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How Legal Are the Different Types of Signatures?

by Ayla El Assaad

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

Learn about the importance of legality when signing, the most common types of signatures, and if they are legally binding.

Topics around legality and signing can be confusing. Add the growing popularity of electronic and digital signatures to the mix and things can start to seem challenging. In this article, we’ll take you through the basics of legality and explain the different types of signatures and their legal implications. We promise to keep it simple!

Now, let’s get started.

Why Is Legality Important When Signing a Document?

Contracts and legal documents differ from normal documents in that they affect the legal rights of a person or an entity and they are intended to be enforceable by law. All parties that sign are liable to certain conditions if the contract is breached and they can count on the law to enforce them. But, these conditions can only be enforced if the signatures on the documents can hold up as legal in court.

What Types of Signatures Exist?

Several types of signatures exist, but the three most common are traditional wet signatures, electronic signatures, and digital signatures.

Wet signatures are the traditional signatures that are produced when a person signs a physical document with a pen. This is usually unique to every person and is sometimes accompanied by a stamp on a paper document.

Electronic signatures encompass a variety of different types of signatures that are used on digital documents. This can be a reproduction of your signature on a phone or tablet—like when signing for a delivery—typing your name on a document, or even pasting an image of your signature. The important distinction here is that electronic signatures are not accompanied by a digital signature certificate.

Digital signatures are a specific type of secure electronic signature that can be authenticated and is very hard to forge. Through a cryptographic process, an algorithm generates a unique digital signature certificate or fingerprint for each signee that can’t be manipulated. This is issued by an official certification authority and can be validated with most PDF readers.

What Are the Legal Implications of These Signature Types?

Signing is an indication that the signees have read and agreed to the terms of the contract or legal document they’ve signed—they are now liable and bound by the conditions of the contract.

Are digital and electronic signatures legally binding? In short, yes. Just like physical wet signatures, electronic and digital signatures are legal and can be enforced in court. However, different countries and legal governing bodies have their own regulations and conditions; so, it’s essential to check in with your local laws.

What Legal & Security Features Come With Smallpdf’s eSign Tool?

At Smallpdf, we take your safety and security very seriously. Smallpdf is ISO/IEC 27001 certified and GDPR compliant. We use advanced TLS encryption for all documents and files that are processed on our sites and apps. You can check out our Privacy Policy page for further details.

With eSign we have added security and safety features. Smallpdf eSign is eIDAS compliant and we ensure all files uploaded to the tool are removed after 14 days. We also offer LTV (Long-Term Validation) timestamping for digital signatures; this records the date and time a signature was added to the document. Further embedded information such as the signee’s name and the validity of their signature and identity is also available.

If you’re interested in digital signing software then make sure to check out Smallpdf eSign. You can also sign up for a 7-day free trial to access all Pro features including digital signing, LTV timestamping, and timeline activity management.

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Ayla El Assaad
UX Writer @Smallpdf