What is a virtual signature and how can you do it?

Virtual signatures, also known as “electronic signatures” are an alternative to signing documents by hand.

Using technology tools, companies can create a way to digitally sign documents, eliminating the need to mail proposals, contracts, and agreements or even meet signers in person to fill out mandatory paperwork.

But while virtual signatures can optimize workflows and accelerate signing processes, this process comes with some risk. 

Online signatures need to be traceable and secure to protect against the threat of repudiation by the signing party, especially when important documents are involved.

What is a virtual signature?

Virtual signatures are commonly known as electronic signatures or e-signatures.

According to the Federal ESIGN Act of 2000, an electronic signature is defined as, “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

This definition is similar to those found in the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and the eIDAS Regulation in Europe. 

These three documents form the basis for all electronic signature laws in the United States and Europe.

Because electronic signatures are defined so broadly, signing a document can be as easy as uploading an image of your signature to your computer and using it to “sign” a PDF document by adding it to a PDF file.

How do digital signatures work?

Digital signatures are an advanced form of virtual signatures that use secure signing workflows and digital encryption to ensure that all electronic signatures are valid.

These signatures rely on audit trails to trace who accessed a document when they did so, and what they did while they were there.

Senders can also control access by sending documents directly to signers via known emails or via SMS/text to a number that the signer controls.

This is far safer than sharing HTML links or sending Word documents that might be passed around (and changed) during the signing process.

For added security, digital signatures also rely on a type of technology called public key infrastructure (PKI) and asymmetric key cryptography to ensure that a document isn’t changed or compromised after it has been signed.

Once all parties have signed, most digital signature software also furnishes a unique digital certificate which includes the date and time that the document was signed.

While this added security might seem excessive, it’s essential when executing contracts and legal documents that could be worth millions of dollars.

But digital signatures aren’t just limited to big businesses.  These same security measures are available to most consumers through electronic signature platforms like PandaDoc.

What are the benefits of virtual signatures?

Given the potential security risks around virtual signatures, you might be wondering why companies would use them at all.

The truth is that many of the dangers surrounding e-signatures are solved when using digital signature platforms, and the good outweighs the bad once those challenges are resolved.

Here’s a brief overview of the massive benefits that accompany the use of electronic signatures:

  • Fully secure and legally binding – When executed correctly, digital signatures are fully secure and legally binding. In many cases, they are actually easier to verify than pen-and-ink alternatives because most recipients send email correspondence (creating an audit trail).  Auto-generated signature certificates record the date, time, and location of the signer when they approve a document.
  • Easy to use and inexpensive – Companies that transition to digital workflows tend to save substantial amounts of money. Storage space, for example, can be very costly, especially for larger businesses that deal with thousands of paper documents. Resources spent on paper and ink for hand-signing documents also quickly add up.
  • Streamlines internal workflows – Contracts often require multiple signatures and revisions from both parties. In large enterprises, this can be a time-consuming process. Virtual signatures overcome this problem by enabling managers to give the green light to important documents without the need for any printing, hand-signing, faxing, or scanning.
  • Boosts proposal and contract close rates – By allowing prospective clients to use virtual signatures, you reduce the friction involved in the approval process. Prospective clients are much less likely to set aside or forget about contracts and proposals when they can sign them in a few seconds.

Should I use e-signatures or digital signatures to sign my documents?

Most of the time, a simple electronic signature will be enough for most documents.

If you want to use your Mac, PC, or mobile device to attach a PNG file of your handwritten signature to a document, many companies will accept that as a valid signature — especially if you create your own audit trail by having the document sent to and from an email account that you control.

While this process isn’t as secure as a true digital signature, it will be enough for most digital transactions.

However, it’s worth noting that if you’re required to sign a document — whether it’s a hiring agreement for a company or a transfer of ownership for your personal property — that document is likely to be interpreted as a contract by the legal system.

If you want to fully protect yourself, using digital signatures may be the best way forward.  Plus, you don’t even have to pay for the added protection. 

By signing up for the PandaDoc Free eSign plan, you can upload documents, add signature fields, and sign PDFs with confidence.

How to create a virtual signature

While we do recommend using the free tools that PandaDoc provides to create secure digital signatures, you can also follow the steps in any section below to create a virtual signature in the software of your choice.

Keep in mind that these signatures may lack the functionality and support required to be truly secure.

Google Docs

To add an e-signature to your Google Docs document, we will use the Drawing tool. Just follow the simple steps below:

  1. Get started by placing your cursor in the area of the document where you want the signature to appear.
  2. Select Insert on the top toolbar, then select Drawing> +New.  The in-app Drawing tool will pop up in front of your Google Docs document.
  3. Inside the Drawing tool, select the Line tool > Scribble, then hand-write your signature using a mouse or trackpad.  This can also be done on an iPhone, iPad, or Android device if you want to use a touchscreen (and stylus, if you have one!) to draw your signature.
    1. Alternatively, you can input and format a typed signature using the Text box tool.
  4. Click Save and Close.
  5. The image will appear within your document.  Use the handles at the edge of the document to reshape and resize your signature image to suit your needs.

You can now download the document from your Google Drive account as a PDF document or Microsoft Word document using the File and Download options.

Reusing your signature

Your hand-drawn signature will be available for later use without the need to redraw it. You’ll simply need to add it to your document, then drag and drop it to the appropriate location.

This can be useful if you’re signing multiple documents or if you need to create document templates with an embedded signature.

All you’ll need to do is create a copy of the document with the signature already embedded each time you want to generate a new document.

Microsoft Word

Adding a virtual signature to a Microsoft Word document is a straightforward task. Follow the instructions below or follow the step-by-step guide (with images) found here:

  1. Place the cursor where you’d like your signature line to go in your Word document.
  2. Go to the Insert tab and under “Text” click “Signature List,” followed by “Microsoft Office Signature Line“.
  3. Complete the fields about signature details in the setup box that pops up and select your preferences for the signature box.
  4. Right-click on the signature box in the document
    1. Click “Select Image” to choose an image of a signature that you have already saved.
    2. Alternatively, if you’re using a touch screen, you can hand draw your signature into the box.
    3. Or type a printed version of your name directly into the box.

To simply add a text rendering or image of your signature, take a look at this guide.

Add virtual signatures to Word documents using PandaDoc

If you need something more secure, you can use the step above to create a digital signature in a Word document, provided that you have a digital certificate.

You could also create your own certificate, but this may not stand up to legal scrutiny.

If you haven’t purchased a digital certificate but want the added legal protection that comes from using digital signing methods, consider using PandaDoc to add a digital signature to your Word Docs.

Sign documents effortlessly with PandaDoc

As we mentioned earlier, we believe that PandaDoc is the safest, fastest, and most secure way to digitally sign your documents.

Our software tools are efficient and are equipped with added security, whether you’re using our desktop platform or our mobile app to get things done.

You’ll also have access to a suite of additional tools to create, track, and improve your documents.  For paid users, you can even create documents inside PandaDoc, build effective templates for reuse, and take advantage of automation tools to create, sign, and send contracts at lightning speed.

Explore everything that PandaDoc has to offer by signing up for a free 14-day trial.