April 06, 2021 Mac User

Sign Documents on Your Mac Without Printing Them Out!

Brett Burney
Save the time and hassle of printing documents, signing them by hand, and scanning them again to send via e-mail.

Save the time and hassle of printing documents, signing them by hand, and scanning them again to send via e-mail.

LvNL/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Wet ink smudges should be a thing of the past . . . and so should the wasted time involved with printing out a document to sign and then scanning it back to your computer to e-mail it. You’ve got capable and nifty tools built right into your Mac that can save you time signing and sending documents without ever needing to hit the Print button!

Please E-Sign on the Dotted Line

Let’s first define what we typically mean by an “electronic” signature versus a “digital” signature.

According to the 2000 E-Sign Act, an “electronic” signature (e-signature) encompasses any electronic sound, symbol, or process that is executed by a person with the intent to sign a record or contract. This can include a simple “S + slash” (S/) with a name typed out afterward, or a scanned image of your written signature. It’s also the scribble you create on the screen at the grocery store when you pay by credit card.

A “digital” signature is a form of e-signature that carries with it some kind of digital certificate (encryption) that verifies and authenticates your identity. This is more akin to having a notary witness your signature, but without the fancy punch press—the digital certificate is unique to you and therefore verifies your signature.

You may have already scanned your signature at some point in your busy career so you can swiftly insert it into a Microsoft Word document. I know several lawyers who share the scan with their assistant so they can sign documents without bothering them. There’s a trust factor there, but sometimes convenience triumphs over safety. Here’s a method that will let you easily sign PDF files on your own and gives you a tad bit more control over where and how you apply your signature.

A Pleasant Preview

The Preview software comes built into the Mac operating system. When you double-click on a JPG or PNG image or a PDF file, it will open by default in the Preview application. You may have other software installed on your Mac to open and work with PDF files (e.g., Adobe Acrobat), which is terrific when you need to apply optical character recognition (OCR) or redaction. But I usually recommend leaving Preview as the default PDF viewer because it’s the fastest way to open a PDF file and add basic annotations.

Preview also provides you a straightforward method for applying a signature to a PDF file. Simply open the PDF file in Preview and then click on the “Show Markup Toolbar” button (a circle around a pen pointing up). This brings up the secondary Markup Toolbar that contains several buttons, one of which is the “Sign” button (it looks like the start of someone scribbling their signature). Once you add your signature to Preview, it will appear here in a drop-down menu so you can select it and place it on your document. But if this is your first visit to the signature tool, then you’ll need to click the “Create Signature” button and pick from one of three options.

Click the “Show Markup Toolbar” button (top) to reveal the Markup Toolbar and then click the “Sign” button.

Click the “Show Markup Toolbar” button (top) to reveal the Markup Toolbar and then click the “Sign” button.

Courtesy of Brett Burney

1, 2, 3, Sign Here for Me

The first option works if you have a Trackpad either embedded in your Mac laptop or connected to your desktop. Once you “Click Here to Begin” in Preview, you can literally use your finger on your Trackpad to trace out your signature. When you’re finished, just tap any key on your keyboard. I find this method feels a little odd, and I typically have to click the “Clear” button and try a few times to get my signature to look right. Just make sure you go slow, and if you have a Force Touch Trackpad (most of you do), you can press your finger more firmly on the Trackpad to create a heavier, darker line as you scrawl along.

The second option is what I typically recommend for most people: using your Mac’s built-in camera to “scan” your signature. To use this method, you first need to sign your regular signature on a sheet of plain white paper. Now click the “Camera” option in Preview and then hold up your signed paper to your Mac’s camera. Line up your signature with the blue line in the window with one hand, and when everything is level, use your other hand to click the “Done” button. If you don’t like the results, you can click “Clear” and try again.

The third method works if you’re running at least macOS Catalina and iOS 13 on your iPhone or iPad. When you click the “iPhone or iPad” option in Preview on your Mac, the screen on your iPhone or iPad will light up with a white screen and a blue line waiting for your signature. You can use your finger to sign on your iPhone, or the best experience is using your Apple Pencil to sign the screen of your iPad. When you tap “Done” on your iPhone or iPad, your signature will magically appear in Preview on your Mac.

Apply Your Signature

Once you create your signature with whatever method works best for your setup, it’s then added to a drop-down list that’s always available in Preview (and available on your other Macs via iCloud sync). So now, when you open a PDF and need to sign it, just open the Markup Toolbar, click the “Sign” tool, and you’ll see your signatures listed there. You can add multiple signatures and delete any of them by simply hovering your mouse over one and then clicking the “X” to delete it.

Once you select a signature to be applied to your PDF, it will appear with adjustable corners so you can re-size the signature to fit the line or box where you need to sign. You can also move it around to place it in the perfect spot.

At this point, you can just save the PDF with your signature intact, but I usually go one step further to ensure my signature can’t be deleted or moved around. I click on the File menu in Preview and go down to “Export as PDF,” which “flattens” the signature (and any other annotations) by saving as a new PDF file. Now you have the original file that can be modified, if necessary, and the finalized, signed version.

The Preview application can’t quite compete with the likes of Adobe Acrobat in the breadth of features, but there are a few tricks up its sleeve that justify your using it as your default PDF viewer, such as this easy method of signing a PDF without the use of a printer.

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Brett Burney is principal of Burney Consultants LLC, where he works with law firms and corporate legal departments to help them overcome their e-discovery challenges. He served as the chair of the 2015 ABA TECHSHOW Planning Board and co-authored Macs in Law: The Definitive Guide for the Mac-Curious, Windows-Using Attorney (ABA, 2018) and the eDiscovery Buyers Guide, available at ediscoverybuyersguide.com.