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The Difference Between Digital & Electronic Signatures

by Ayla El Assaad

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.

Learn about the difference between electronic and digital signatures. We’ll also talk you through their legality, pros, and cons.

In our modern, digital workplace, we’ve become accustomed to doing almost everything electronically. Even the process of signing contracts and other types of documents has moved away from pen and paper and towards stylus and trackpad, or mouse and screen. While this is all very convenient and efficient, it’s important to understand what it is we’re doing and how it works. Especially when you’re in a position to decide when and how to implement e-signature software, you’ll need to know what types of signatures there are and which requirements you need to meet to make the transition to electronic signing a success.

The two most popular and relevant types are digital signatures and electronic signatures. Before we take you through them, let’s dive into the process of signing itself.

What Is Digital Signing?


Digital signing, or e-signing as some people call it, is the process of signing a digital document as opposed to the traditional method of physically signing a printed document or contract. Usually, documents for digital signing are shared via email. The people involved aren’t bound to computers, either. Often, they use tablets or mobile phones to sign with a stylus or even the tip of their finger, thus tracing their signature on the device.

What Is an Electronic Signature?


Simply put, an electronic signature, or e-signature is a reproduction of your handwritten signature in electronic format on a digital document. There are several types of electronic signatures. The difference between them is typically linked to the security requirements and the type of data they carry.

Is a Digital Signature Better Than an Electronic Signature?


Digital signatures are an advanced form of electronic signatures with increased security features. These features safeguard the authenticity of the signee and ensure the document wasn’t tampered with or manipulated.

When a document is signed with a digital signature, a certificate issued by an official certification authority is generated. This certificate is unique to every signee and can be used to verify them. There are some other security features that are also available depending on which e-signature solution you use. Smallpdf eSign, for example, offers Long-Term Validity timestamping (LTV) and timeline activity management. Smallpdf is also ISO/IEC 27001 certified and GDPR compliant, and we use secure TLS encryption for all files processed on our site. Once a document is signed with our eSign service, a digital seal is placed on the file. Any changes to the document, however small, breaks the seal and invalidates the signature.

Is a Digital Signature More Legal Than an Electronic Signature?


Both digital and electronic signatures are legal, but digital signatures are more secure. The type you choose to use will depend on the kind of documents you need to sign and the country you’re signing in.

Countries have different criteria for the security levels required for different types of legal documents and agreements. It may be that an electronic signature is suitable for an employment contract but a digital signature is required for a rental agreement, for example. It’s essential to look into the requirements in your country. There’s regulation on electronic and digital signatures pretty much everywhere, but obviously requirements differ.

If you’re interested in learning more about Smallpdf’s digital signing solution, eSign, you can check it out below. The basic features are free to use, and you can also sign up for a 7-day free trial to access its Pro features, including timeline management and LTV tamping.

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Ayla El Assaad
UX Writer @Smallpdf