How to digitally sign documents (without having to print, scan or fax)

With a simple connection to ‘the Cloud’, we can find a place to work from our smartphones, hold a virtual meeting with our webcams, manage our teams from afar… 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 it’s 1989…

If you recognize that scenario, forget the fax, follow these steps and return to sender – signed, sealed, delivered – and all from your laptop or mobile device.

1. Start with a PDF

A document that needs signing should be sent as a PDF file – it guarantees its contents are locked down and the formatting appears the same for the sender and the recipient. It’s like the digital equivalent of sending a hard copy, if that makes any sense!

However, some people still send Word documents to be signed. In that case, you should start by converting the Word document into a PDF file. In modern versions of Microsoft Word, you can do this easily by choosing PDF as the type or format in the ‘Save As’ dialog box. If you’re not sure, you can download a free PDF converter, like CutePDF.

On a Mac, you can do this from most ‘Print’ dialog boxes. Just click ‘PDF’ and ‘Save as PDF…’ from most applications. There are lots of apps that allow you to convert Word documents to PDF files on iOS too, including Word to PDF.

2. Create and use your signature

To sign a document with a handwritten signature, you don’t have to print, scan and re-print anything, though there is a bit of setup to do this for the first time.

On modern Macs, the software is all built in. In Preview, set up your handwritten signature in the Signatures pane in Preferences. It’ll ask you to sign a blank piece of paper then hold that piece of paper up to your webcam. It’s a really quick way to scan your signature and reduce it to a one colour 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, then Annotate and Signature – and you’re done.

For iPad, there’s a more powerful (and expensive) version of this application, called PDFpen. I use that in conjunction with a stylus to sign documents on the move.

On Windows, you can download Adobe Reader for free and select ‘Apply Ink Signature’ in the Extended Features panel (via Tools).

3. Send the PDF file back

Depending on how you’ve digitally signed your PDF document, you can either send it directly from within the application, or save the file to your desktop to attach in an email.

And that’s how to sign and send back a document without having to print, scan or fax! Did I miss anything out? Let us know your tips and feedback in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Wiertz Sébastien via Compfight cc

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