microsoft Word.
How to do it
1. Place the cursor where you’d like your signature line to go in your Word document.
2. Go to the Insert tab and under “Text” click “Signature List,” followed by “Microsoft Office Signature Line.”
3. Complete the fields about signature details in the setup box that pops up and select your preferences for the signature box.
4. Right-click on the signature box in the document. Choose “Select Image” to upload an image of a signature that you already have. You can also draw your signature using a touchscreen device or type a printer version into the signature box.
Pros: Fast, intuitive, and easy to use.
Cons: Only basic e-signing for the free plan; paid plans offer complete document creation.
Without coming across as too biased when talking about our own software tools, we’ve worked hard to ensure that PandaDoc goes above and beyond when it comes to electronic signing.
While PandaDoc also offers other features to improve your workflow (templates, initial and checkbox tabs, content creation suite, etc.), creating electronic signatures is at the core of everything the platform can do.
How to do it:
- Start by adding a signature field to your document and setting up the required signers.
2. If you’re sending the document for signature, use the tools inside PandaDoc to email or share a link to the recipient.
3. If you have fields assigned to yourself, hit the “Fill and sign” button to complete them. You can sign by uploading a signature image, drawing, or typing your name.
4. Wait for other recipients to complete the signing process.
With PandaDoc, you can follow the exact same process using our mobile app and sign from anywhere using a variety of mobile devices, including iPad, iPhone, and Android-enabled devices.
05. Preview (Mac)
Pros: Fast, simple, built into the operating system.
Cons: Lacks the tools necessary to make substantial changes to PDFs and other documents.
If you’re using a Mac, Preview provides a simple and easy way to sign PDF documents. While you’ll need a PNG-friendly version of your signature, you can create this signature using your trackpad or your computer’s built-in camera.
How to do it:
- Follow the instructions located here to create a signature using Preview on your Mac.
- Using Preview, open the PDF document that you need to sign.
- Using the Sign button, add your signature to the document.
4. Drag your signature image over the signature line and use the text tool to add the date (if required).
5. Close the document to save the signature.
06. Adobe Sign
Pros: Powerful PDF editing tools built into the platform; fast signing solution and workflow.
Cons: Unintuitive workflow (compared with other options on the list); no from-scratch document creation tools.
Adobe has been in the electronic document space for decades.
The company is responsible for the PDF format, which was invented back in the early 90s with the use of Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader!
With Adobe Sign, you’ll be working with an intuitive signing program that uses drag and drop tools very similar to other modern e-signing software (like DocuSign and HelloSign).
This also offers unparalleled PDF editing capabilities. Simply upload a PDF and you can edit it directly in Adobe Sign. No other company that we’ve seen (including PandaDoc) allows you to directly edit PDFs in this way.
That being said, editing PDFs in the way that Adobe offers is only useful if you’re making minor changes. When you’re creating documents from scratch, sticking with Word, Google Docs, or the PandaDoc editor will give you greater design flexibility.
Here’s a close look at how to create an electronic signature in Adobe Sign.
How to do it:
- Start by uploading your document to Adobe Sign using the Upload button on your dashboard.
2. Inside your document, select Sign >> Fill & Sign from the righthand sidebar.
3. On the Fill & Sign screen, choose Sign yourself >> Add Signature and add your signature to the page.
4. After you’ve signed the document, hit “Request Signatures” and follow the prompts to send your document via email to other recipients.
5. Wait for other recipients to complete the signing process.
Frequently asked questions
The best electronic signatures aren’t just visual representations of your handwritten signature. They’re encrypted and secure digital fingerprints that can be used to confirm authenticity.
When creating your digital signature, focus on software solutions that take electronic security into account so that anytime you sign a document, you can be sure that everything is above board.
When trying to electronically sign, you won’t need anything other than the device that you plan to sign with. Every company will be able to help with setting up an electronic signature, and most companies have multiple ways to sign.
If you’re trying to create the same signature that you would use when signing paper documents, you might need a stylus and a touchscreen device (Android, iOS, etc.) in order to sign electronically. However, these tools aren’t strictly necessary to create a digital signature or a signed document.
While Xournal will allow you to add PNG signature images to PDF files, it lacks the functionality to create encrypted signatures or furnish digital certificates.
In this scenario, we’d recommend using an online, browser-based electronic signature tool like PandaDoc to get the job done. These platforms are compatible with a variety of operating systems, and no software installation is required.
Yes and no.
You could use an electronic signature to sign your paper documents, but you would have to digitize them to complete the document signing process. By doing so, you would ultimately transform them from paper documents to digital files.
After you sign your documents electronically, you can print them — along with any related digital certificates — to confirm the time and authenticity of the signature.
Done this way, you can complete the signing process digitally and still retain a paper copy.
In most situations, an image of your signature will count sufficiently for e-signing — but not for the reasons that you might think.
In the business world, most companies and legal teams are concerned with repudiation, the refusal to honor a contractual agreement. Modern electronic signature tools safeguard against this by creating unique digital certificates to certify when and by whom a document was signed.
Most of the time, platforms like PandaDoc or DocuSign verify ownership by sending an email with a direct link to the document or forcing users to enter a phone number where they can send a code to complete a verification process.
Why all the extra steps? Because the only way a contract is valid is if it can be proven that both parties knowingly agree to and sign the terms of the contract.
While an image of your signature can count as an e-signature, the most valuable component in the equation is how you send that document to the recipient.
If you send the signed document from an email that you control, maintain, and can access, you’ve verified to the recipient that you are the signer and that the provided signature is authentic.
The best thing to do before e-signing your document is the same thing that you should do for any document: read it and make sure that you agree with the terms and conditions.
If you’re new to e-signing, the setup process with most platforms is designed to be simple and intuitive. Focus more on the contract than the format in this scenario.
In most cases, e-signed contracts are legally binding.
If you sign a document and want to void it later, you may be subject to fees, penalties, or restitution. If there are clauses in the contract that allow you to void the deal, you’ll need to follow those guidelines.
However, if you’ve sent a document before the other party has signed (usually due to an error or typo), most platforms will simply allow you to withdraw or delete the document and reissue it with updated content.
Start signing with PandaDoc
As we’ve discussed, there are a variety of great signing solutions out there. To recap you could:
- Draw, scan, and manually upload your signature
- Use a free, online signing tool like CreateMySignature
- Sign using Microsoft Word
- Create secure signatures using PandaDoc
- Sign via native operating system tools (Mac / Windows)
- Edit and sign PDFs using a PDF editor like Adobe Sign
From our research, these are some of the best ways to create an electronic signature. While some are faster and other are more secure, your preferences and need will play a big role in which methods you use to create an sign online.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution that’s fast, simple, and secure, PandaDoc is the best solution on our list.
We have all the tools you need to create and sign contracts with ease.