How to add signatures to PDFs

There are many tools you can use to add electronic signatures (also called eSignatures) to PDFs. Favorite tools like Adobe Acrobat Reader, Preview, and others include this feature, with varying degrees of additional functionality.

In the steps below, we’ll show you exactly how to add electronic signatures to your PDF documents, whether you’re sending documents (and want to create fields for your recipients) or receiving them.

But first, it’s important to distinguish between “electronic” and “digital” signatures. They are two separate technologies, and understanding these differences will help you distinguish between the kinds of signatures you’ll want to add to your documents.

What’s the difference between an electronic and a digital signature?

The term “electronic signature” is used to refer to any mark on a document that signifies approval. A primary example of an eSignature is an image of a signature that is uploaded to a PDF or word file. Documents that include fields for electronic signatures will often require a recipient to type their name manually. Electronic signatures (such as those used in PandaDoc) are fully legally-binding and enforceable.

Digital signatures are slightly different. Digital signatures work because of a standard framework called the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). They involve multiple levels of encryption, ID checks, and the creation of a unique certificate held by both the recipient and the sender. The use of digital signatures requires digital signature software to manage these encryption keys and certificates.

This article focuses on generic “eSignatures” rather than digital signatures. Electronic signatures are the quickest and easiest way to sign documents.

How to add electronic signatures to PDFs

There are some solutions that recipients can use to attach electronic signatures to documents, with some differences that Windows and Mac users need to take into consideration.

Below, we’ve listed the most popular solutions for adding your signatures to PDFs:

Add signatures on a desktop

The most popular tools are Adobe Reader (for Windows) and Preview (for Mac), both of which can be used to quickly add signatures to PDF documents with their “Fill & Sign” and “Sign” features respectively:

How to use Adobe Reader to add eSignatures to PDFs

  1. Open the PDF document in Adobe Reader.
  2. Click the “Fill and Sign” tab in the right-hand menu.
  3. Select “Sign” from the new toolbar at the top of the screen.
  4. Click “Add Signature” from the menu.
  5. You can either draw, type or upload your signature and position it where you like.
  6. Just hit “Apply,” and you’re done!

How to use Preview to add eSignatures to PDFs

  1. Open the PDF document in Preview.
  2. Select the toolbox icon from the menu at the top of the screen.
  3. Click the signature icon on the new toolbar that appears underneath.
  4. Draw your signature manually or capture it on a piece of paper with your webcam.
  5. Hit “Done”.
  6. You can now select your signature by clicking on the signature tab (step three) and position it as an image anywhere in the document.

Add online signatures on phones and tablets

For mobile devices and tablets, the Adobe Fill and Sign app (for both iPhone, Android, and tablets including iPads) is the most commonly-used tool:

How to use Adobe Fill and Sign to add eSignatures to PDFs

  • Download the PDF file to your phone if necessary.
  • Open the app.
  • Open the PDF in the app.
  • Click the pen icon at the top right corner of the screen.
  • Hit “Done” and share the signed document by selecting the share button – for example, if you want to send it as a PDF.

Do you need electronic signature software?

While the tools listed above are useful when it comes to essential functionality, they have limitations when it comes to completing other tasks. Multi-feature electronic signature software will extend performance in many ways. You may require an app if you need to do any of the following:

  • Access documents from any device. This one-size-fits-all approach saves a lot of time when it comes to both signing documents sent to you and including signature fields for your recipients.
  • Leverage fully-secure cloud storage and eSignature technology, which allows you to track the activity of the recipient and know when your docs are signed.
  • Provide recipients with a no-hassle way of signing if you’re sending a document. Often, prospective clients are unaware of new signature technology. Cutting out the time-consuming process of printing, manually signing and scanning documents for clients will significantly boost your close rate.
  • Edit, annotate and collaborate on documents in ways that aren’t possible with other tools.

Here’s our pick of the best three “smart” apps on the market:

  • PandaDoc – PandaDoc is a paperless document management solution that can be used to edit, sign and send PDFs from both desktop and mobile devices.
  • DocuSign – The most popular eSignature solution on the market, DocuSign has gained a reputation for the strong security infrastructure it provides around eSignatures.
  • Adobe Sign – Adobe was one of the first eSignature software providers and provides a range of features for both electronic and digital signatures.

How to add signatures to PDFs using PandaDoc

If you are a recipient, you can sign PDF documents by following a simple process:

  1. Upload the PDF file you want to sign to PandaDoc by navigating to the New Document tab selecting Upload.
  2. The document should immediately be visible after upload. Alternatively, you access your document from the Documents tab on the right of the screen.
  3. Drag-and-drop a “Signature” field into the appropriate area.
  4. Assign yourself as a recipient or add a new contact.
  5. Make the signature by clicking on the box. You have multiple options for completing the signature.
  6. Return the document as a PDF file to the original sender.

If you are creating a document, to add eSignature fields – which your recipients can complete in a few clicks without leaving the document – follow the steps below:

  1. Using the PandaDoc editor, select the “Fields” tab on the right of the screen and drag-and-drop a signature field into the required area.
  2. Assign the recipient to the signature field.
  3. Pick a style for the recipient to complete their signature. You can also allow the recipient to choose from all three:
      • Draw – Use the mouse to draw a signature.
      • Type – Select from one of six different fonts.
      • Upload – Upload an image of your signature from a computer.
  4. When the recipient signs, a signature certificate will automatically be generated and included at the end of the document.

Pick a signature tool that works for you

Your own needs should be the most significant consideration when picking a signature tool. If you only want to sign PDFs – as opposed to sending them, editing them, or acquiring multiple signatures for one document – then tools like Adobe Reader and Preview will suffice. For any functionality beyond this, you will need to opt for a solution with a greater number of features.

Smart tools like PandaDoc, Adobe Sign, and DocuSign can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend both providing and collecting signatures, adding a further layer of security in the process. Features like tracking, editing, and integrations with other tools maximize efficiency even further. If you haven’t already given a “smart” eSignature app a go, we highly recommend you do!