How to sign documents in the digital age

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When you are at home or in the office, it is relatively simple to sign and return a document that was received electronically. It can be printed out, the printed copy can be signed, and then the signed copy can be scanned, converted into the desired format and emailed back to the sender.

Sometimes, however, documents require immediate attention -- even when you are away from your home or office. So what should you do when you only have your smartphone and there is a time-sensitive document that requires your signature? 

During a recent trip, I was forced to find out the answer to this question for myself.

When all you have at your disposal is your smartphone, suddenly needing to sign a document can be an unexpected puzzle, and it can be stressful on those occasions when time is of the essence and you are trying to figure out a solution on the fly. Fortunately, there is a simple solution available, even when your toolkit is limited to your Android or iPhone. All you really need is Adobe Acrobat Reader for Android, which is available free on Google Play, or the iOS version which is free from iTunes.  

If you have the type of job that often requires your signature, it might be a good idea to keep a JPEG of your signature in your photos. However, you should be aware that some companies may not accept a signature that is obviously added to a document using a cut-and-paste method. I've used a JPEG of my own signature a number of times in the past without any problems, but on one occasion the recipient returned it for my "pen to paper" signature.    

I have used Adobe Acrobat Reader to insert a JPEG of my signature in the past, and found it to be simple and effective (as long as the target document is in PDF format):

  1. Open the PDF that requires your signature in Acrobat Reader.
  2. Tap the Comment/Annotate icon.
  3. Tap the fountain pen icon on the lower right of the screen.
  4. Follow the prompt and tap the desired place for your signature.
  5. On the resulting "create signature" page, open the image of your signature. Note that you can also create a signature using your finger and the touchscreen, but when I have tried this it looked like a bad forgery. Still, this may be useful if you run into a situation where the pasted image is not accepted.   
  6. Crop the image of your signature as needed, then tap "done."
  7. Tap "done" again on the next screen, and you should see your signature added to the document. You can tap and drag your signature to reposition if needed.  

Note that you can save PDF files in Word format using Adobe Acrobat Reader. It will also allow you to convert Microsoft Office files to PDF format, so this method is flexible to use with most documents that require a signature. 

There are other options, of course. You may be able to find a local print shop such as FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos) that has printers and scanners available. Another option that many people forget about is a public library. Some libraries are better-equipped than others so this won't always work, but it may be worth a try. If you are in a city or large town, it is more likely that the library option will be viable.

Depending on where you are, neither of these may be available to you, but if you are in luck, it is an easy way to solve this problem without any significant learning curve or expense, and it doesn't even require a cell phone signal.

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