Digital Signature vs. Electronic Signature: Which Do You Need?

Tablet With Digital Signatures And Paper With Written Signatures Feature Image

With everything going online nowadays, from remote work to school applications and English proficiency tests, it’s a good idea to get yourself an electronic signature. Or wait, is it a digital signature? Let’s find out the differences between a digital signature and an electronic signature.

What is an Electronic Signature?

An electronic signature is like an electronic equivalent of a signing mark, much like wax seals, stamps, and handwritten signatures but in electronic form. This has as much legal power as your written signature does in many countries, including Australia, China, United States, European Union, and United Kingdom, just to name a few.

The US definition, for instance, tells that this can be “an electronic sound, symbol, or process” as long as the person who uses it plans to use it on an “electronic” document as a signature.

Man Signing On Paper Cropped Photograph By Signature Pro

Normally, electronic signatures are copy-pasted pictures over an electronic document – much like signing stamps on paper. But like signing stamps and handwritten signatures, anyone can forge it if they had a copy that they could recreate. Luckily, there’s a way to circumvent that.

What Is a Digital Signature?

Digital signatures are the mathematical equivalent of a lawyer’s certificate of true copy. It ensures a document’s origin and authenticity in a way that no other similar technology can ever match.

Digital signatures and electronic signatures are used together to provide legal consent. You will always be using electronic signatures to sign papers online while a special machine generates and verifies with digital signatures for you.

Oftentimes, you can’t typically see an electronic signature as an end-user. The simplest ones would be ID numbers. These are mathematically (or logically) generated to mean something – though it’s usually the order in which the document has been generated or authenticated.

However, different digital signatures are generated using different kinds of cryptographic techniques. Sometimes, these techniques are kept secret so people can’t cheat the system and make fake yet valid digital signatures.

Tip: If you just want to add your signature in Google Docs, here is how you can do it.

Digital Signature vs. Electronic Signature

Now you know about both digital and electronic signatures. Let’s get a little deeper into differentiating each one.

In normal business lingo, digital signatures and electronic signatures usually mean the same thing. People tend to use these interchangeably. It’s not like anyone outside of IT would ever need to think about digital signatures besides their ID numbers.

In fact, some would just call it “e-sigs.”

However, there are times when you have to use one over the other, especially during niche cases for digital signatures.

Digital SignaturesElectronic Signatures
SpeedDepends on system speed.As fast as you can copy-and paste a photo signature.
SecurityAlmost impossible to forge.Can be forged by someone who has a copy of your signature.
Visual MarksDifficult to see or understand.Can be identified at a glance
PurposeFor automated systems.For human verifiers.

Use a Digital Signature If:

  • You are sending multiple documents repeatedly
  • You don’t want to have too many people looking at confidential information
  • You are at risk for hackers and skilled fraudsters

Your digital signature comes with all the same purpose as to why people ask you to sign things all the time. It’s a formal and legal way to say that you were made aware of the document’s contents, hence you signed it. But you signed it in a digital way.

Because digital signatures are used with special software, no one has to see what the document looks like. Someone under the human resources department, for example, can send a survey form about working conditions and occupational safety for other employees to fill up. With a special tool for checking digitally-signed documents, you’ll see whether the form came from an honest employee or a cheating manager looking to change their performance review.

Good to know: Here is one good use for digital signature – to verify the authenticity of Windows software.

Use an Electronic Signature If:

  • You need a human to verify a document
  • You are requesting data from people outside your organization
  • You need legal consent

On the other hand, electronic signatures are quick, solid, and easy on the eyes.

Almost anyone who can see – even the least tech savvy among us – and look at a piece of paper and say that it’s a signature. It’s your signature and it looks like the other signatures in the other parts of the document.

Plus, you can’t expect everyone to use the same technologies to just switch to digital signatures immediately. And even the fastest of crypto-related technologies aren’t fast enough to handle a thousand people transacting within the same second.

Apps For You to Sign with an Electronic Signature

The simplest way to make an electronic signature is by editing a photograph of your signature and pasting it over the document through a word processor. But pasting can get tiring when you need to sign multiple parts of a document.

Here are four apps to help you sign with electronic signatures.

1. DocuSign

Price: $10 per month (Personal) / $25 per month (Standard) / $40 per month (Business Pro)

Free trial: 30 days

DocuSign is a powerful yet straightforward app that lets you sign multiple documents and keep track of each one. The latter makes this great for sending multiple documents to multiple people. Just keep a look out for the 50 online user limit. If it seems like you’ll be reaching it soon, you might have to avail a more customized plan that would fit your needs.

Docusign Esign Screenshot


  • Can be used directly with Google Drive
  • Standard and Business Pro plans will let you sign as many documents as you need
  • Customizable enhanced plans


  • Personal plan only lets you sign up to five documents per month
  • Business Pro plan is limited to 50 users only

2. Adobe Sign

Price: $12.99 per month (Acrobat Standard) / $19.99 per month(Acrobat Pro)

Free Trial: 7 days of Acrobat Pro for 1 user

If you are already using Adobe tools within your organization, Adobe Sign comes in with a subscription of Adobe Acrobat. You can get either Standard or Pro – both have it. The only difference is the Pro subscription lets you turn scanned documents into editable PDF files and redact information in it. Though for the higher price, you should be subscribing because of Adobe’s other services, and not just because you wanted Adobe Sign.

Adobe Tools Adobe Sign Screenshot


  • Bulk sending
  • Works with Adobe Reader
  • Lets you track and manage your electronic signatures


  • A bit difficult to set up to access Google Drive files
  • A little expensive compared to other options

3. DocHub

Pricing: $10 per month

Free Trial: 2000 documents total, 5 documents per month

If you’re in a hurry and need to sign one or two documents and be done with it, DocHub lets you do that without having to bring out your credit card. Plus, you’re pretty unlikely to use up the 2000-document limit for personal use. That should leave you with a lot of uses for its other features too, like sign requests.

Dochub With Sample Letter Screenshot 1


  • Lowest price to pay to access all features
  • Can be used directly with Google Drive
  • Best free trial


  • No discount for multiple users per organization
  • No document tracking

4. Lumin

Pricing: $9 per month (Starter) / $19 per month (Pro) / $199 per month (Business)

Free Trial: total 3 documents per month, but only lets you sign 2 documents per month

This one might appear as somewhat impractical at first sight, but Lumin has its special use case. While there is a limit to how many documents you can “finish” every month, remember that the limit refers to the stack of documents and not the number of times you can sign. You can combine these documents together to form a larger stack which counts as only one document stack. It’s best used when there’s a lot of papers to make and sign at sporadic moments in the month.

Lumin With Sample Letter Screenshot


  • Can be used directly with Google Drive
  • Has a free plan
  • Unlimited signing for paid plans


  • Redact is only available to Business plan, which is expensive
  • There is a limit to how many documents you can work with in all plans

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you create a digital signature?

Unlike electronic signatures, digital signatures are made by programs that do their own algorithms to assign you a unique number. On Microsoft Office, you can generate a digital certificate (which is contains a digital signature) by running the “Selfcert.exe” program.

How would you know if an electronic signature was not forged?

Normally, you wouldn’t. However, electronic signature services like DocuSign can let you do an audit trail which is a log of things that happened to the document, from being sent to being signed and sent back.

Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz
Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz

Terenz is a hobbyist roboticist trying to build the most awesome robot the world has ever seen. He could have done that already if he wasn't so busy burning through LEDs as a second hobby.

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