Create and Insert Electronic Signatures in PDF or Other Documents

Remember when you used to love your printer?

You’d spend hours feeding it paper while it produced realms of glorious printouts that felt so satisfying to hold and admire.

Times have changed.  More of what we read is restricted to screens: tablets, laptops, mobile devices, etc.  The need for physical copies of documents is becoming less and less necessary.

This introduces a complication; how do we sign documents that don’t exist in a form that is conducive to traditional hand signatures?

We could print, sign, scan, and email the document back to the author, but that requires time and specific equipment.  Luckily, there is an easier way that does not require any printing or scanning.

This post will demonstrate how to sign PDF and other digital documents even if you don’t have a digitized version of your signature.

First, a bit of clarification

The terms “Electronic Signature” and “Digital Signature” are often confused with one another.

Digital Signature

A Digital Signature guarantees that an electronic document is authentic.  The document is encrypted using digital “keys” that verifies the authenticity of the author.  This can be thought of as the online version of a notarized signature.

Digital signatures embed what is known as a PKI or “Public Key Infrastructure” into the signing process.  This aids in properly identifying both the party providing the signature and the party requesting the signature.

Electronic Signature

Typically, an Electronic Signature is a digital image of your real signature that is placed in a document to mimic an actual by-hand signature.

Which to use?

Your decision to use either a Digital Signature or an Electronic Signature is largely based on the importance of the document and the likelihood of legal challenges to the signature.

Let’s look at methods for obtaining signatures.

Office App

When signing documents, like PDF files, you can use the free Microsoft Office app available from the Apple App Store or Google Play store.

Once installed, the app will appear like the following.  I’m using an Apple device for this demonstration, but the Android version is quite similar.

To start the signing process, click the Actions button (lower-right).

This reveals many wonderful features of the Office App.  We are interested in the “Sign a PDF” action.

Locate the PDF.  If the PDF is not listed in your recently opened files list, select Browse to navigate to your OneDrive or SharePoint site, or to a folder on the device itself.

Once you have located the document, open the PDF, then scroll to where a signature is required.  Tap the location in the document you wish to add your signature.

If this your first time using the app, you will be presented with a new screen where you can use your finger or digital stylus to write your signature in the same fashion as using pen and paper.

NOTE: Not my real signature.  Don’t get any ideas. 😊

You can customize the signature color to one of three colors (black, green, or blue).

When finished, tap “Store Signature” at the bottom center of the screen and click Done at the top right of the screen.

With your signature saved in the app, click where you wish to apply your signature.  This will present a list of stored signatures.

Tap your desired signature to place it in the document.

If the signature is not positioned correctly or requires resizing, tap the inserted signature to reveal the resize/move handles and adjust as needed.

When you have finished signing, click the checkmark in the upper left corner of the screen to save the signature as part of the document.

You are now able to share the signed document via email, text message, or another supported file transfer app on the device.

Other Uses for the Office App

To see some of the other amazing things the Office App can do for you, such as scanning a document and converting it into an editable text file or table that can be used in Word or Excel, check out the blog/video below.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Another simple and free alternative to adding electronic signatures to PDFs is Adobe Fill & Sign.

This requires downloading and installing the Acrobat Reader from the Adobe website.  The free version of Acrobat Reader has what we need; there is no need to purchase the PRO version.

Once installed, open the document you wish to sign and click the Sign Document button.

If using this for the first time, you will be required to create a signature.  Click either “Add Signature” or “Add Initials”.

You will be given three methods by which to create a signature:

  • Type your signature
  • Draw your signature with your finger, digital stylus, or mouse
  • Insert a previously scanned image of your signature

If you are using the “Type” option, you can select “Change Style” and pick from a variety of different font styles.

When finished, click Done.

Click the location in the document you wish to add your newly created signature.

Using the blue-dot handle and border, you can resize and move the signature to suit the document format.

Create a Physical Signature (using Paint 3D)

Another option is to create a digital image of your physical signature.

This method allows you to insert your signature into any document where the application allows for the inserting of images.

Creating the Image File

Most any paint program will work to create the signature, but for more creative control we will be demonstrating this operation using Microsoft’s Paint 3D program which is included for free with Windows 10.

Paint 3D has been available since 2018 and is primarily used to design shapes and models.

The advantage of using Paint 3D is that we will be able to create an electronic signature with a transparent background.  This way, no matter the color of the document, the signature will appear more natural.

To create the signature in Paint 3D, perform the following steps:

  1. In Windows 10, click the Start button and type Paint 3D. Click the Paint 3D icon to launch the application.

  1. In the Paint 3D application, click the New
  2. Select the appropriate marker, thickness, and color for your signature.

  1. Using your finger, digital stylus, or mouse sign your name on the supplied card. You may need to try a few times to get the exact look you are going for.  It will not feel as natural when signing especially if you are using a mouse.  It may feel like writing with a bar of soap; not very elegant.

  1. As the canvas will be larger than your signature, you can click Crop to crop the canvas down to the minimum requirements. Use the circular handles to crop to the desired dimensions.  Click Done when finished.

  1. Because we have a white background, and we want to have a transparent background, click Canvas (top of the screen) and set the “Transparent Canvas” option to ON.

  1. Save your image by selecting Menu (upper left) then click Save As.

IMPORTANT:  When you save your file, make certain you are saving the image as a PNG file.  This ensures that the transparent background is preserved.  If you save the image as a JPEG file, the transparent background will be replaced with a white background.

That’s it!  You now have a high-quality electronic signature you can insert into almost any document.

Inserting Signatures in Documents

If you are inserting your signature using an application such as Microsoft Word, be mindful of the position and text wrapping settings for the inserted image.

You may need to experiment with the way text flows around, in front, or behind the inserted image.

In Microsoft Word, the options for “Behind Text” or “In Front of Text” are usually the best choices as they do not alter the line spacing of the original document and provide freedom of movement and sizing without unintended negative consequences.

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