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How to Create an Electronic Signature and Add it to Word, PDF and Other Documents

by on July 21, 2017
in Computers and Software, Software & Games, Tips & How-Tos, Tech 101, Time Savers :: 14 comments

Tired of printing, signing and then scanning or faxing documents that need your signature? Creating an electronic signature and adding it to your Word, PDF and other documents is easy. And many programs also have built-in digital signing features that add an extra layer of convenience and security. 

First off, let's clarify something: electronic signatures and digital signatures, for all that they sound alike, are two different things. An electronic signature is simply an image of your signature added to a document while a digital signature is encrypted data that proves the document came from you. For some purposes, a simple electronic signature will be fine, but for more important documents, a secure digital signature is highly recommended.

Some of the apps you're already using—like Word or Acrobat—can attach a signature to a document for free. But if you need to sign digital documents on a regular basis or you're just looking for something a little simpler, there are apps for your computer, tablet and smartphone that can make signing digital documents even easier.

Signing PDF documents and paper documents with your phone

One of the easiest ways to sign a PDF document is to use the Adobe Sign & Fill app (free for iOS and Android). For paper forms, you can snap a picture, add any required text and your signature, and save. 

If you receive an email with a PDF email attachment on your iPhone, you tap the attachment to view it, tap on the toolbox in the lower right corner, and you'll see tool to add text and your signature to the document. When you first use the app, you'll be prompted to create a signature that you can then save for future documents. Once you've added the text and signature and tapped "Done," a reply email is automatically created with the filled-out document attached. 

How to sign a PDF using Adobe Fill & Sign iOS app

If you have an Android phone, the process is similar. You tap on the email attachment to view it and it will open in Adobe Fill & Sign (you may have to select it as the app to open the document). You'll see tools for adding text and your signature. Tap anywhere in the document to add text and tap the pen icon to add your signature. When you're done, tap on the share icon. Select email, and the app will automatically save the document and create an email with the attachment. 

How to sign a PDF using Adobe Fill & Sign Android app

Creating your electronic signature

If you're adding your signature to a Word document or PDF, the first step is capturing an image of your signature which will go in your document in lieu of your actual signature. You can get your signature in several different ways:

  • Write it in black ink on a piece of blank white paper, then scan or photograph it. Scanning will get you the best image, but if you don't have a scanner be sure you're photographing in a well-lit area and that no shadows fall over your signature.
  • Draw it with your mouse or trackpad in a paint program like Paint for Windows or Paintbrush for Mac. Be warned, however, that it may take a few tries to get your signature to look right—if you're using your trackpad, we recommend a stylus.
  • Write it on your smartphone or tablet using any graphics app or a signature capture app like Signature Saver (free in Google Play) or Autograph (free in iTunes). Again, using a stylus will help you make your signature look like your signature.

Once you have a graphics file, you’ll want to save it as a “.png” file. Paint and Paintbrush have that as a choice when you use “Save As” to save your file. The PNG format lets you save your signature with a transparent background so it won't cover up signature lines or other information underneath. Now you have an electronic copy of your signature.

Adding your signature to a Word document

Wrap textSince so many documents are in Microsoft Word format, this seems like a good place to start. Word supports both electronic signatures and digital signatures, so you can use whichever works best for your purpose—though be warned, this is an expensive way to sign documents digitally.

If you're using a document that's set up with a special signature line, signing is straightforward: just double click the signature line and a Sign dialog box will pop up. Here, you can add a printed version of your signature by typing your name, add a handwritten signature on a tablet PC writing your name as usual, or insert an image of your signature by clicking "Select Image," finding your signature file, and then clicking "Select."

Digital signatures in Word are a bit more complicated, requiring you to purchase a third-party digital certificate to prove to anyone who reads the document that it came from you—which can cost several hundred dollars per year. While you can create your own digital signature, you'll only be able to verify its authenticity from your computer, which isn’t a good option for sending documents to others. If you need to send a lot of documents with a digital signature, buying a digital certificate might make sense, but if you aren't, we recommend using a simple electronic signature or one of the apps below. To go ahead with a digital signature, click on the Microsoft Office Button, then "Prepare," then "Add a Digital Signature," and click sign—you'll be prompted to create a digital ID from there.

If you're signing a document that hasn't been set up for Word's signature system, you'll find clicking on the signature line does nothing—but that's okay, because you can still insert your signature. Just place your cursor where you want to add your signature and choose “Insert” and then “Picture.” Select your signature file and you’ll see your signature appear in the document. Don’t worry if the picture has messed up the formatting of the document, you’re just about to fix that.

Now, click on your signature and drag the corners to resize your signature until it looks right. Then select “Page Layout," “Wrap Text” and then “Behind Text.” Now you can then use the arrow keys to fine tune the placement of your signature. When you have it just right, use “Save As” to save your signed document as a PDF file.

Adding your signature to a PDF document

Adobe ReaderSigning a PDF is even easier than signing a Word document! You’re likely already using Adobe's Acrobat Reader DC for desktop systems (free for both Mac and Windows) to read PDFs, and it offers an easy way to sign documents whether they have or haven't been configured to accept electronic signatures.

All you have to do is open your document, click "Tools," then click "Fill & Sign." Click the "Sign" button in the toolbar and you'll be prompted to type, draw or use an image of your signature. When you're done, click "Apply" and then drag the signature where you want it to go—if needed, you can resize your signature under options in the field toolbar. Acrobat will save your signature for future use, making it easy to sign your next document.

