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Tool Tip #5: Electronic Signatures

When you submitted a signed document prior to March 2020, you probably printed a form, signed it with your favorite ink pen, and used your Northwestern office scanner to capture it digitally for an email. How would you submit a signed document today from your remote office?

Electronic versus Digital Signatures

First, let’s understand the difference between an electronic signature, or e-signature, and a digital signature. An electronic signature—the topic of this Tool Tip—is simply an image of your signature. In contrast, a digital signature is more sophisticated. It is encrypted, verifiable and therefore more secure. Digital signature tools typically use electronic signatures in an encrypted, protected way. 

For most business needs at Northwestern, an electronic signature should suffice since it offers the same legal significance as a handwritten signature. It is important, however, to confirm whether your electronic signature is acceptable to the office or person receiving it.

And when you are sending documents with electronic signatures, you should send them via your University email account or University-sanctioned cloud-sharing tool.

Electronic Signatures for Mac with Preview

Preview is an application that is provided with your Mac operating system (MacOS). It is the easiest way to start using e-signatures:

  1. Open your PDF (or other type of document) in Preview. Find the Preview icon in your Applications folder: preview icon
  2. Select the “Show Markup Toolbar” icon from your toolbar or from the “View” option in the menu bar. markup toolbar image
  3. Select the “Sign” icon from the new toolbar that appears. Two options are available: two preview signing options image
    • The “Trackpad” option is available by default. Select “Click Here to Begin” to create your e-signature by dragging your finger on your trackpad.
    • The “Camera” option allows you to write your signature on a piece of paper and then capture it with your Mac’s built-in camera. Be sure to hold the signature over the line on the screen as if you were signing on that line—this is the only way the app will properly capture your signature.
  4. Edit and resubmit your signatures as many times as you wish. Once signatures are created, they appear in the “Sign” dropdown menu when you select the icon again.
    • Delete a version by hovering over the signature in the dropdown menu and selecting the x.
  5. Add a signature to any document that you open in Preview by selecting the signature from the “Sign” dropdown menu. Resize your signature by selecting a corner of the image and dragging it smaller or larger. 
Electronic Signatures for Windows (PC) or Mac with Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is part of the Adobe suite provided to Northwestern employees, but the free version of Adobe Reader also offers the e-signature options. NUIT provides direct links to Acrobat downloads based on your operating system. To quickly include a signature in a document, follow these steps:

  1. Open your PDF or other type of document in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader by finding the application via your Start menu. 
  2. Select the “Fill & Sign” option from the right-hand menu or select the “Sign” icon in the toolbar above your document. 
adobe sign icon image
  1. Two options are available: add signature or add initials. You may also select the black dot to change the color of your signature. acrobat two signing options image
  2. Select “Add Signature,” and then you have three more options: type, draw, or image. While the “Type” option allows you to type your “signature” in a variety of cursive fonts, likely you will not want to choose this option.
  1. Once your signature is uploaded or saved, it appears in the “Sign” dropdown menu when you select the icon again.
    • Delete a version by selecting the minus sign next to a signature.
  1. Add a signature to any document open in Acrobat or Reader by selecting the signature from the “Sign” dropdown menu. Resize the signature by selecting the small or large “A” to make it smaller or larger. Remove the image of your signature from the document by selecting the trashcan icon.

In whichever application you insert your signature, be sure to save your document with the signature inserted!

Next Tool Tip: Scanning with your Smartphone

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