Paperwork doesn’t have to be a chore, if it can be handled swiftly and efficiently. In the case of signing documents, it usually isn’t. After receiving the PDF contract in the mail, you’ll print it and put your stamp of approval on it.
If that wasn’t enough, now you have to get that document back on your computer. Having a prehistoric fax machine lying around almost seems a blessing right about now. Otherwise, the document needs to be scanned back in. Take to your expensive all-in-one printer, use a mobile app to scan the document, or build your own smartphone document scanner.
It’s a hopelessly convoluted process, all for getting a single squiggly on a single document. It’s time for document signing to enter the digital age and with electronic signatures, it has. Below are three ways to electronically sign documents on your computer, your mobile, or from your browser. With these, it takes mere moments to work your way through the paperless paperwork.
Electronic versus Digital Signatures
First, to clarify. You’ll often hear the terms electronic signature and digital signature used interchangeably. It’s important to know the difference.
An electronic signature or eSignature is simply a token you attach to a document that shows your intent to agree with or approve the document contents. This electronic signature is normally considered to be legally binding. It’s very similar to your ‘real’ signature, in that it often looks the same, but it can also be imitated by a person with ill intent.
Placing a digital signature on a document does not, on its own, make you endorse the contents of a document. Rather, a digital signature is an electronic ‘stamp’ that (using asymmetric cryptography) that serves the double purpose of authenticating sender and/or signee. A third party — called a Certificate Authority — helps to enable the entire process. Digital signatures are similar to the security certificates you’ll see on some websites, where a third-party certificate authority vouches for the identity of the certificate-holder. It can be combined with an electronic signature to render the document more secure. In some very sensitive cases, it can be demanded by the document sender to make the signee’s consent close to irrefutable.
Digital signatures are usually offered at a premium, either by a separate certificate authority, or in the higher-cost business plans of eSignature services like the ones mentioned below. Most services exclusively offer eSignatures in the personal plans, with some additional security measures like document tracing (When and where was the document composed? When and where was it signed?) and email address verification. These are the services we’ll be looking at today.
SignNow was originally covered in the MakeUseOf directory. Since then, it has evolved significantly. The service is used by such companies as General Motors and Pepsi. In fact, SignNow claims to be used by 50% of Fortune 500 companies.
Said claim sounds more and more believable when you start playing around with SignNow. Of all the eSignature tools I tested, SignNow provides the most seamless interface. You can sign with a curved font, attempt to create a biometric stamp of your signature by drawing it digitally, or upload a picture.
Free users can upload and sign up to five documents a month. This doesn’t sound like much, but most home users don’t sign contracts on a daily basis. You’ll also be able to use the iOS and Android apps for signing on the go, or maybe to draw your signature with a stylus.
Business users can apply for one of the other pricing plans. These will add a myriad of other features, including those that are useful when you want others to sign your documents. You can add fields to a document that make signing a breeze and mail the document to your clients. Alternatively, create a template that can be sent as a signing link to multiple clients at once.
HelloSign is much the same story, with a few differences. First of all, sign-up is a breeze. You can use your Google account to skip much of the sign-up progress and dive right in. Even if you don’t have an account right now, you can have your document signed in minutes.
Within HelloSign, you can upload your document through the browser, or link HelloSign to Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Evernote and SkyDrive to access your documents in the cloud. Sign your document with a cursive font, an uploaded picture or by drawing your signature in-browser and immediately send it on its way to the recipients.
HelloSign shows definite similarities with SignNow. The interface isn’t as seamless (still great, though), but it makes up for it in better terms. As such, you can sign unlimited documents with a free account and send up to three signature requests each month. Free apps for Gmail, iOS and Android are available to complement the service.
Your Own PDF Reader
Most people, unwittingly, already have the necessary tools to put an electronic signature on your documents. Microsoft Office offers electronic signatures in their email and office suites. Professional applications like Acrobat XI Pro evidently have signing features, but even the free Adobe XI Reader application let’s you sign your document by tying in to Acrobat’s EchoSign service (the predecessor of which, Adobe eSignatures, was covered by Tim Brookes).
Preview, which is the default PDF and image viewer in Mac OS X offers a nifty signing feature where you hold up a pen or sharpie-drawn signature up to your webcam. The signature is then converted to a vector graphic and an electronic signature option is added to the Annotation toolbar.
How do you take care of your paperwork? Do you use your computer or cellphone to electronically sign documents, or do you still print everything out? Chime in and share your workflow in the comments section below the article!