illustration of a pen for article about signing pdfs

In this guide to signing PDFs online, we explain the difference between esignatures and digital signatures and show you how to add an electronic signature to a PDF easily online. We present this information as educational, not legal; if you need to sign a legal document, you should consult an attorney or someone who is qualified to give legal advice. 

If you’ve received a document over the internet and been asked to sign it before sending it back, you might wonder, how do you sign a PDF online? This may sound impossible – how can you put your signature on something that isn’t physical? But the electronic signature process is actually quite simple. In fact, you’ll find that it’s far easier than printing out, signing something, and then scanning it to send out.*

In this article, we’ll be going through the difference between an electronic and digital signature, so you can get started easily signing your documents online.

What Is An E-Signature?

There are plenty of examples of documents that require an acknowledgement or verification, including a physical, actual signature. For example, you might compose a formal letter and want your signature beneath your name at the bottom, or, a parent might be asked to sign a permission slip for their child’s field trip. 

Whatever the reason may be, an electronic signature, or e-signature (esignature) is an image of your signature that’s placed onto a PDF document that may be used for many non-legal purposes. An e-signature can be a verification that you approved the information in a PDF document. For less sensitive documents that just require the signer’s approval or acknowledgement, an e-signature may suffice.*

An e-signature can be just a picture of your signature or a scanned document that already has your written signature on it. You import the signature onto a document that you need to sign with a resource like PDF.Live’s electronic signature tool. Alternatively, you can draw your signature with your mouse and the signing tool will put the drawn signature onto the document. 

What Is a Digital Signature?

If you need to sign a more sensitive document or contract, you may need a digital signature. Getting one of these is a more complicated process, as a digital signature uses a mathematical algorithm to verify that the signature you provided is verifiably yours. You can think of the digital signing process as similar to getting a virtual fingerprint. It’s much more complicated, but also more secure than an e-signature. PDF.Live does not provide digital signature services, which are typically offered through financial institutions, legal firms, and other businesses that handle sensitive documents.

Some examples of cases in which you’d need a digital signature are:

  • Credit card/financial documents
  • Legal documents
  • Contracts (real estate sales)

If someone sends you a document and requires a digital signature, they’ll typically send you the document through a third-party verified and highly secure service such as SigniFlow, Docusign, PandaDoc, Eversign, and HelloSign. Likewise, if you have a document that needs to be digitally signed (encrypted and secured), those services are also worth checking out. Most offer one-time use fees or very low priced individual plans that can be canceled at any time.

How To Electronically Sign A PDF File

For other non-legal documents that need your signature, you can do that using PDF.Live’s esign tool. 

  1. First, sign into PDF.Live with your Google or email account. 
  2. Then, find the document that you need to sign. Then, drag and drop it into PDF.Live’s electronic signature tool. Click “Sign PDF.”
  3. You will be taken to PDF.Live’s PDF editor and will receive a prompt to either draw your signature with your mouse or import a separate document that has your signature. This second document can be a JPEG or PDF picture that you’ve taken with your phone of your physical signature.
  4. After drawing or importing your signature, you’ll then be able to place the signature anywhere you want on the imported document. You can resize the signature as necessary. Click the check mark when you’ve got it in the right place. 
  5. Now you can export your signed document as a PDF!
screenshot of someone signing Mom in pdf live's sigature tool

How To Save Your Signature File In a PDF

Once you’ve signed the document, you can explore PDF.Live’s editing tool to make any other necessary changes to your PDF. 

If you’re happy with the document that you’ve created, you can select the “Home” tab and press “Download.” The PDF editor will give you the signed document as a file called “download.pdf” that you can then open to see your signed document.

Digital Signature vs Electronic Signature: Which is Better?

Use a digital signature when you need to sign a legal document, or when you need to protect the document and its information through an encrypted, secure platform. Examples include: closing documents for a real estate purchase, employment contracts, lawsuit settlements, selling high-ticket items, and some government documents.** 

Use an electronic signature on documents that require lower security. For example, a landscaper might send you a quote to do some work and ask you to initial the quote before beginning work. You can also use esignatures for greeting cards, letters of recommendation, and miscellaneous correspondence. 

*The signature feature from PDF.Live does not meet the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000 (ESIGN) or of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). 

**The information in this article and throughout PDF.Live’s website is for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be taken as professional legal advice.