How To Sign a PDF Document without Printing & Scanning Them

Have you ever gotten a PDF file by email, and you had to sign it and send it back by email? For most people, that process is a real hassle. You have to print the PDF file, then you sign the printed copy, then you have to scan that paper back into a new PDF file and save it to your computer, then email it back to whoever sent it to you. It's a lot of steps for what should be a pretty simple process. Good News! There is a much easier way, and it doesn't require any printing or even scanning the documents. While we aren't a big fan of Adobe Reader (we use Foxit Reader), one of the reasons being the program is notoriously slow. Even though the program has improved in performance, but one would be better off with a minimal PDF reader that isn't packed with so many features. Although, now and then, one of those features come in handy, just like the electronic signature we would talk about further in this article. But let's establish the difference between digital and electronic signatures.

Electronic Signatures are not Digital Signatures

Digital signatures are something else entirely while a digital signature is cryptographically secure and verifies that someone with your private signing key, which has seen the document and will authorise it. It is known for a fact that digital signatures are way more secure than a traditional ink signature or a signature image overlaid on top of a PDF document. But are not accepted by someone. You asked why? Well, the answer is simple — most people are expecting a document with a little scribble of ink on it. And if you send them a PDF file with a digital signature, then only a few people would understand it and accept that digital signature. Even though we live in a cloud era, many businesses struggle in simply accepting signed documents by email rather than forcing you to fax them. Although the below methods may not be perfectly secure but neither is printing something, scribbling over it with a pen, and then scanning it again. The electronic signatures are just like traditional ink signatures but applied electronically to documents without any printing or scanning required. But when it comes to signing contracts, the Cloud suddenly bursts – we’re asked to print off pages, sign dotted lines and fax things back, like we are living in 90's.

Steps to Sign a PDF Document without Scanning & Printing:

To sign a document with a handwritten signature, you don't have to print, scan and reprint anything, but there is a bit of setup to do this for the first time. If you are on a Windows PC, the best option you got is the Adobe Reader, which in spite of a free tool comes packed with tons of features, as we talked above. First you need to open the PDF document in Adobe Reader. If Adobe Reader detects a signature field, it'll prompt you to open the Sign pane. If not, just click the Sign button at the top-right corner. You will have to use the place signature option to use a real signature, while other options just add text, checkmarks, or initials, which is not good enough. There are four ways through which the place signature dialog allows you to create a signature in a variety of ways:
  1. Type you Signature: In this option, you would have to enter your name and Adobe reader will generate something that will look like a signature. Though, you should probably avoid this option, as you would want something to that look more like your real signature.
  2. Draw your Signature: You can either draw your signature with your mouse. It would only look good if you are using a stylus or have an amazing hand-eye coordination. Then only you may be able to draw something that looks like your real signature, though, probably it won't be good enough.
  3. Use an Image: Image is another of the option you get to place the signature. For that, you will have to sign your signature on a piece of paper and use a scanner to scan on your computer. After that, you can crop the image to make sure that your signature fit right it on all the PDF documents you will fill it in the future. So, create an image file from it. And if you do this you can use that image option to insert your signature from that image file.
  4. Use a Webcam: While you may think that the above options would be good for you, let us tell you that this option will be more convenient and more ideal option for most people. You just have to sign your name in black in on a white paper, and Adobe Reader can use your webcam to capture the signature.
Although you should note that, Adobe reader won't just take photo of your signature, it will generate a copy that will match the shape of your signature, so it can be inserted neatly into other documents. After you are done scanning the signature, use the Place signature button to insert and position it anywhere in a PDF document. Now you only have to scan in your signature once, and you can quickly insert your signature into other documents when you need an electronic signature in a future. Now save your PDF file using the standard Save option that can be found under the File menu. It will create a new PDF file with the same name as the original PDF, but it will be signed in the end. As we've established that Adobe is full of bloatware, it will prompt you to use their EchoSign to send your document, but you can just skip this service and continue. To jog your memory of what we have done till now – we have inserted a new image file into the PDF file. Where no fancy digital signature was used. For this reason, the signed documents should be readable in all PDF readers. Though, if the signature doesn't look realistic enough, then you might want to use the standard ink-on-paper look. You can scan it in with a scanner and insert it as an image instead. On new Macs, this feature is built right into the OS X. During Preview, you can set up your handwritten signature in the Signatures pane in Preferences. It will ask you to sign a blank piece of paper then hold that piece of paper up to your webcam. It's a quick way to scan your signature and reduce it to a one-color image with a transparent background that you can use in many scenarios. Once that’s all set up, just go to Tools in the menu bar, and then Annotate and Signature – and you're done. While for iPad, there's a more powerful (and expensive – as its paid app) version of this application, called PDFpen. You can use that in conjunction with a stylus to sign documents on the move. While if you are looking for something free, then you can go with the Adobe Reader option on the device, and follow the same instruction that we showed above.

Alternative Method: HelloSign App

And if you want simpler or an option that integrates all cloud accounts, then we would recommend you to go with HelloSign. It is a web app, which allows you to directly integrates Gmail so you can sign documents right from your email. Other popular services like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, and Evernote, are also integrated into the web service. HelloSign is the best option if you are looking for a need of a single-user account. With this service, you won't have to shell out any money just to electronically sign some documents. It allows you to upload a signature file, draw it in with your mouse, or as well as take photos of your signature with your smartphones, which makes it super convenient. Once it has your signature, you can sign and email quickly. And it is an ideal solution if you have to sign frequently and email documents.