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How to Electronically Sign Documents on Any Device

Your digital signature on contracts, legal documents, invoices means less paper to keep

spinner image two hands reach out of laptop screens in an image illustrating electronic signatures

Sitting in a banker’s or lawyer’s office to sign a contract in person is going the way of the rotary dial telephone, and that’s only partly because of worries about germs the past few years.

Now you also can avoid printing emailed documents, dropping off overnight mail or scanning portions of legal paperwork to send a copy of your signature to the right person.

Signing documents electronically, the online equivalent of writing your signature in ink, saves time and aggravation, because you can use virtually any device — desktop computer, laptop, your smartphone or tablet. It cuts down on paper too.

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E-signatures are used for all types of legally binding agreements because they provide an electronic record of when a document is opened, signed and returned. They are the preferred form of official documentation unless someone requires your presence to formally endorse a document. Companies now have new hires e-sign job offers.

Depending on what application the sender is using, such as Adobe’s Acrobat Sign, DocuSign or Dropbox Sign (formerly HelloSign), you’ll be asked to type in your name. A computer-generated physical signature will then appear on your screen. You can use your fingertip on a smartphone, tablet or touchscreen computer to manually sign your name. You also can use the mouse on your Mac or PC, though that might be a little more frustrating.

You’re creating an electronic signature, which is fast, free and paperless. An e-signature saves the sender an average of $36 per agreement by reducing paper, printing and postage, DocuSign says. 

Signing a document in a special app

The most common way you’ll sign something electronically is through an app like the ones mentioned. These are secure, legally binding documents that you’re expecting to receive electronically.

Typically, you’re walked step-by-step through a document and instructed where to sign. These usually come either as email attachments or separate emails directly from the source. Oftentimes the sender will notify you of the incoming email.

The process may vary among e-signature platforms, but the concept is the same. And it works on both computers and smartphones.

1. Open the email and make sure it’s from a reputable source or the sender you’re communicating with, such as a real estate company or auto dealership. When in doubt, reach out to the sender to confirm this.

2. Click the link in the email or if the document appears in the body of the email, click the View button to begin. The document you need to sign, such as a contract or lease agreement, will open.

3. For legal reasons, you’ll first be asked to agree to sign electronically, so click Yes. Some platforms require you to key in the last four digits of your Social Security number for verification. After confirming the agreement, you should see where you need to click or tap to sign, often marked with colorful highlighted tags that read Sign or Sign here.

4. Using your mouse or fingertip, click or tap to sign each tag and follow the instructions to add your electronic signature or initials. Again, you may be asked to type out your name on a keyboard or to sign with a mouse or fingertip on a touchscreen device.

5. Confirm your signature by clicking Done, Finish or Completed. A message should appear that confirms you’ve successfully signed the document, which is automatically sent to the recipient. Some programs offer you the option of downloading a version to keep. Usually you’ll also receive an email with your electronically signed version.

E-signing a paper document

Sometimes an important document may need your immediate attention and signature — like a waiver to let your grandchildren swim in your community pool — but you’re nowhere near your computer or printer. This is when e-signatures sent via smartphones over emails or texts are convenient.

On an iPhone or iPad. If you have a paper document, you can use your phone’s camera to scan it. This is helpful if you need a copy for your records.

1. Open your Notes app, tap the Camera icon and select Scan Documents.

2. Line up the paper document with your camera and snap a photo of it to scan. Tap Save.

3. Tap the Share icon — the square with an arrow pointing up at the top right of your screen. Tap the Markup icon that looks like a pen tip near the bottom of the screen.

4. Use your fingertip or a stylus to sign where needed. You can use your fingertips to zoom in and out of the document before you sign. You’ll also see different pen and marker options to select at the bottom of the screen.

5. Tap Done when you’ve finished. You’ll be prompted to email it back to the recipient.

On an Android device. You can use the built-in Google Drive app to electronically sign a document and scan a paper document. If you don’t see the Google Drive icon’s colorful triangle on your home screen, search for the word drive and the app will pop up.

Remember that instructions for Android smartphones and tablets can differ slightly by phone manufacturer and version of the operating system you’re using. The following is for a Samsung Galaxy S23 and a Samsung Galaxy A32, both running Android version 13.

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1. Open Google Drive. Tap the Add icon + sign at the lower right of your screen | Scan and take a photo of the document you want to scan. If you don’t have the option to scan within your smartphone, you may have to head to Google Play to download a scanner app, such as Adobe Scan, which allows you to scan documents for free but has other in-app purchase options.

2. To adjust the scan area, tap the Crop icon at the bottom right and position the blue dots to define the area you’re scanning. This allows you to take out any surface areas and focus on the document.

3. Tap Add + again to scan more pages if you’re digitizing a multipage document and want to save it as one PDF. Tap Next when you’ve finished scanning to be directed to name your document and upload it to Google Drive or another location | Save.

