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Signing PDFs without printing them

Increasing numbers of organizations offer documents to be completed as PDF forms. Just open them using Adobe’s free Reader software, click the fields you want to complete and start typing.

The point of offering forms as PDFs is to help people reduce the amount of time it takes to complete forms, as well as cut down on paper usage. However, many of these forms need to be signed to be completed. If you need to print the form just to sign it, you end up using paper. And if you don’t have a scanner, you need to snail-mail the form with your signature instead of just emailing it as an attachment.

Fortunately, Adobe thought of this, and offers several ways to digitally sign PDFs.

Note: there might be a way to sign PDFs using other software that features PDF editing tools (I use Preview on my Mac all the time) but Adobe Reader is free and it’s pretty easy to use.

To digitally sign a PDF, you’ll first need to create a file that contains your signature. You can do that by signing a piece of unlined paper, then scanning or taking a picture of that paper and cropping it to the point that it contains just your signature and a little space around it. Save it in a format that Reader can recognize, like PDF, JPG, PNG, GIF or BMP.

Once you have that file, follow these steps (full disclosure: these steps are partially copied from Adobe Reader help).

  1. Open the PDF you want to sign.
  2. Click the word Sign at the right side of the toolbar to open the Sign pane.
  3. In the Sign pane, click the Place Signature drop list.
  4. If this is the first time you’re signing a PDF, the  Select Signature dialog box appears. Use it to locate your signature file. When your signature appears in the dialog box, click Accept.
  5. Click in the PDF where you want to place your signature. Your signature appears there.
  6. If you need to resize  your signature, drag a “handle” (a small box at the corner of the signature). If you need to move it, position the cursor over the signature and drag it.
  7. When the document is complete, click Finalize Changes in the Sign pane. The Finalize Changes dialog appears.
  8. Click Finalize Changes. A Save dialog appears. Adobe adds the suffix “-signed” to the document name.
  9. Choose a location for the document and click Save.

Adobe offers more information on the ins and outs of digitally signing PDFs.

Adobe Acrobat, the software used to create PDFs, offers even more signature options. Check out this video for different methods you can use to digitally sign PDFs using Acrobat.