Free Digital Signature Versus an Electronic Signature

What’s the difference between a “digital signature” and an “electronic signature”?

Digital signatures are a type of electronic signature. Digital signatures leverage a type of encryption called public key infrastructure (PKI) to associate a signer with a document and to protect the signed document.

Learn more details about how digital signatures work.

Do I need to create a digital signature?

The terms “digital signature” and “electronic signature” are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually different. Both types of signatures are created online and are applied to online documents. However, digital signatures provide an extra level of security by using technology that encrypts the signature and ensures that the person signing is who they say they are. The good news is that, in many cases, you don’t actually need a digital signature. There’s a good chance that the document you want to sign or to send for signing can simply use an electronic signature instead.

When should I use a digital signature versus an electronic signature?

If you’ve received a document for signing, such as a PDF or Word document, in many cases a standard electronic signature is appropriate. If you’re uncertain about which type of signature is required, consult with legal counsel. For information about eSignature guidelines around the world, review DocuSign’s general global guide to the legality of electronic signatures.

If you're sending a document, your decision between an electronic or digital signature could be based on the importance of your document and the likelihood of legal challenges to the signature. Some industries and some countries require digital signatures on certain types of documents and may even require handwritten (wet ink) signatures or notarial seals on others. To be certain, consult with legal counsel. You can also review DocuSign’s general global guide to the legality of electronic signatures.

The good news is that it’s easy to sign online with a digital signature or an electronic signature—for free.

What’s the difference between a “digital signature” and a “digital certificate”?

A digital certificate is an electronic document which is used as part of the digital signing process. It contains part of the electronic key which is used to ensure the identity of the signer. Digital certificates are issued by Certificate Authorities, organizations which are also called Trust Service Providers and which are accepted as safe and reliable issuers of digital certificates. DocuSign is a Certificate Authority and issues certain digital certificates. Some industries and countries require specific Certificate Authorities whose digital certificates should be used for digital signing in that industry or country.

Can I add a digital signature to a PDF, Word document, and other types of files?

You can use a digital signature on most forms of online documents, but some eSignature providers make it easier than others. For example, to electronically sign a document using Adobe Acrobat, you probably have to convert the file to a PDF. DocuSign, as the leading eSignature brand, allows you to upload and eSign a wide variety of file types—including PDFs and Word documents.

How do I use a free digital signature?

Add a free digital signature to a document using DocuSign. Just sign up for a free trial at To use digital signatures, choose Enterprise. After signing up, you can upload your PDF, Word document, or other electronic document and sign it with your digital signature.


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