How eSignatures Work: A Comprehensive Guide (2024)12 min read

A man sitting in his office, happily using Certinal eSignatures to sign his documents, demonstrating how electronic signatures work

Imagine finalizing a crucial business deal with just a few clicks, eliminating the hassle of printing, signing, and scanning documents. This efficiency is made possible by electronic signatures (eSignatures), a revolutionary technology that has transformed the way we handle agreements. eSignatures allow for swift, secure, and legally binding document execution, making them indispensable in today’s fast-paced digital world.

As per the MarketsandMarkets digital signature report, “The global digital signature market size is projected to grow from USD 7.4 billion in 2023 to USD 34.8 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 36.4% during the forecast period.” This report focuses on the importance of eSignatures in ensuring secure transactions, maintaining legal compliance, and enhancing operational efficiency.

As we dive into the comprehensive guide, you’ll gain a deep appreciation for the sophisticated processes and robust security measures that make eSignatures a cornerstone of modern business practices.

The Basic Process of eSignatures
A comprehensive step by step process of how electronic signature (eSignature) works

Selecting the right eSignature platform is the first step in embracing this transformative technology. Leading options like Certinal eSign provide intuitive interfaces and a suite of tools designed to simplify the signing process. Here’s a detailed look at how eSigning works from start to finish:

Selecting an eSignature Platform

You should begin by choosing a reliable eSignature platform that suits your needs. Well-known options include Certinal eSign, DocuSign, Adobe Sign, and HelloSign. These platforms offer robust features, user-friendly interfaces, and strong security measures to ensure your documents are handled with care.

Evaluating different platforms based on their features, security protocols, user reviews, and pricing plans can help you make an informed decision. For instance, Certinal eSign is known for its extensive integrations with other software, while Adobe Sign offers seamless workflows for users within the Adobe ecosystem. Here are few features to look for while selecting the right platform.

Uploading the Document

  • Supported file formats: Once you’ve chosen a platform, the next step is to upload the document that needs to be signed. Most eSignature platforms support a variety of file formats, including PDF, Word, and Excel. This flexibility allows you to work with documents in their original format without needing to convert them.
  • Initial document review: Before proceeding, it’s crucial to review the document to ensure all necessary information is included and accurate. This step involves checking for completeness, verifying the inclusion of all required fields, and ensuring the document’s content is correct.

Placing Signature Fields

  • Types of signature fields: Using the platform’s tools, place the necessary signature fields within the document. These can include standard signatures, initials, dates, checkboxes, and other required fields. For example, you might need to include fields for initials on each page of a contract to confirm that the signer has read the entire document.
  • Drag-and-Drop functionality: Most platforms offer a drag-and-drop feature, making it easy to position the signature fields precisely where they need to be. This user-friendly tool allows you to quickly arrange fields in the appropriate spots, ensuring the document flows logically and is easy for the signer to navigate.

Sending the Document for Signature

  • Adding Recipient Email Addresses: After placing the signature fields, enter the email addresses of all parties required to sign the document. You can add multiple recipients and designate their roles (e.g., signer, approver, CC). Accurate email entry is vital to ensure the document reaches all intended recipients without delay.
  • Setting signing order: If the document requires signatures in a specific sequence, set the signing order accordingly. This feature is particularly useful for workflows that need a hierarchical approval process, ensuring the document follows the correct workflow. For instance, a contract might need to be signed by a project manager before it goes to a senior executive.

Recipient’s Experience

  • Receiving the email notification: Each recipient will receive an email notification with a link to the document. This notification typically includes a brief message explaining the nature of the document and the action required. Clear communication at this stage helps recipients understand the importance of the document and prompts timely responses.
  • Opening the document in the eSignature platform: Recipients click the link to open the document within the eSignature platform. The platform guides them through the process, highlighting where they need to sign or initial. This guided experience minimizes confusion and ensures that all required actions are completed.
  • Reviewing the document before signing: Before signing, recipients can review it, ensuring they are fully informed about what they agree to. This review step is crucial for transparency and legal compliance, as it allows signers to read and understand the document’s contents before committing to it.

