How To: Electronic Signature Capture Methods

A signature written on paper with a pen.

While there are many ways of capturing an electronic signature (uploaded image, handwritten signature, and typed signature), the method you might be most familiar with is to write on a pad or tablet specifically designed for signature capture.  You may have seen this before in a bank or another location where a signature is required.  Signature pads typically plug into a USB port in a computer or tablet, although they can also be wireless. This idea has been around for a while, which means that the cost of the technology is decreasing, although a signature pad can still cost up to 500 dollars, depending on the specific model and included features.  For corporate use, signature pads are typically bought in a large number, so they become less costly per unit. Topaz systems offers many different models.


Signature pads can have features such as a monochrome LCD screen, fingerprint reader (which counts as a signature), and an attached stylus pen. There are many models made for a variety of settings.  The design of the signature pad will be dependent on whether it is being used in a corporate setting.  For example, a signature pad used in a bank will be fastened to the desk, and made for high traffic use.  Because of this, it will be built with hard plastic to withstand scratches. A thinner and lighter model exists to be aesthetically pleasing with the same functionality. This model won’t be able to withstand the high traffic of the signature pad built for corporate use, but the trade-offs might be worth it for staff who carry it around a lot (ex. package delivery staff).  This model will include a cordless and battery free pen as well.


The standard electronic signature pad only shows the signature on the computer screen while a more advanced signature pad will also show the signature on the signature pad.  A large LCD screen will be beneficial in a point of sale environment because customers find them easier to sign on.  Most signature pads come with the necessary software to be installed on your computer. Electronic signature pads can work using different technology to register the signature.  These can include resistive technology, advanced biometric ID technology,  pressure sensors, or electromagnetic resonance.  Resistive technology, and pressure sensing technology are typically less expensive than biometric readers and electromagnetic resonance because they are older technology.  As technology becomes older, its market price decreases.


Alternatives to a signature pad

Although you can buy a signature pad or a tablet, there are also other signature capture methods that you can try, including using your mouse to sign, uploading an image from your computer, and typing your signature. These methods require a tablet or computer, and are a newer alternative to the signature capture pad hardware.  A good electronic signature application will provide multiple signing methods as a way to make their signature service user friendly.  The added bonus to these methods is that the document can be sent to the recipient via email.  This makes it a lot easier for the recipient to sign when they are ready as opposed to having to sign on the spot.  It is good for companies to have both options, because signing on the spot is better in some situations than signing through an email invitation.


A lot of people are concerned with the legality of electronic signatures, but these are all legally binding methods as long as they use digital signature technology to seal your signature to your document.  This involves evidence to prove that the signature is yours, such as a time stamp, date stamp, IP address etc. With digital signature technology, security and trust are created through signer authentication (proof of who signed the document), document integrity (proof that the document has not been changed since signing), and non-repudiation (the signer of the document is not able to deny signing the document).  As long as the electronic signature method incorporates these three aspects, it can be enforced legally.  PIPEDA specifies the legality of electronic signature in Canada. In the United States, a different governing body has this task.


Using your mouse to sign in an electronic signature application is legally binding as long as it is used with digital signature technology.  This method also allows your signature to look like a traditional pen on paper signature.  This is opposed to a signature method such as typing your signature, which does not resemble your signature on paper, but can still be legally binding using digital signature technology.  You can upload an image to use as your signature.  Some people prefer this method because it means that their signature will always look the same, although this isn’t necessary to be legally binding.  In this method, the signature that is used also looks like the “typical signature”. These signature capture methods only require a computer or mobile device. A mobile device with a touch screen can function in a similar way to the electronic signature pad, only with a finger in place of a stylus pen.  Many people prefer this method because it is user friendly.  It is typically the younger generations who feel most comfortable with electronic signatures in place of signatures with paper and pen.