What is an electronic signature?

Optimizing your workflow is one of our top priorities at pdfforge. If you have read some of our previous articles, you know that features like Automatic Saving of PDFs of PDFs and User Tokens can save you a lot of time when working with PDF files. In this article we talk about another time and money saving feature, one that integrates a process from the non-digital world into your workflow electronically. We are talking about electronic signatures, also known as e-sign.

The process of printing, signing, scanning and sending the document belongs to the past. Instead you can prepare, send and track your document for e-sign directly in PDF Architect. This works for both single signers and multiple signers, as well as with single and multiple documents.

It might be interesting to know that there is a difference between electronic signatures and digital signatures. The term electronic signature describes the process of collecting e-signatures, while a digital signature is the actual signature you create to electronically sign a document. Digital signatures use mathematical algorithms to create a unique digital fingerprint, which is as good as impossible to calculate for anyone but the owner.  If you come across the term online signature you should note that this is not a fixed term but can mean anything from drawing your signature on your screen to even a real signature. Therefore, it is important to be very aware of what exactly the product can do before purchasing it.

How do you create an electronic signature?

As the document owner, you create an e-sign package with PDF Architect, in which you define the workflow steps, documents and persons involved in the process. For the Advanced Send Feature, this works as follows:

  • Download PDF Architect (14-day trial version available)
  • Select one or more documents that need to be signed
  • Enter name and e-mail address of the signers
  • Add a signature field to define where the signature will be placed on the document
  • Optionally, add other fields like e.g. date or the signer’s company to the document
  • Define a time limit and an order in which you want the signatures to be executed
  • Select whether you request any other documents or details from the signer
  • Click on Send Package to e-mail it to all signers
ESign Screenshot
ESign Screenshot
ESign Screenshot

If you are wondering what an electronic signature looks like, you may be surprised to hear that the visual representation when you sign files electronically is, in fact, not necessary. However, we are so used to seeing the signature on paper, that there are actually three different ways in which you can sign a document online: You can choose a template signature, upload an image of your signature or draw the electronic signature with your mouse.

ESign Signature

The monitoring of each signing process is easily done via your Inbox in PDF Architect. Here you can see who has already signed the document, send out reminders and download all files. You will also receive an e-mail once the signing process has been completed and each signature has been added.

ESign Inbox

Is an electronic signature valid and legally binding?

There are different regulations for the validity of electronic signatures depending on the country you live in. In the European Union it is regulated through the eIDAS that advanced electronic signatures can identify the user and are uniquely linked to the signer. The signer needs to have the sole control of the electronic signature creation data and the signature needs to be attached to a document in such a way that it becomes invalidated if the content is subsequently changed. In 2000, the ESIGN Act was passed in the United States, making e-signatures legal.

However, there are exceptions regarding the type of document, for example within employment law. Resignation letters and temporary contracts, for example, are some of the documents for which e-signatures are not valid. Therefore, we advise to always check the individual laws for e-signatures and the type of document for your location.

IIn PDF Architect, the owner of the e-signature document receives an "Electronic Evidence Summary" that keeps precise records of each step in the signing process, including the time and date of when the files have been viewed, signed, and confirmed by each single person. At the end of the e-sign process there will automatically be added an authenticity certificate to the document by LULU Software as an entrusted certification authority.

A last tip from us: If you are in doubt and exchange documents on a regular basis it is helpful to have a framework agreement that regulates the legal validity of the electronic signatures. This, of course, requires one last visit to the post office but after that a lot of time will be saved.