For Mac users, there's another option: the default Preview PDF viewer lets you easily insert signatures. Just open your document, click on the toolbox icon in the menu bar and then the signature icon. You can capture your signature using your trackpad or by signing your name on paper and then using your Mac's built-in camera. Just select whether you're using your trackpad or your camera, sign or photograph your signature, and drag it to where it belongs on the document. If it needs to be resized, just drag the corners of the signature box until it fits perfectly.

Signing documents with an app

If the above solutions don't work for you or you just want to sign using your smartphone or tablet, apps designed for document signing make it simple. All of the apps below use bank-level encryption and security as well as providing authenticated, legally binding digital signatures. For those who need an authenticated signature, this is probably where you want to look because these options are very economical, whether you're signing one document a month or a dozen.


CudaSignThough it's geared towards businesses, with document templates, SignNow isn't a bad choice for personal use, either. In fact, it's the lowest cost option if you need to sign more than three documents a month. CudaSign works on the web or your smartphone or tablet, with mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android, making it easy to sign documents no matter where you are.

Signing documents is simple: You can up upload them from email, your camera roll, cloud storage services like Dropbox or from your computer. Just sign using your finger on your smartphone or tablet, then send your signed document to anyone by email.

Price: $5 per user per month if billed annually ($60 per year) at SignNow


HelloSign appIf you only need to sign a few documents a month, but more than the total of three SignEasy offers, you'll want to look into HelloSign—available for iPhone, iPad, and Android. Like SignEasy, it's simple to import documents into HelloSign: you can pull them in from directly Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Box or OneDrive, and it integrates with Gmail. You can also grab paper documents just by snapping a photo with your smartphone or tablet camera. No matter the source, you can edit or annotate documents from the app, sign them using your finger and then save, share or email them.

The good thing and the bad thing about HelloSign is the price. If you don't need to sign many documents, it's free for up to three signatures per month. But if you need more than that, it's pricier than SignEasy or CudaSign at $13 per month.

Price: Free for up to three signatures a month, $13 per month if billed annually ($156/year) for unlimited signatures at HelloSign

Updated on 7/21/2017

[Image credit: digital signature via Shutterstock, Adobe, Microsoft, CudaSign, HelloSign]

Discussion loading


From Sasha Rambles on September 12, 2012 :: 9:54 am

Just this morning I did the print/sign/scan dance to sign up for auto-payment on the water bill. I like this approach much better smile



Easier to use DocuSign and free

From Cliff on September 12, 2012 :: 11:18 am

Why not just use DocuSign?  It has a free version for consumers that is easy to use, handles the notification, certification of someone elses signature, etc.

Or is this signature only concerned with your own signature?

I do some of this for work and do not work for DocuSign.




Yes! DocuSign is good for

From Suzanne Kantra on September 12, 2012 :: 11:26 am

Yes! DocuSign is good for contracts with someone you have a personal relationship with.


I use EchoSign and recommend it!

From Nancy Birnbaum on September 12, 2012 :: 1:11 pm

I’ve used EchoSign for years now, whenever I have a contract to sign. It’s simple, and you can upload your document and place both Signature and Date/Name, etc. fields anywhere you want. If you send less than 6/mo, you can use it for free! Here’s the link:


scan signature

From Dale Coppenbarger on September 13, 2012 :: 7:36 am

If all it takes is to scan your signature, then copy and paste, what stops someone from scanning any signature and using it falsely?



email signatures

From kerry on September 13, 2012 :: 5:02 pm

Is there a way that a signed signature can automatically be on every email you send? I have a set one that has my name in text but not actual signature??



Signatures on E-mails

From Cassie Wilkerson on September 14, 2012 :: 9:22 pm

Unless you have, an a rate e-mail service I known that’s risky as e-mails do get hacked now attached documents are a different story - there was a program e-signature but was discontinued due to it being hacked in 1998 and was used to sign away or forge important documents. A company I use to work for used through that system well lets say they suffered a $567,000 loss via a clients open policy of computer access years ago.



Transparency on signature image

From Hank on March 09, 2016 :: 10:31 pm

I took the extra step to make the background transparent.  Then it does not show as a possible different shade.

1) write in black or blue ink
2) scan it and save the image
3) open that image in a photo editor and make the background transparent.
4) save the new image and now it will just be the signature on the document.



Yes, the transparent background really

From Suzanne Kantra on March 14, 2016 :: 11:55 am

Yes, the transparent background really helps. Great tip!



Please update your SignEasy information

From Jeffrey Deutsch on March 13, 2016 :: 6:36 pm

I checked with the good folks at SignEasy, and in fact their Free plan only works for three documents *total*—as in, lifetime limit.

Also, each document in the Free plan may have only three different signatories, maximum.



Thanks for catching Jeffrey. I've

From Suzanne Kantra on March 14, 2016 :: 11:54 am

Thanks for catching Jeffrey. I’ve corrected and added another option, HelloSign, which does offer 3 free signatures per month.




From Steve on March 28, 2016 :: 6:44 pm

“The PNG format lets you save your signature with a transparent background so it won’t cover up signature lines or other information underneath. Now you have an electronic copy of your signature.”

How do I change the background to transparent (Paint/word 2016 user)? Thanks



Transparency on signature image

From Hank on March 28, 2016 :: 6:56 pm

I have mine in GIF or JPG and use Corel PaintShop Pro.  BUT several others have the same tool to remove the background. Some file formats will not allow this, so that is why I’ve stuck with gif & jpg. 




HelloSign is a great app

From Brad Moffet on October 20, 2016 :: 5:35 am

I have been using HelloSign then sign my current rental agreement online. I found this service very convenient. The landlord upload the agreement via rental platform, so I pay nothing for digital lease signing.


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