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Edited by Nataly Bogorad

July 10, 2019

Digital Signatures vs Electronic Signatures

Electronic document workflow gains popularity among both businesses and individuals. But if representatives of companies and organizations are usually familiar with all aspects of electronic document management, most ordinary people may not know the details of managing e-documents.

One of the most important aspects of electronic document management is signing documents. Here it is important to realize the difference between a digital signature and an electronic signature. People often confuse these two terms and use each as if they have the same meaning. We have decided to make it clear how digital signatures differ from electronic ones.

What Is a Digital Signature?

A digital signature is an encrypted digest of the document being signed. A valid digital signature gives a recipient reason to believe that the document was created by a known source and that the data was not altered in transit.

Digital signatures are often used for e-government services, for online banking transactions, or for other private or business matters. In 27 countries – including the United States, Canada, China, Australia, and the EU countries – digital signatures are legally binding.

How Does a Digital Signature Work?

Digital signatures are built on public-key cryptography (also known as asymmetric cryptography). Using a cryptographic algorithm like RSA or another algorithm, you can generate a pair of unique keys that are mathematically linked: one public and one private.

The public key, as follows from the name, is plainly available to anyone who wants it. You can place a copy of the public key on a public key server. The private key, on the other hand, is kept private by the signer, never to be shared publicly.

Digital signature technology considers all the parties to trust that the individual creating the signature is able to keep their private key secret.

Types of Digital Signatures

Different document services may offer a wide range of digital signature solutions, based on different computational approaches. Let's consider two of the most popular document-processing tools, Acrobat DC and MS Word.

Acrobat DC

The application supports two types of digital signatures: a certification signature and an approval signature.

Certification Signatures

Certification signatures provide a higher level of security than approval ones. For documents that require certification, you must certify the documents before others sign them. If a document has already been signed, the certifying option is deactivated. When you digitally sign and certify a document, you can control the changes other users can make.

Approval Signatures

If you just want to approve a document, you can use approval signatures (the Sign With Certificate option).

The program uses a blue ribbon across the top of the document to indicate that the document is valid and the applied digital signature is true and authentic.

MS Word

Word also offers two types of digital signatures: a visible signature and an invisible signature.

Visible Signatures

Visible signatures appear as a signature line looking like a real signature, written by hand. Visible signatures are often used when you need multiple users to sign a document (for example, a contract).

Invisible Signatures

Invisible digital signatures are commonly used to protect the authenticity of a document's content without the need for a visible signature.

How to Insert a Digital Signature into a Document

  1. To make a digital signature, first, open your document in Acrobat DC.
  2. Go to the toolbar, choose the Certificate tool, and click Digitally Sign.
  3. Go to the location in the PDF document where you want to place the signature, and then drag your mouse and draw a rectangle to place your signature.
  4. In the Sign with a Digital ID dialog box, click on the required digital signing certificate, then click Continue.
  5. In the Sign as dialog box that opens, click Create and select whether you want to type, draw, or insert an image of your signature. Once you've done this, click Save to submit the signature.

What is an Electronic Signature?

According to the definition by Public Law 106-229, an electronic signature (also known as e-signature) means "an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record".

Generally, an electronic signature is simply an electronic image of your signature inserted into a document. You can do it with all kinds of PDF-editing tools including our highly recommended Movavi PDF Editor, and it is what most people expect when they send you some documents to sign.

Features of Electronic Signatures

Electronic signatures have their own pros and cons that should be articulated.


  • Two-click signature creation
  • Advanced color customization
  • A legal significance
  • Available at any device


  • Doesn’t ensure the document's integrity
  • Cannot detect tampering

How to Get Your Document Electronically Signed with the PDF Editor

To e-sign a PDF document, download and install Movavi PDF Editor for free. In the PDF Editor, open the document you wish to sign using the Open File button and click Add Signature.

To draw your signature directly in the program, set the text color and draw it with the mouse or touchpad in the signature field. Then, just click Add to submit your signature. To insert a pre-existing signature into a PDF, hit the Image button in the Signature dialog box and specify the image file you need to attach.

Electronic vs Digital Signatures – Comparison Chart

Digital SignatureElectronic Signature
⊕ Secures sensitive data associated with documents through encryption⊖ Doesn’t ensure the document's integrity
⊕ Detects tampering efforts⊖ Cannot detect tampering
⊖ Need some preparation: a digital ID is required⊕ Requires no preparation
⊖ Requires special software⊕ Can do it with any device and app

In this article we have compared two methods for signing electronic documents. We hope you have obtained some useful information from this study.

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