How to sign a PDF without printing

Have you ever been emailed a form to print and sign, then fax back? Ugggg, how cumbersome!

Here is a better way…sign it with a saved signature image, and email it back within seconds.

In this “HOW TO”, I’ll show you how I set up my Adobe Acrobat to do this for me. Yes, unfortunately you will need the paid version of Adobe Acrobat (not the free reader). But if you have the full Adobe Acrobat, you are ready to drop in your signature on anything. I’ll even show you how to fill in the parts where it might ask you to “print your name” and “date”, or any other form fields on the page (even if there is no native form fields built in to the PDF file).

Step 1: Sign your name to a blank piece of paper and scan it to your computer.

Sign your name as you want it to show up on your forms. Scan it using “Black and White” scan settings. And be sure to scan it as an image file (JPEG, GIF, or PNG), not a PDF file. Save it in a place on your computer that you will remember the location.

Step 2: Create a transparent .PNG or .GIF file of your signature.

The only two image formats that let your signature have a transparent background are PNG and GIF. This is important because you want the signature to look like you used a pen instead of having a white box around it. You also want to crop the image down to just outside your signature area. If you know Photoshop well, go for it. If not, use a free online editor like This is a quick and easy way to get a cropped image with a transparent background.

Go to and upload a new image by clicking FILE –> OPEN IMAGE.

Upload the image of your signature and use the CROP IMAGE function and the TRANSPARENT function in the EDIT menu. Do these one at a time. Then click Save to Computer. Make sure you save it as a GIF file.

You now have a signature file to use again and again.

Step 3: Set up Adobe Acrobat to drop the signature quickly.

I use this trick so often that I put the tool directly on my toolbar for quick access.

Open Adobe Acrobat. Choose the TOOLS menu. Select CUSTOMIZE TOOLBARS…

Under the “Advanced Editing Toolbar”, check the box next to TOUCHUP OBJECT TOOL. Also check the box next to TYPEWRITER TOOLBAR.

Click OK. Your all set! Notice you now have two new buttons in your toolbar at the top. “TouchUp Object Tool” and “Typewriter Tool”

Step 4: Give it a try.

Open a PDF document, any one will do. Try one with a signature line you want to sign.

Now click the “TouchUp Object Tool” button in the toolbar. Then RIGHT CLICK somewhere on the page. Then choose PLACE IMAGE…

Be sure to change the FILES OF TYPE to “Compuserve GIF”, so that your GIF file will show up. Go find the GIF file you made in Step 2, and open it.

Now resize it by dragging the corners, and drag the image to the signature line. DONE!!

You can now save the PDF with your signature on it.

Step 5: A few extras…typing date and printing your name.

The other tool we added was the Typewriter tool. This is an easy way to add text to you document even if it is a scanned document.

Many contracts ask you to date and print your name or title. EASY PEEZY!!

Select the Typewriter Tool button from the toolbar, and simply select the area you want to type. You can change the font size and drag it around to the perfect spot if needed. The font even looks like the old typewriter font. So cool.

Just save the PDF after you do this, and email the saved file back to the person.

A few things to remember: This is a great tool for getting simple agreements back to people that are “Of course I agree” type of documents. Don’t do this for major contracts like House Mortgage and things like that. There is the potential of someone opening the file and changing the document (very rare, and has never happened to me). If you are paranoid and want to prevent this, you can change the security setting in the PROPERTIES before you save the file. Select the SECURITY tab, change the “Security Method” to PASSWORD SECURITY and change the setting to match the below image. Be sure to put a password in the blank field before hitting OK.

Setting Security in Adobe Acrobat

Setting Security in Adobe Acrobat

Personally, I think this is an over-kill since you have a copy of the email and the document in your sent file (Which would stand up in court). But if you are paranoid, this will do the trick.

I hope you like this little time saving tip. Let me know if anyone has a better way to do this. Yes, Adobe Acrobat allows you to have a “digital signature”, but in our paper based world people still like to see a pen signature, even though the digital signature is more secure. Once you get in the habit of doing this, you can sign and send back in under a minute. Saving you lots of time in years to come.

  • Clay Nichols

    Does this work with the free Adobe Reader or only the paid “Adobe Acrobat”?
    If it only works for the (very expensive) purchased version, I’d suggest a much cheaper PDF reader that I use:

    btw, LunaPic is pretty cool.

  • Clay Nichols

    btw, LunaPic is pretty cool.

  • Bnmacdonald

    check out – I’m in Australia so it is pretty slow, but the interface and functionality of this online e-sign is really intuitive.
    - you up load a PDF
    - nominate who needs to sign (using mouse or clicking accept)
    - highlight the area were the customer sign’s
    - and you email it to them

  • patrick

    you can also sign using Tools, Comments and Markup, Pencil Tool.  it takes practice to sign your name with a mouse but most people don’t care what your scribble looks like anyway. you can only do this in the full version. Another way if you don’t have the full version is to use and then use the drawing tools in word.  Google docs has an OCR function as well that should be able to scan in simple docs and then you can sign using the drawing tools, then just export to pdf.
    good luck

  • Anonymous

    Great read!

    Another perfect tool for Mac users is PDF Signer ( It’s a great way to add text and your signature to any PDF document.

    Following great reviews and popularity on the app store, we featured a video review of it here: Check it out.

  • Christoffer

    Good tip!

    As an alternative to saving the document and being unsure if anyone will make changes to it, I would suggest printing it as a new pdf. That function also requires the full version of Acrobat, but since you already have it if you can perform the above that isn’t an issue. 

    After making the changes above, just choose to print (ctrl+p, or choose from menu), and then choose Adobe acrobat as the printer. You then choose where to print the new pdf, which actually means where you want to save the new file!

  • MartaThesh

    OMG. Just use  – free for now

  • Dun

    Wrong. There is no add image option in acrobat. Nice try liar!

  • Pwapwajohan

    Thanks! great tip!

  • PDF novice

    Love it

  • Tevya Washburn

    You can also open PDF’s in Illustrator and do the same thing there. I converted my signature to a vector so it can be resized for different docs, and not get pixelated.

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