E-Signing vs. Digital Signatures Online: What's the Difference?
Mr. Sumon
July 3, 2024
5 Min Read

E-Signing vs. Digital Signatures Online: What's the Difference?

In an era where remote work and digital transactions are increasingly common, the need for secure and efficient online document signing methods has never been greater. Traditional paper-based processes are time-consuming and prone to errors and security breaches. As a result, electronic signatures (e-signatures) and digital signatures have emerged as essential tools for modern businesses and individuals alike.

E-signatures and digital signatures, while often used interchangeably, have distinct characteristics and applications. Understanding their differences is crucial for ensuring the security and legality of signed documents in various contexts.

Demystifying the Differences


An electronic signature—or e-signature—is a digital version of a handwritten signature that indicates consent or approval on electronic documents. E-signatures offer a faster and more convenient alternative to traditional ink signatures. You can create an e-signature by typing your name, drawing your signature on a touchscreen device, or clicking a button to confirm your signature.

There are several common methods for applying e-signatures. One method is typing your name into the designated field. Another method is entering your initials to signify agreement. A third method is the click-to-sign option, where you simply click a button to confirm your signature.

E-signatures have several advantages. They are highly convenient, allowing you to sign documents from anywhere, anytime, using various devices. The process is also much faster, as documents can be signed and returned quickly.

Additionally, e-signatures enhance accessibility, making it easier for individuals with disabilities to sign documents. 

According to a Forrester report, 77% of respondents with organizations in North America say e-signature is very important or a critical requirement to supporting business resilience.

Digital Signatures

A digital signature is a type of electronic signature that employs cryptographic algorithms to ensure the authenticity and integrity of a signed document. These signatures rely on a pair of keys—a public and a private key—uniquely linked to the signer. Digital certificates from trusted certificate authorities (CAs) validate the signer's identity.

Digital signatures ensure document integrity and signer identification in several ways. Any alteration to a digitally signed document invalidates the signature, providing tamper-evident security. 

This means that if the document is changed after signing, the signature will show it is no longer valid. Additionally, digital signatures use digital certificates to verify the signer's identity, ensuring that the signer is who they claim to be.

The benefits of digital signatures are significant. They offer enhanced security features, such as encryption and decryption, which protect the document from unauthorized access. 

Cryptographic keys ensure that any changes to the document are detectable, providing tamper-proof evidence. This makes digital signatures a reliable method for maintaining the integrity and security of important documents.

The global digital signature market is expected to reach $34.8 billion by 2028, reflecting the increasing importance of secure online transactions.

Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

When E-Signatures Are Enough

E-signatures are ideal for everyday documents and low-risk agreements, focusing mainly on convenience rather than high-level security. They are quick and easy to use, making them perfect for situations where speed and simplicity are important. Some common examples include:

  • Internal Memos: These are documents shared within an organization that do not require stringent security measures.
  • Sales Contracts: Standard agreements like PDF documents involving minimal financial or legal risk.
  • Permission Slips: Consent forms for various activities or events that are not legally complex.

E-signatures are legally binding in many regions as long as they comply with specific regulations. In the United States, the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act provides legal recognition for e-signatures. Similarly, the eIDAS Regulation in the European Union establishes the legality of electronic signatures across EU member states.

When Digital Signatures Are Essential

Digital signatures are necessary for documents requiring the highest level of security and verification. They use encryption and digital certificates to ensure the document is authentic and has not been tampered with. Situations where digital signatures are crucial include:

  • High-Value Contracts: Agreements that involve significant financial transactions where the authenticity and integrity of the document are critical.
  • Sensitive Information: Documents that contain confidential or sensitive data, such as personal information or trade secrets.

Certain industries have strict regulatory requirements that mandate using digital signatures and e-signatures to ensure compliance. For example:

  • Finance: Financial institutions use digital signatures to secure transactions and protect against fraud.
  • Healthcare: Medical records and prescriptions often require digital signatures to maintain patient privacy and data integrity.
  • Education: Educational institutions use digital signatures to issue online diplomas and certificates for graduates.

Security is paramount not just in financial transactions but also in academic achievements. Digital signatures play a crucial role in verifying the legitimacy of online degrees, especially for programs like affordable online PhD programs. With the rise of online education, ensuring the credibility of these credentials becomes even more important.

Security and Legal Considerations

E-signing platforms and digital signature providers incorporate several security features to protect users' data and ensure the integrity of signed documents. Two common security features include:

  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): This requires users to verify their identity in two ways, such as by entering a password and then confirming a code sent to their phone. This added layer of security helps prevent unauthorized access.
  • Audit Trails: These are detailed records of the signing process, showing who signed the document, when they signed it, and the IP addresses used. Audit trails help ensure transparency and accountability.

The legal acceptance of e-signatures and digital signatures varies by country. In the United States, the ESIGN Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) recognize e-signatures and digital signatures as legally binding.

In the European Union, the eIDAS Regulation provides a framework that legally supports electronic identification and trust services, including both types of signatures. Understanding the legal requirements in your region is crucial for ensuring that your electronic transactions are secured and legally valid.

The Future of E-Signing and Digital Signatures

E-signing technology is rapidly evolving, with several key trends making the process more convenient and secure.

One major trend is the increasing use of mobile signatures. More people are signing documents on their smartphones and tablets, allowing greater flexibility and efficiency. This means you can sign important documents from anywhere without needing access to a computer.

Another significant trend is biometric authentication. This technology uses biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial recognition, to verify a person’s identity. It adds an extra layer of security, making it harder for unauthorized individuals to forge signatures.

Digital signatures are also becoming more advanced and user-friendly. There is a strong push to make these signatures accessible to a wider audience, ensuring that more people can use them without needing specialized knowledge.

Moreover, blockchain technology is being integrated into digital signatures. Blockchain provides an unchangeable record of signed documents, which enhances security and trust. This technology ensures that once a document is signed, it cannot be altered without detection.

These advancements in e-signing and digital signatures are transforming how online transactions and legal workflows are conducted. These technologies increase efficiency and security by making it easier to sign, manage, and verify documents digitally.


E-signatures and digital signatures offer distinct advantages and are suitable for different use cases. E-signatures provide a convenient and fast way to sign everyday documents, while digital signatures offer enhanced security for high-value and sensitive documents. Understanding the differences between these two methods is essential for selecting the appropriate tool for your needs.

As technology continues to evolve, the landscape of online signing solutions will likely see further advancements, making digital transactions even more secure and accessible. By staying informed about these developments, businesses and individuals can ensure they are using the best possible solutions for their document signing needs.

Written by
Mr. Sumon
Sumon, a seasoned writer, blends technical prowess with narrative finesse to illuminate the digital realm. From humble beginnings with code to his current role as a trusted voice in tech, Sumon's journey embodies a passion for decoding complexities into captivating tales. Join him in unraveling the ever-evolving landscape of software, where each word crafts a new chapter in the digital narrative.

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