Creating the Signature

Once the document has been prepared and sent to the recipients, the next step is creating the signature. Make sure to follow the process of creating the digital signature for ease of completing the transaction. This process can vary slightly depending on the platform used, but generally follows these key steps:

Signature Creation Options

  • Typing the signature: One of the most straightforward methods for creating an eSignature is by typing your name. The platform then generates a stylized version of your typed name, which you can choose from several font styles to best match your personal or professional preference. This method is quick and easy, making it a popular choice for many users.
  • Drawing the signature: Another option is to draw your signature using a mouse, stylus, or touchscreen device. This method allows you to replicate your wet signature digitally. While it might take a bit more time and precision, it provides a personal touch that closely resembles a traditional signature.
  • Uploading a scanned image of the signature: For those who prefer to use their actual handwritten signature, many eSignature platforms allow you to upload a scanned image of your signature. This image is then used as your digital signature on documents. This method ensures that your eSignature looks exactly like your handwritten one, adding an extra layer of authenticity.

Initials and Other Required Fields

In addition to the main signature, documents often require additional fields to be filled out, such as initials on each page, dates, or checkboxes. Here’s how to handle these additional requirements:

  • Initialing: Many legal documents require the signer to initial each page, confirming that they have read and agreed to the entire document. eSignature platforms make this process simple by allowing you to place your initials digitally in designated fields. You can type, draw, or upload your initials like the signature creation process.
  • Date Fields: Some documents require you to include the date of signing. eSignature platforms typically provide an option to automatically fill in the date when the document is signed, ensuring accuracy and saving time.
  • Checkboxes and Other Fields: Additional fields such as checkboxes, radio buttons, and text fields might be included in the document for collecting specific information or confirming certain statements. These fields are interactive and can be easily filled out within the platform before finalizing the signature.

Authentication and Verification

Ensuring the identity of the signer is a critical component of the eSignature process. Robust authentication and verification methods are employed to prevent fraud and unauthorized access, thereby maintaining the security and integrity of the signed documents. Here are the key elements involved:

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Types of MFA: Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification. Common methods include:

  • SMS Code: A one-time code is sent to the signer’s mobile phone, which must be entered to access the document.
  • Email Verification: The signer receives an email with a verification link or code to confirm their identity.
  • Biometric Authentication: Advanced platforms may use biometric data such as fingerprint scans or facial recognition for identity verification. This method is particularly secure and convenient.

Implementation of MFA: Implementing MFA ensures that even if one form of authentication is compromised, additional layers protect the document. For example, requiring both a password and a biometric scan provides a high level of security that is difficult to bypass.

Identity Verification

Ensuring the Signer’s Identity: Beyond MFA, some eSignature platforms incorporate additional identity verification measures to further ensure the legitimacy of the signer. These measures can include:

  • Knowledge-Based Authentication (KBA): The signer must answer a series of personal questions that only they would know the answers to, such as details from their credit report or public records.
  • Government ID Verification: Signers may be required to upload a photo of a government-issued ID (e.g., passport, driver’s license), which the platform verifies against the signer’s information.
  • Digital Certificates: In some cases, digital certificates issued by a trusted Certificate Authority (CA) are used to verify the signer’s identity. These certificates provide a high level of trust and are commonly used in industries requiring stringent security measures.

Benefits of Strong Authentication and Verification: By employing these robust authentication and verification methods, eSignature platforms ensure that the signer is who they claim to be. This reduces the risk of forgery and fraud, providing peace of mind to all parties involved in the transaction.

Securing the Signing Process

  • Encryption: During the eSigning process, strong encryption methods are used to protect the data being transmitted. Encryption ensures that even if the data is intercepted, it cannot be read or tampered with.
  • Audit Trails: Comprehensive audit trails document every step of the signing process, including timestamps, IP addresses, and actions taken by each party. These records provide transparency and can be used to verify the authenticity of the signed document if needed.

Completing the Signing Process

  • Confirming the signature: Once all fields are filled out, the signer must confirm their signature to finalize the document. This step usually involves clicking a “Finish” or “Submit” button. Confirming the signature locks the document and prevents further alterations, ensuring that the signed content is preserved as intended.
  • Automatic timestamping: Upon finalizing the signature, the platform automatically applies a timestamp to the document. This timestamp records the exact date and time the document was signed, providing an official record. Timestamps are crucial for legal and compliance purposes, as they demonstrate when the agreement was executed.