4. Google Drive allows you to open a PDF in Docs but won’t allow you to sign it. If you’re in Adobe Scan, choose ⋮ More | Fill & Sign | the pen tip icon at the bottom right | Add signature +. Then use your fingertip or a stylus to write in the Sign Here area | Done. You can move the signature, temporarily enclosed in a blue box, on the page with your finger and increase its size with your finger.

Many PDF reader apps also will allow you to draw to sign your signature, including Samsung Notes, which is included on Samsung phones, and another Adobe app, Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free in Google Play.

spinner image an illustration showing someone signing a document electronically on their smartphone
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Signing a PDF or Word document

If you received a document to sign in an email or text message, open it by tapping on the attachment. Be certain that you know the source of the file and are expecting it.

On an iPhone or iPad. If the document is a PDF, tap the Markup icon that looks like a pen tip, select a pen tip near the bottom of the screen and use your fingertip to sign the document. You may have to turn the device sideways to landscape view to sign with your finger on the line. Tap Done when you’re finished, and you’ll be prompted to email it back to the recipient.

If it’s a Microsoft Word file, make sure the Word app, which you can download free from the Apple App or Google Play stores, is installed on your phone. For some, the feature you’ll want might not be available in the free part of the app, so you have two options.

Option 1. Use the Word app.

Some Microsoft plans for your personal computer allow access to extra features on smartphones, so this option may be available to you without additional charge. Try it first.

1. Touch the attachment to open it and select the Share icon — the square with an arrow pointing up in the lower left of your phone. Now choose the Word app. If you don’t see it, select ⋯ More, and you’ll see suggested apps. Scroll down until you find Word. Tap it, and the document will open.

2. The document should open in Edit Mode in Word. If you don’t see a row of icons at the top of your screen and a QWERTY keyboard at the bottom, tap on the screen until you see this display.

3. Tap the ⋯ icon above the on-screen keyboard. Then tap the blue Home button | Draw | Start Inking. Choose a pen tip near the bottom of the screen. Draw your signature with your finger or a stylus and save the document.

If Start Inking is grayed out and does not allow you to select it, you have another option.  

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Option 2. Convert the Word file to a PDF.

This is more complicated but free.

1. Tap your Word document to open it in the app on your phone. Hit the Share icon in the top right section of your screen. It looks like a square with an arrow in it pointing to the right.

2. The next screen will ask you to save your document, but instead, below the blue Save button, choose Send a Copy. Then choose Share as PDF.

3. When another screen opens to allow you to choose the app, select the Apple Books app, and your PDF copied from a Word document will open.

4. If you don’t see a row of icons at the top of the screen, tap the screen again and they should appear. From the top row of icons, choose the Markup icon in the middle that looks like a pen tip.

5. Select the type of pen tip you want at the bottom of the screen. Then tap the + icon | Signature.

6. Use your fingertip to sign the document. You may have to turn the device sideways to landscape view to sign with your finger on the line. Tap Done when you’re finished. As long as you see a blue box with circles at each corner around your signature, you can move it around the page to position it properly.

7. Tap the Markup icon on the top row of icons when you’re satisfied. Tap the icon that shows up next to it that looks like a three-line list. Then tap the Share icon — the square with an arrow pointing up that’s in the upper left corner of your screen. You can choose the Mail app to email the recipient from there.

On an Android device, you can use the built-in Google Drive app.

If you received the document in an email or text message to sign, save it to your device. Then open the Google Drive app and at the bottom right, tap the Add icon, a large + sign | Upload and select the document you saved.

If the PDF has form fields, you’ll be able to fill in what you need by tapping the Edit icon, which has a pencil symbol, at the bottom right of your screen | Form Filling. Now you can enter information into the form, Save and Share it to return the document to the person who needs it.

If the Edit option is not available, you’ll need to download and install a PDF reader app, such as the free Adobe Acrobat Reader from the Google Play Store or Samsung Notes already on Samsung phones. Many similar apps are available.

1. Open your PDF reader app. Adobe Acrobat Reader will require you to sign in, and you can do so with your Google account, which will also allow the app to access your Google Drive files.

2. Tap on your PDF document to open. Choose Draw from the menu at the bottom of the screen. Use your fingertip to sign the document. You may be asked to enter your name in a pop-up screen before going to the next step.

3. Tap on the three vertical dots ⋮ in the upper right corner of your screen to Save a copy of the original PDF. Then tap the Share icon immediately to the left of  . You’ll be asked to enter a name or email address and give permission for the app to access your contacts. If you choose Don’t allow, remember to type in the full email address where your signed PDF needs to go.

If you received a Word document, you’ll be able to open it in Google Docs, but you cannot sign it without converting it to a PDF. Once you open the document, tap on the three vertical dots ⋮ in the upper right corner of your screen | Share & export | Save As | then choose the format PDF Document (.pdf) | and hit OK.

From there, you can use the three steps immediately above to sign and return the file.

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