Ask LH: What's The Best Way To Sign Documents Electronically?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm tired of printing out a document and scanning it back in just to put my signature on it. Is there a better way to do this? I know there are a lot of apps out there, but there are so many I don't even know where to start. Sincerely, Signing Sally

Picture: bofotolux/Shutterstock

Dear Sally,

Scanners are totally unnecessary when it comes to signing a document these days. There are a lot of ways to sign documents electronically, and which is the "best" depends on your general needs. Here are a few of our favourites.

Are Electronic Signatures Worthwhile?

Signing something with your computer is much more convenient than signing a hard copy. Unfortunately, the whole world is not as tech-savvy as you, and there may be certain people or businesses that don't accept electronic signatures, even though they're legally valid. I've been electronically signing documents for a while now and have yet to encounter a problem, but just know that your mileage may vary. You may still need to sign the occasional hard copy or fax a document.

The other thing you might want to consider is security. If you're signing a particularly sensitive document, you might prefer to print it out and sign a hard copy instead of storing it in the cloud or sending it over email. However, it's important to note that physical signatures are hardly secure either -- any waiter or cashier could steal your signature from a receipt if they wanted to, and your documents are only as secure as the receiving company makes them. However, sending a sensitive document online is different than sending a signed waiver for your next 5K race, so it's up to you how much you actually want to put on the internet.

Don't confuse electronic signatures (a broad category which includes using a simple image of your signature) with digital signatures (which cryptographically attach your identity to a document using a method that cannot be forged). Many companies may allow you to sign using a secure digital signature, but this is a different realm altogether. For this article, we'll just stick to the simple electronic signatures you'll come across in personal use.

HelloSign Signs Documents Straight From Gmail

If you get most of your documents through your email, the HelloSign Chrome extension is an easy way to sign them right from your browser and send them back to your recipient. After installing the extension, you'll get the option to sign any PDF that comes your way in Gmail. It's really one of the easiest methods we've seen yet, since it's integrated right into your email inbox.

SignNow Signs Documents From Your iPhone and iPad

If you prefer something a bit more portable, we're big fans of SignNow on iOS. It can grab documents from your email or Dropbox, let you sign and initial them right from your touch screen, add a date and send it back to your recipient (though if the document is sensitive, make sure you use a secure sharing method, or print it out and sign it instead). It even lets you save multiple signatures, so you and your spouse could sign a document from the same device in no time.

SignNow is a free app that lets you sign up to five documents a month. You can sign up for a premium plan for more, or try DocuSign Ink, which lets you sign as many documents as you want (but only allows you to save one signature at a time).

DocuSign Ink Signs Documents from Android Phones and Tablets

SignNow has an Android app as well, but it isn't quite as polished as the iOS version, and it doesn't let you save multiple signatures. So, on Android, we recommend DocuSign Ink. It's an incredibly simple app that lets you import documents from email or Dropbox, sign them right from your touchscreen, add the date and send it to your recipient. If the document is sensitive, make sure you're sending it to them securely, or print it out and sign it instead.

DocuSign Ink is a free app and allows for as many signatures as you want, though it does have premium accounts that offer more business-oriented features.

Alternative: Use the Apps You Already Have

These are great apps if you're starting from square one, but if you already have a PDF annotation app (like Preview on the Mac, the pro version of PDF-XChange on Windows, or just plain ol' Adobe Reader), chances are it already has some document-signing features built-in. We especially like the built-in signing feature in Nitro Reader.

Whether you want to sign things in Gmail, on your tablet or on the desktop is up to you, but like you said, there are more apps out there than we could even count. These are our favourites based on simplicity and price (since most of the above are free or very cheap), but try a few out to see what works for you.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    I use them all the time, but electronic signatures seem to me to be a total contradiction to the whole purpose of signing a document, in that they are easily forged and unverifiable. The moment anyone sends you a signed fax or email attachment, you have a copy of their signature to do with as you wish. I just had the farcical situation where a bank sent me a document which they asked me to print out, sign and have certified by a JP. When I asked them where to mail the hard copy, they told me to scan it and email it back to them! Like if I was using a copied signature, I wouldn't be able to also use a copy of a JP's signature and certification stamp.

    Last edited 14/03/13 10:45 am

      @snowmonkey - There are solutions on the market today that are actually better than traditional pen and paper signatures. With authentication on the front end, tamper-proof documents, and a legally binding audit trail that shows you who signed what, when and where - there's actually more proof with DocuSigning that with "wet ink". (Unless in person, there's little proof that a wet signature is from the intended signer). You can learn more at www.DocuSign.com. :)

      - Gregor Perotto (DocuSign)

        That's obviously a great solution, but I rarely need a legally signed document from someone else - it's usually others (banks and the like) that require a signature from me. What amazes me is that they continue to ask for and accept faxes and email attachments with images of my signature and then treat them like a legally binding document.

    Are there legal ramifications around signing a document digitally. Would it hold up in court if there was some sort of dispute around a contract or something?

      There are definitely legal ramifications - and not all solutions or solution providers are created the same. You want to ensure that the solution you use was built to meet the requirements of the ESIGN Act, the European Directive on Electronic Signatures, and so on. You can get more on the legality of electronic signature in this white paper: http://www.docusign.com/whitepapers/legality-electronic-signatures.

      -Gregor Perotto (DocuSign)

    In medicine, we send out reports now with Digital Signatures. If it needs verification, the good systems actually setup an invisible record against the document and a "snapshot" CRC which can be retrieved.

    You'll often see now:

    Dr ABC
    Department of Unnecessary Tests

    However you will also get the old Skool consultants:

    Prof XYZ
    Department of Eminence Based Medicine
    Dictated and not Read

    Here are the links to the Australian law that governs electronic signatures
    http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011C00445
    Particularly section 10
    http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011C00445/Html/Text#_Toc296406959

    Some colleagues of mine created http://pdfink.com/ for windows based tablets. Might be worth a quick review WG.

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