You’ve been emailed a document and you have to sign it and send it back.
You could print out the document, sign it and then scan it back in and email it. But there’s a better, faster way.
We’ll show you how to quickly add your signature to any PDF document, saving it as a standard PDF file that can be read anywhere. You can do this on Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, Chrome OS, Linux—whatever platform you prefer.
Electronic Signatures, Not Digital Signatures.
First, let’s straighten out some terminology. This article deals with electronic signatures, not digital signatures, which are something else entirely. A digital signature is cryptographically secure and verifies that someone with your private signing key (in other words, you) has seen the document and authorized it. It’s very secure, but also complicated.
An electronic signature, on the other hand, is merely an image of your signature overlaid on top of a PDF document. You can do it with all kinds of apps, and it’s what most people will require when they send you a document to sign. Send them a PDF file with a digital signature and they won’t know what to make of it. For many businesses, simply accepting signed documents by email rather than forcing you to fax them is a huge technological leap.
So sure, the below methods aren’t perfectly secure—but neither is printing something, scribbling over it with a pen, and then scanning it again. At least this is faster!
- Windows: Open the PDF in Adobe Reader and click the “Fill & Sign” button in the right pane.
- Mac: Open the PDF in Preview, click the Toolbox button, then click Sign
- iPhone and iPad: Open the PDF attachment in Mail, then click “Markup and Reply” to sign.
- iPhone and Android: Download Adobe Fill & Sign, open the PDF, and tap the Signature button.
- Chrome: Install the HelloSign extension, upload your PDF, and click the Signature button.
Windows: Use Adobe Reader
While Adobe Reader isn’t the most lightweight PDF viewer, it is one of the most feature-packed, and actually has excellent support for signing PDF documents. Other third-party PDF readers may offer this feature, but they generally require you purchase a paid version before using their signature features.
To sign a document using Adobe Reader, first open the PDF document in the Adobe Acrobat Reader DC application. Click the “Fill & Sign” button in the right pane.
Click the “Sign” button on the toolbar and select “Add Signature” to add your signature to Adobe Acrobat Reader DC.
If you need to add other information to the document, you can use the other buttons on the toolbar to do so. For example, you can type text or add checkmarks to fill in forms using buttons on the Fill & Sign toolbar.
You can create a signature in one of three ways. By default, Adobe Reader selects “Type” so you can type your name and have it converted to a signature. This won’t look like your real signature, so it probably isn’t ideal.
Instead, you’ll probably want to select “Draw” and then draw your signature using your mouse or a touch screen. You can also select “Image” if you’d like to sign a piece of paper, scan it with a scanner, and then add your written signature to Adobe Reader. (Yes, this requires scanning, but you only have to do this once, after which you can use that signature on any documents you electronically sign in the future.)
After creating a signature, click “Apply” to apply it to the document. Leave “Save Signature” checked and you can quickly add this signature in the future.
Position your signature where you want it with your mouse and click to apply it. If you chose to save your signature, you’ll find it easily accessible in the “Sign” menu in the future.
To save your signed PDF document, click File > Save and select a location for the file.
Mac: Use Preview
Mac users are luckier than Windows users. The Preview application included with macOS has integrated document-signing features. Thanks to the excellent trackpads built into MacBooks, you can actually draw your signature on the trackpad with one of your fingers to enter it into Preview. On a new MacBook with a “Force Touch” trackpad, this is even pressure sensitive, allowing for even more accurate signatures.
You could also just sign a piece of paper and “scan” it with your webcam, if you prefer creating your signature the old-fashioned way (or if you have an iMac with no trackpad).
To sign a document, open a PDF document in Preview (this should be the default app that opens when you double-click on a PDF file, unless you’ve changed it). Click the toolbox-shaped “Show Markup Toolbar” button, and then click the “Sign” button on the toolbar that appears.
You’ll be prompted to either create a signature by dragging your finger over the trackpad, or by signing a piece of paper and scanning it with your webcam. Capture your signature once and Preview will remember it for the future.
Once you’ve captured a signature, you can select it in the menu that appears after you click the “Sign” button. Your signature is applied as an image that can be dragged around and resized to fit the document.
The other options on the toolbar allow you to type text and draw shapes on the document, allowing you to fill in forms, if necessary.
When you’re done, click File > Save to save the PDF, applying your signature to the file. You can also click File > Duplicate instead to create a copy of the PDF and save your changes into a new copy of the file without modifying the original.
If you don’t like Preview for whatever reason, you can also use Adobe Reader DC on a Mac. It’ll work just like signing a document on Windows, so see the instructions in the Windows section for information on that.