Need to sign a document and email it? Don’t print, sign, and then scan it back in again. Skip the entire process and apply your signature electronically. It saves time and you don’t need a printer or scanner.
All the below tools also let you type words into a document, so you can fill out forms without printing them first. This even works if the form isn’t “fillable” — type words and position them in a place that looks correct.
Adobe Reader does a great job of this on Windows. You can sign a piece of paper and hold it up to your laptop’s webcam. Adobe Reader will capture that signature and turn it into a digital image, allowing you to easily apply it to PDF documents in the future. You only need to capture your signature in this way once — every future document you sign is just a matter of a few clicks. This happens entirely on your computer; you don’t need to use any of Adobe’s cloud services.
The Preview application included with Mac OS X has integrated document-signing features. Thanks to the excellent trackpads integrated 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 in with your webcam, if you prefer creating your signature the old-fashioned way
iPhone & iPad
You’ll need a third-party app for this on your iPhone or iPad. There are many different apps for electronically signing PDFs on the app store, including Adobe’s own Adobe Acrobat DC app (formerly Adobe Reader). It works similar to how it does on the desktop.
Just long-press somewhere in a PDF document in the app, select Signature, and draw your signature. You don’t have to sign up for Adobe’s “Document Cloud” or pay for anything like that to use this feature — it’ll just work with any PDF.
Other apps like CudaSign, SignEasy, and HelloSign are also available. However, these generally require a per-signature payment or a monthly fee. The signature feature in the Adobe Acrobat DC app is completely free.
Android also offers a variety of third-party apps that can electronically sign documents. As on an iPhone or iPad, you’ll probably just want to install the Adobe Acrobat DC app (formerly Adobe Reader), which has this feature built-in.
The app works just like on iOS — open a PDF, long-press somewhere, and tap Signature to add a signature. You can draw the signature on your screen with a finger.
You’ll find fancier signature apps like DocuSign and SignEasy on Google Play for Android, too. Like on an iPhone or iPad, these apps generally want you to pay on an ongoing basis for the privilege of signing documents. Just use Adobe’s app instead.
Chromebooks rely on web-based software, so you’ll need to use one of the fancier web-based services for this. HelloSign works quite well for this — so well that we recommended it even to Windows users who didn’t feel like using Adobe Reader. It’s a slick application. It also provides integration with Google Docs and Gmail — there’s a good chance you’re already using these services and might appreciate this as a Chromebook user.
The only downside is the price. The free version of HelloSign limits you to three signatures per month, and you’ll have to pay extra if you want to go above that. Still, if you only need to sign the occasional document a few times a month at most, HelloSign will be completely free for you, so it’s a good option.
This is a bit tougher on Linux, as the official version of Adobe Reader for Linux was discontinued. Even the old, out-of-date versions available for Linux don’t have this functionality, nor do popular integrated PDF viewers like Evince and Okular.
The best way to do this is probably to use Xournal. This tool can annotate PDFs, adding images to them. First, you’ll need to create an image of your signature — sign a piece of paper, scan it into your Linux system, and clean it up. You could potentially just capture a photo of it with your webcam or smartphone’s camera, too. You may want to tweak it in the GIMP so it has a transparent background, or just make sure you sign a white piece of paper and that the background is entirely white.
Install Xournal from your Linux distribution’s software-installation tool, open the PDF, and click the Tools > Image menu option. This will let you insert the image of your signature, and you can reposition and resize it as necessary so it fits in the signature field.
Having to actually scan and create an image file is a little bit annoying, but you can use this method to quickly sign documents in the future after you’ve gotten a good image of your signature.
You probably regularly sign screens when paying for things with your credit card. Thanks to Square and similar services, there’s also a good chance you’ve signed a smartphone or tablet screen with your finger while paying for something. The next time you need to sign a document, you can sign it electronically in the same way.