How to Sign Documents Electronically Without Having to Scan or Print

Do you hate having to scan and print documents whenever your sign is needed? Well, now you can sign your documents electronically and forget about those extra steps that eat some of your time. Here you will learn how to easily add an electronic version of your signature to add to any PDF document in an easy manner.

Electronic Signature Vs. Digital Signature

Those two terms, although similar-sounding, refer to different security measures. A digital signature is a more secure measure used to deal with sensitive documents. This can be a digital key that is used to access a document after verifying your authorization or any other similar method.

An electronic signature, on the other hand, acts as a replacement of a traditional signature. It is a digitized version of your signature, which you can add to PDF documents without having to print/sign/scan them.

The U.S. Federal ESIGN Act defines an Electronic Signature as:

An Electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.

Having an electronic signature can save a lot of your time in the long run, and is perfect if you don’t need to deal with printed documents (ie. when you only need to sign a document and then mail it back). That’s the kind of signature we will be learning how to add in this tutorial, and for this we will take a look at three alternatives: Adobe Reader, Preview and HelloSign. NOTE: If you want to attach a signature to a Google fax file, you may want to consider the alternatives given by your email fax provider.

Signing a Document with Adobe Reader

Adobe Reader is the default PDF viewer of millions of computers across the globe, allowing us to read PDF documents for free. One of the biggest perks of using Adobe Reader is that it has much more than simple PDF functions, among them, the ability to add your own electronic signature.

Okay, it’s time to get our hands dirty!

STEP 1. Open your document using the Adobe Reader program (not the browser-integrated version). The program will quickly scan the document to detect a signature field. If it finds one, you’ll be prompted to open the Sign panel.


STEP 2. Choose the best type of signature for your document. You can add initials, text or a checkmark, but for this tutorial we want to click on “Place Signature”.


There are different ways to use your own signature on the digital document. You can type it and auto-generate one (not recommended because it doesn’t look like your signature at all), you can draw it directly if you have a stylus pen with a tablet (either that or superb mouse skills!), or you can simply add it as an image.

STEP 3. Let’s go ahead and use an image for this tutorial. Grab a piece of paper, sign it and then hold it close to your webcam so you can take a photo of it. After taking the photo, add it to the document. The program will generate a clear signature with transparent background making sure it is perfectly readable. Here’s how mine looks:


STEP 4. Place the signature on your document and save it. You’ll notice that when you save a signed document, you are actually generating a copy of the same document with -signed at the end.


NOTE: In some cases, Adobe will suggest to use Echosign for sending the signed document, but you can skip this.

Once you have your signature in electronic form, you will be able to use it in the future without having to go over the same steps over and over again.

Using Preview for Mac OSX

If you are using Mac OS, then you can do it via the built-in PDF viewer, Preview. There are some tutorials online which use the Edit Toolbar button, but I have found out that in recent updates things have changed a bit.  Let’s take it a step at a time!

STEP 1.  Open your document by double-clicking it on a Mac.  Click on the Markup button and then click on the signature button.  The image below will help you identify them pretty quickly.


STEP 2. A new mini-window will appear, in which you can choose to add your signature using your Mac’s trackpad, or the built-in camera.  In this case we will use our webcam, since it is something we have at hand.This is when things get pretty cool.  Hold your signature in front of the camera, and after a few seconds your signature will be identified and automatically digitized.


STEP 3.   Click on Done, and now you will find your signature on the button’s drop down menu.


STEP 4. To add it to the document, simply click on your signature and move it in place.


Using HelloSign

Adobe Reader is not the only app that lets you add a signature for free. A web app that also does this is HelloSign. This is not a PDF reader, but it allows you to sign documents straight from your email, using Gmail integration.

First, you have to add your signature to your account using a signature file, a photo or a direct drawing. Once your signature has been saved, you can use HelloSign plug-in to quickly sign and send documents. This option is much faster than using the Adobe Reader program, but keep in mind that this is a web-based application. By the way, HelloSign is free if you want to sign up to 3 documents a month.

Which Method Is Best?

Preview is the fastest and simplest program to add your signature and it comes completely free for your Mac, but hey! I’m a Mac guy so maybe I’m a little bit biased.  In any case, Adobe Acrobat is also a good solution that is available for both PC and Mac users.

There are also other programs and web-based services that allow you to add signatures.  Do you have one to recommend? We would love hearing from you in the comments section.


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