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Electronic Signature vs. Digital Signature: the key differences

Traditional pen-and-paper signatures are looking more outmoded than ever in the COVID-19 era, driving fresh interest in electronic and digital signatures. So what are the differences between the two terms?

The global electronic signature market is projected to grow from $2.8 billion in 2020 to $14.1 billion by 2026.

As e-signatures gain widespread adoption, the terms "electronic signature" and "digital signature" are often used interchangeably. However, these terms have distinct differences you’ll want to know before selecting one over the other. 

What Is an Electronic Signature?

Electronic signatures refer to verifications applied to a document electronically vs. a signature on a physical piece of paper. These "signatures" (which don't always resemble your handwritten signature) affirm agreements or transactions between people or entities. 

The electronic IDentification, Authentication and trust Services (eIDAS) oversees electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the European Union's internal market. It regulates electronic signatures and their embedding processes to provide a safe way for users to conduct business online.

Besides that, there's the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act, which is the U.S. law that facilitates e-signatures. Under the ESIGN Act, electronic sounds, symbols, or processes can constitute an e-signature, as long as it’s attached to a contract with the intent to sign. 

Electronic signatures are ideal for:

  • Government agencies
  • Banking, finance, and insurance businesses
  • Human resources
  • Real estate, legal, and consultancy businesses
  • Healthcare

Electronic signatures are easy to use via an electronic signature app. Once documents are uploaded and sent to signers, recipients can digitally sign these files on their laptops, desktop computers, tablets, mobile phones, or any other device.

After signatures are obtained, documents are time-stamped and secured with a certificate. This added security layer gives your document a unique digital signature that's legally equivalent to a written signature.

What Is a Digital Signature?

A digital signature is the technology that proves the authenticity of a document. Digital signatures require a digital certificate from a certificate authority to vet a user's identity. The certificate is bound by cryptography to the signed document, creating a unique digital fingerprint. 

Digital signatures also embed a public key infrastructure (PKI) into the signing process. PKIs generate two keys— one public and one private — to identify the signer and the entity requesting the signature. Both the digital certificate and PKI provide stringent identification and security for sensitive legal documents.

Certain states and regulatory bodies require digital signatures over electronic signatures alone. 

Electronic Signature vs. Digital Signature

Electronic signatures are digital symbols that a signer applies to a contract while digital signatures use encryption methods to authenticate digital documents. While both signatures are legally binding, electronic signatures replace traditional signatures.

Electronic Signatures:

  • Use standard methods (employee ID, email, or multi-factor authentication) to authenticate a signer’s identity
  • Verify document authenticity
  • Are equivalent to a handwritten signature
  • Use audit trails to validate signed documents
  • Are easy to apply via electronic signature apps

Digital Signatures:

  • Use sophisticated certificate-based identification methods
  • Secure document integrity
  • Are not equivalent to a handwritten signature
  • Use encryption to verify the authenticity of signed documents
  • Require third-party verification

Start Sending Secure Electronic Signatures With Sign

Are you ready to start sending electronic signatures? Signing paper documents is outdated, expensive, and time-consuming.'s Sign offers unparalleled support and includes more basic package features than any other e-signature product.

Check out some of Sign’s unique features:

  • Unlimited Users: Sign as many users as you want – no extra charges. 
  • Faster Results: On average, companies that switch to Sign complete contracts, agreements, and documents up to seven days faster, without printing or scanning. 
  • Unique Pricing Model: Pay a fixed price only when a document is completed, not when you send it. No signature = no costs. 
  • Safe and Secure: We focus on flexibility without compromising on security, compliance, or confidentiality.
  • Get Started Fast: No special software, app, or program installation is needed. Collect electronic signatures via our web-based platform or API. 

Check out Sign today. Send your first three documents free, no strings attached.

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