How to Add Electronic Signatures to PDFs

How to Add Electronic Signatures to PDFs

There was a time when the signing of contracts was a time-consuming process. The legal document would need to be printed, packaged, and delivered securely to the signatory in order for them to physically sign it by hand, in ink. It would then need to be re-packaged and securely returned. In practice, this would take a number of days but, in business, time is money.

With the advent of fax machine technology in the 1980s, the electronic image of an original signature became a legal possibility and enabled businesses to speed up their contracting process. This development was of particular importance to those businesses operating in multiple territories, and at long distance. Today, technology allows for fully electronic signatures – or e-signatures – to be added to legally binding documentation, specifically within PDF files.

A PDF file is a Portable Document Format file. This technology was developed by Adobe in 1993 and is specifically designed to encrypt digital signatures and metadata to support the workflows for which these are needed. In recent years, the use of PDF with e-signatures has revolutionised the way in which the contracting process is undertaken in business.

The difference between electronic signatures and digital signatures

Though it is tempting to use the terms interchangeably, electronic signatures and digital signatures are two very distinct forms of authorisation. Digital signatures are complex forms of data that verify your Private Key using cryptographic security measures. This means that digital signatures can be used to verify both the identity of the signatory, as well as the integrity and authenticity of the document in question. For this reason, digital signatures can be used to ensure the security of a contract management process within Contract Management Software, among other applications. With regard to their legal significance, the use of digital signatures is highly regulated in many territories, however, due to the complexity of conditions required to ensure their successful implementation.

Electronic signatures, by contrast, are essentially the image of a written signature, but provide for the optional use of Advanced Electronic Signature (AdES) - adding some layers of digital security behind the signature to ensure authenticity. These become fully legally binding, in a manner equivalent to handwritten signatures, when they take the form of Qualified Electronic Signature. These are Advanced Electronic Signatures that are accompanied by a qualified digital certificate, created by a Qualified Signature Creation Device. This ensures that the signatory is verified as originating the signature, and that the content of the document bearing the signature has not been tampered with or altered in any way.

Adding electronic signatures

The way in which you add electronic signatures to your PDF depends entirely on the type of signature you are using. The simplest and most basic approach is to use an electronic signature solution.. This enables the user to upload their signature to a computer for selection, or simply type their name into the required space. Alternatively, signatures can be drawn onto a document using a touchscreen device, such as a mobile phone or tablet. These are digitised signatures and, in particular, these make the signing of contracts easier and faster for remote signatories and are secure.

Advanced Electronic Signatures and Qualified Electronic Signatures require the input of a qualified Trust Service Provider. This is a governmentally approved provider which generates certificates bearing a valid date and time. They essentially perform the same function as a witness to a physical ‘wet’ signature, in that they authenticate identity and content. These measures prevent fraud and forgery, and help secure the legal document. These types of signature can be added to a PDF by right-clicking on the position where the signature is required, and selecting the addition of the type of signature needed.

How Contract Management Software works with electronic signatures

Contract Management Software is all about optimising business efficiency and streamlining contracting processes for the benefit of the bottom line, so adding electronic signatures to your PDFs is an integral part of that. While the ability to sign legal documents online certainly enhances convenience, there are several other ways in which benefits of electronic signatures seamlessly intersect with the use of Contract Management Software.

  • Risk Management

Since many countries and territories enacted legislation between 1999 and 2001, enshrining electronic signatures as legally binding under specific conditions, it is now the case that e-signatures actually reduce risk to a greater extent than couriered, faxed, or emailed ‘wet’ signatures ever did, when they are used in conjunction with Contract Management Software. This is because of the additional, stringent, digital security requirements that must be met in order to use an electronic signature within the software platform.


  • Green credentials’ and cost cutting

The use of electronic signatures boosts the ‘green,’ eco-friendly credentials of your business in the same way that the use of Contract Management Software does. By decreasing the use of paper and transportation throughout your commercial operations, the carbon footprint of your business is also drastically reduced. In addition to boosting the ‘green’ credentials of your operation, those same reductions in resources help to cut costs, while also increasing profitability based on shorter project timescales.


  • Browser-based Design

Contract Management Software uses a browser-based design in order to make collaboration and remote access easier and more efficient. This not only increases the veracity of electronic signatures used within it, as a result of the permission-based access protocols in play, but also ensures that e-signing can happen from any location, at any time. The software platform includes an automated workflow facility, which ensures that tasks are flagged up to the correct person at the right point in the project timescale. This includes documents for review, and for electronic signature.


  • Encrypted Data Transfer

For further enhanced security, Contract Management Software uses encrypted data transfer. This supports and facilitates electronic signatures by ensuring the integrity of documents as tasks and notifications move through the system, between the authorised team members involved in the project workflow in question.

Contact Symfact today to discuss how electronic signatures within your PDFs can enhance the use of Contract Management Software.