Saving and Downloading the Signed Document

  • Formats available for the final document: After the document is signed, it is saved in a secure format, typically PDF, which preserves the integrity of the document and is widely accepted for legal purposes. The signed document can then be downloaded by all parties involved.
  • Secure storage: Many eSignature platforms offer secure storage options, allowing users to store signed documents within the platform. This feature ensures that all signed documents are kept in a central, secure location, making them easily accessible for future reference or audits.

Sharing the Document

  • Distributing to relevant parties: Once the document is finalized and saved, it can be distributed to all relevant parties. Most platforms allow you to send the signed document via email directly from the platform, ensuring timely delivery. Additionally, some platforms offer integration with other business software, allowing for seamless document management across various systems.
  • Archiving and record-keeping: Proper archiving and record-keeping are essential for compliance and future reference. eSignature platforms typically provide tools for organizing and managing signed documents, including tagging, categorizing, and adding metadata to make documents easy to find.

Detailed Audit Trails

What Information is Recorded: Audit trails are comprehensive records of all actions taken during the eSignature process. They include:

  • Timestamps: Precise times when the document was viewed, signed, and completed.
  • IP Addresses: Locations from which the document was accessed and signed.
  • Actions Taken: Detailed logs of each action, such as document opens, signature placements, and field completions.

Purpose of Audit Trails: These records provide a transparent history of the document’s journey from creation to finalization. Audit trails are essential for:

  • Legal Compliance: Ensuring the eSignature process adheres to legal and regulatory standards.
  • Dispute Resolution: Providing evidence in case of disputes, showing exactly who signed what and when.
  • Security Monitoring: Detecting and investigating any suspicious activities or unauthorized access.

Ensuring Document Integrity

Encryption Methods Used: Strong encryption is employed throughout the eSignature process to protect document data. Encryption ensures that the information remains confidential and unaltered during transmission and storage. Common encryption standards include:

  • SSL/TLS Encryption: Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols protect data in transit between the user and the eSignature platform.
  • AES Encryption: Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) secures the data stored on the platform’s servers, making it extremely difficult for unauthorized parties to access.

Preventing unauthorized changes: Once a document is signed and finalized, it is sealed to prevent any alterations. Digital signature platforms use digital seals and certificates to lock the document. If any attempt is made to alter the document after it has been sealed, the platform will detect the changes and invalidate the signature.

Digital Certificates: In some cases, digital certificates are used to authenticate the signer’s identity and the document’s integrity. These certificates, issued by trusted Certificate Authorities (CAs), provide an additional layer of security and trustworthiness.

Compliance with Security Standards

Adhering to international standards: Leading eSignature platforms comply with rigorous international security standards and regulations, including:

  • ISO 27001: Certification for information security management systems, ensuring robust data protection practices.
  • GDPR: Compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation for protecting personal data within the European Union.
  • eIDAS: Adherence to the Electronic Identification, Authentication, and Trust Services regulation in Europe, ensuring legal recognition of electronic signatures.
  • UETA and ESIGN Act: Compliance with the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act in the United States, providing a legal framework for electronic signatures.

Ensuring legal enforceability: By adhering to these standards and regulations, eSignature platforms ensure that signed documents are legally binding and enforceable across different jurisdictions. This compliance is crucial for businesses operating globally, providing consistency and reliability in their digital transactions.


eSignatures are not just a convenient alternative to wet signatures; they are a powerful tool that enhances the security, efficiency, and legal validity of digital transactions. By adopting eSignatures, businesses can streamline their workflows, reduce operational costs, and improve the overall speed of their transactions, all while ensuring compliance with global legal standards.

If your organization has not yet adopted eSignature technology, now is the time to explore its benefits. Contact a reputable eSignature provider to learn more or to schedule a demonstration and begin your journey toward more efficient and secure document management.

Tailor-made electronic signatures like Certinal eSign lead this change to a more secure and efficient signature workflow. You can also refer to our comprehensive guide to electronic signature to understand its relevancy in digitally transforming world.

Book a demo to experience Certinal eSign. Or write to us at switchto@certinal.com and share your requirements for a personalized demo.

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author avatar
Senior Executive - Marketing
Yash is a digital marketer who authors articles about eSignature technology to enlighten enterprises and guide their decision-making processes. Before discovering the B2B industry, he organized online marketing campaigns for B2C companies He has a master’s degree from the Institute of Management Technology, specializing in Marketing.
Certinal - IDC

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