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Electronic Signature vs Scanned Signature: What's the Difference?

In today's digital world, the way we sign documents has changed. You no longer have to be physically present to agree to a contract, accept a job offer or even open a bank account. That's because electronic signatures have made the process of signing documents faster, more convenient, and more secure.

That said, there's still confusion about what makes an electronic signature valid. For example, can you sign your name on a piece of paper, scan the signature, and just paste the image into a digital file? Or is there more to it?

If you're not sure what the right answer is, you've come to the right place. Here are the main differences between electronic and scanned signatures.

What is an electronic signature?

An electronic signature is essentially a digital version of a person's handwritten signature. It's used to prove that the signer agrees to the terms of a proposal, contract or any other legally binding document. 

The use of electronic signatures is regulated by both US and EU law. As a matter of fact, more than 60 countries around the world have laws that define what constitutes legally binding eSignatures.

how digital signatures work

Will electronic signatures hold up in court?

In short, yes. However, signatures on digital documents need to meet the certain conditions to have legal validity. So, if you want your electronic signatures to hold up in court, you'll need to use software that complies with the following eSignature regulations. 

1. Identify the signer

If you ever end up in a dispute, you'll need to prove the identity of the person who signed the document. Otherwise, the challenging party might claim that the person who agreed to the terms either didn't have the authority to do so or that the electronic signature itself was forged.

2. Prove the signer's intent

Besides the signer's identity, electronic signatures also prove their intent to agree to the terms set out in the document signed. In practical terms, this means that any changes to your digital documents need to be made before signing. 

In the event of multiple signers, the document isn't considered valid before you've collected all required signatures. And if you or your client want to make changes to the terms after signing, you'll need to void the existing contract and draw up a new one.

3. Preserve the integrity of the signed document

What this essentially means is that you need to ensure no changes have been made after the document has been signed. With printed documents, you wouldn't need to think about this problem too much. After all, it's already in black and white, set on a piece of paper.

However, if your documents are in digital format, accidental changes can happen. It could be you, your client or anyone else with access to the document. And since even the slightest change makes your document invalid, you need to make sure no modifications are possible after signing.

How can I collect legally binding eSignatures?

To collect legally binding electronic signatures, all you need is reliable eSignature software. Better Proposals is compliant with both US and EU electronic signature regulations. Besides authenticating every signature you collect, we also record:

  • The signer's email address
  • The date and time the signature was provided
  • The IP address of the signer

In addition to that, we make sure you preserve the integrity of every document by locking the content after signing. This means that neither you nor your team can make any accidental changes to your signed documents.

better proposals electronic signature compliance

What is a scanned signature?

A scanned signature is a digital image of a person's handwritten signature. Anyone with a scanner or a phone can create one. All you need to do is sign your name on a piece of paper, scan it or take a picture, and you're done. From there, you can just paste the image file of your signature into PDF or Word documents, right? 

Well, yes - if you're doing it for the fun of it. But if you use this method to sign important documents, you need to know that a scanned signature holds no legal validity. 

To create a legally acceptable electronic signature in a Word or PDF document, your client needs to have their own digital signature certificate. The scan of their signature without the digital signature certificate leaves you open to legal disputes.

Are scanned signatures legally binding?

Scanned signatures are not legally valid. This is because it's impossible to prove both the identity and the intent of the signer. 

Think about it: anyone with access to any document containing your handwritten signature could simply scan it. After that, they could just paste it into whatever document they choose. Scanned signatures are easy to forge, which is exactly why pasting an image of a signature into a document won't hold up in court.

better proposals contract templates

Are scanned signed documents legal?

If you have physical documents signed on a piece of paper, you might want to transform them into a digital format by scanning. But if a scanned signature isn't considered valid, what does that mean for your newly scanned documents?

In most cases, a document signed by hand is considered to be the original. Should you then scan that document, its digital version becomes the copy of the original. Now, if you're keeping contracts for archival purposes and don't expect any disputes to arise, you can safely get rid of physical copies once you've digitized them.

However, if it's a newer contract containing a handwritten signature, your best bet is to keep both copies. That way, you can prove your digital copy is the same as the original one in case of a dispute.

Can a handwritten signature become an electronic signature?

Yes, you can take your handwritten signature into the digital world by creating it using an electronic signature platform. While most eSignature software allows you to sign documents by typing in your name, some also allow clients to draw their signatures.

For example, Better Proposals has both the option of typing and drawing a signature into the signature block. That way, your clients can choose to sign documents using a digital handwritten signature they can create using their mouse or trackpad.

better proposals handwritten electronic signature

Final thoughts

While both electronic and scanned signatures are digital signature representations, there are major differences when it comes to legal validity. At the end of the day, a scanned signature is just an easily manipulated signature image that anybody can copy. For that reason, scanned signatures are not secure and are considered legally invalid.

Electronic signatures, on the other hand, involve specialized electronic signature software that complies with relevant regulations. Besides letting you sign contracts and other important documents, online signature software also lets you easily resolve any potential disputes.

Paper cuts and ink smudges? No, thanks.

Sign up for Better Proposals and start collecting legally binding digital signatures. Your clients will love you for it.

Patricija Šobak's profile image
Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.