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Does it really matter how your e-signature looks like on a document?

We are so used to handwritten signatures and sign in wet ink that it has become almost inconceivable not to see signatures at the bottom of a page. E-signatures are the digital counterpart of our signatures on paper, so we might be inclined to believe that is it equally important to see the mark of an e-signature on a document. Is this right or it is just a myth?

The legal value of your e-signature appearance on a document

Most of the e-signature online tools give you the possibility to create and design how your e-signature looks like on a digital document. The image of the signature and its elements are fully customisable. The end result usually includes the full name of the signer, the date and time of when the signature was applied, the company name and the location. Signers can choose to upload and complement the image with a logo, image or even the scanned image of their handwritten signature to make it more personal. You can see how it looks like here. At the end, the e-signature can resemble with the signature we are used to see on papers. This is a nice feature, but what is its legal value?

From a legal standpoint, the e-signature appearance would not stand in court. Seeing an image of a signature on a digital document does not automatically bring any assurance over the identity or consent of the signer. In case of legal dispute, you may need to bring extra evidence to prove who and when signed that document. Just as much, if you do not see the e-signature watermark on a document it does not mean that that document is not signed correctly. How is this possible?

An electronic signature is different from a handwritten signature

When you sign electronically a document, the system generates a unique code (known as a “hash”) linked to the document. The hash is a series of characters that act like an identifier of the document. It also combines data regarding the certificate of the signer (its identity, validity, issuance etc.). If anything in the document, even a space, changes after e-signature, the hash does no longer corresponds to the original signed documents, so the e-signature becomes invalid. The process is rather technical and automatic; not visible to the naked eye.

You do not need an e-signature watermark or visual to have the confirmation that the signing process was successful. For this, you have two options:

  • either check the correctness of the signature in public available tools such as Adobe Reader or the Digital Signature Service (DSS) Demonstration WebApp
  • or appeal to an e-signature validation service if your needs are more business-like. It will check the signers’ e-signatures and provide reliable reports over their trustworthiness.

To sum up, the e-signature appearance is meant to recreate something that is so familiar to us. It offers a feeling of reassurance and comfort to both signers and users, but it does not bear any legal importance. What really matters are the cryptographic algorithms and elements behind the creation of an e-signature.



Disclaimer: The above represents LuxTrust’s understanding of the relevant law or regulation and should not be taken, relied on or interpreted as a legal opinion. Customers are encouraged to seek independent legal advice before acting on this information.

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