Hardly a day goes by that I am not asked to sign a document and return it. Most of these documents come to me via email as attachments. In some cases it is a nice fillable PDF form, but often it is a Microsoft Word document with a series of underscores made to look like form fields to indicate where I am to place my signature and provide other information. To keep this “form” in Microsoft Word and fill it in I would spend a lot of time reformatting the document as one cannot actually fill in the fields, but rather it just pushes the underscore line out of the way. You’ve all done this and you know how frustrating this can be. You can print it out, fill it in, scan it back and email it to the requestor. However there are other ways to accomplish this task more efficiently.
Signing PDF Documents
Depending on how many form fields are on the document, one of the simplest ways to accomplish this task is to save the document to PDF and fill in the fields using Adobe Acrobat’s “Add or Edit Text Box” feature, F/K/A the Typewriter Tool. Other PDF tools like FoxIt Reader and Nuance PDF Converter provide similar functionality. However, to apply your signature as if you had signed the document with a pen, you’ll need to create a transparent signature stamp to apply to the signature field line. In this video I have step by step instructions to create an image file of your signature with transparency. Why transparency? So you don’t overwrite the line and it looks like you actually did print out the document out and sign it.
Signing MS Word Documents
So, what if you need to keep the document in an editable Microsoft Word format? Well, you can struggle with filling in the fields, but adding your signature to theWord document is a breeze. Try this:
- Open a MS Word document that requires your signature, with or without a line.
- Place your cursor where you want your signature to appear.
- Click on the Insert tab and choose “picture”.
- Select the the transparent signature image file you created using the instructions in the video above.
- Resize the image as necessary.
- To get the image to overwrite a line or other text right click on the image and select “behind text“ and move the graphic as necessary.
Securing the Image of Your Signature
Anyone who has access to your signature, in print or electronically, can capture it and reuse it. In addition to copy/paste from an electronic document they can take a picture of it with their phone, forge it, clip it with a screen clipping tool, and many other ways that are easy for anyone to accomplish. We can hope that there is a second piece of identifying information required for transactions, such as a verifying email address, physical presence, picture id, password, etc. That said, many people have asked me how to secure PDFs and MS Word documents so that the signature cannot be copied. Although most any of your efforts can be thwarted there are some things you can do to indicate that you don’t want someone lifting your signature.
If you add a signature stamp in a PDF document you can apply password security to keep someone from being able to copy content from the document with Adobe Acrobat or similar software. I’ve had a number of people mention flattening files in Adobe, but while flattening will flatten form field responses, it appears to do nothing to restrict grabbing a copy of an inserted image. In MS Word I can find no way to keep someone from copying a graphic signature, even in read only mode, other than printing it out and scanning – which defeats the purpose. Please let me know by writing in the comments if you have a tested method to secure an image from copying in MS Word.
Another option you have is to use an electronic signature workflow tool. Many let you sign as the intiator of the workflow, in addition to collecting signatures from other parties. Companies like Adobe Echosign, DocuSign and RightSignature make it easy to upload documents, mark required fields and signature blocks, send to signers and reviewers, and ultimately allowing you and clients to “sign” electronic document with a mouse or stylus similar to signing for an express package from UPS or FedEx. These companies are developing apps for tablets as well as iPhones. As with any technology used to share confidential information make sure you are comfortable with the security and privacy that the vendor has in place, and consider regulatory requirements for certain types of documents. That said, many lawyers have found ways to make these services work for them and their clients.
Check your applicable laws about requirements for “wet” (print) signatures, but you will find they are few and far between. Do yourself a favor, speed up your workflow and apply signatures to documents in a few easy clicks.