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Paperwork no longer has to be filled out on paper to be legally binding. More and more businesses are going paperless, electronically sending and signing important documents like contracts. To do so, though, you need an eSign app.
eSign or electronic signature apps enable you to officially sign paperwork digitally. But, before diving in, there’s an important distinction to make. An electronic signature is just your typed, drawn, or otherwise digitally added signature on a document. In theory, you can add one with hundreds of apps, from Microsoft Word to Photoshop, depending on how things are set up. They can still be legally binding.
A digital signature is a special kind of electronic signature. These are the ones created using dedicated eSign apps. They use cryptography to protect the document and also embed details like your email address, when and where you sign any document, and what device you use to do it. This creates both a “fingerprint” that makes the document unique and a paper trail that can be independently verified if, say, there’s ever a court case. They’re a lot more secure and legally recognized around the world.
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably either looking for a way to electronically sign a document that’s just been sent to you or want to send documents out to be digitally signed by contractors and other business partners. Either way, we’ve got recommendations for the right apps to use. We sorted through more than 35 electronic signature apps—these are the best eight.
The 8 Best eSignature Apps
DocuSign for businesses that sign lots of things
HelloSign for integration with cloud storage
Preview for occasionally signing documents on a Mac
Adobe Acrobat Reader for occasionally signing documents on a PC
eSignatures.io for a pay-as-you-go option
Docsketch for a free-forever plan
PandaDoc for collecting payments when people sign
SignNow for small teams
What makes a great electronic signature app?
Any good eSignature app has to do a few things.
You obviously have to be able to actually add an electronic signature to a document—that’s the whole point of these apps. But, the simpler and easier it is to do, the more different kinds of documents and devices that are supported, and the deeper the integrations with other apps and software platforms, the better. While many apps can simply add a signature, we were looking for ones that were great to use that could fit into a lot of different workflows.
Most of the apps featured enable you to send a document to someone else to have them sign it. This is a really important feature for a dedicated eSign app and, like when signing a document yourself, we wanted it to be easy and pleasant for the recipient. The recipient also had to be able to do it without being forced to sign up for an account or install any apps.
We were looking for apps that will work for small businesses. You can find plenty of eSign apps with expensive plans, crazy contract lock-ins, and a focus on enterprise clients—but not on our list.
Security was a concern. Although we weren’t looking for a specific set of features, any app that could store sensitive documents like contracts needed to address it in some way. Things like encrypted or password-protected documents, U.S. or EU government compliance, and digital signature support were all enough to make the grade. (With that said, make sure that any app you use meets the compliance standards of your country or industry.)
You have to be able to check the different apps out before committing to one. This is a field crammed with different competitors, and telling the good from the bad just from their websites is nearly impossible (trust me, I know). A decent free trial—or better yet, a free plan—was needed to make this list. Priority was also given to apps that didn’t collect credit card details. They’re just not necessary.
Now, with all that out of the way, let’s look at the eight best eSign apps.
Best electronic signature app for businesses that sign lots of things
DocuSign (Web, iOS, Android, Windows)
DocuSign is one of the most popular electronic signature apps available. Getting started with DocuSign is pretty straightforward: sign up for a free trial and, almost immediately, it’s prompting you to upload a document, prepare it for signatures, and send it to recipients.
DocuSign is set up so that it’s easy to keep track of lots of different documents at different stages in the signing process. In the Manage dashboard, there’s a sidebar with an Inbox, for any documents or “envelopes” you’ve received, a Sent box for the ones you’ve sent, and a Drafts tab for ones you’re working on. There are also Quick View options, so you can, well, quickly see any documents that you need to do something to, the ones you’re waiting on, any that are due to expire soon or where the recipient failed to sign, and all your completed documents.
DocuSign also has powerful templates and reporting features. If you’re sending the same contracts over and over again, you can set up a template in the Templates dashboard. Simply upload a file (or use one you’ve already sent as a base), add all the signature and information fields, and save it—it’s much the same process as sending out an individual document and really speeds things up.
If you’re only sending a couple of envelopes a month, the report features aren’t going to be much use. You know who has and hasn’t signed their contract! However, if you’re managing dozens of contractors or freelancers, or require all your clients to sign contracts, then they can give you a useful overview of where your business stands. Click on the Reports tab, and you’ll see things like how many envelopes you’ve sent, how quickly people sign them, and the number that are still unsigned.
DocuSign also integrates with Zapier, so you can do things like automatically send a contract to someone who fills in a Typeform or let your team on Slack know when one has been signed.
DocuSign Price: From $15/month for a Personal plan with up to 5 envelopes sent per month. Unlimited documents with automatic reminders are available on the Standard plan at $40/user/month.
DocuSign isn’t the only solid eSign app for businesses that need to handle a lot of documents. Both SignEasy (from $15/month) and HelloSign (from $20/month) can handle the job too—DocuSign just eked them out on a few specifics.
Best electronic signature app for cloud users
HelloSign (Web, iOS, Android)
HelloSign, now owned by Dropbox, is one of the simplest to use electronic signature apps around. As soon as you log in, you’re presented with two options: send or sign something, or create a template. The things you’re going to want to do aren’t hidden away in deep sub-menus.
The simplicity of the user interface, however, hides some pretty powerful features. Of all the apps we tested, HelloSign has the best integrations with cloud storage platforms. While you’d expect it to play nice with Dropbox, it also works well with Google Drive, Box, Evernote, and OneDrive.
To sign a file in your Dropbox, for example, you can head to HelloSign, click Sign or Send, then click on the Dropbox icon to bring up a file browser. Navigate to the file you want to sign, and click Choose to import it into HelloSign. Alternatively, you could open the file in Dropbox, select it, click on the Share dropdown, then click Send for Signatures. You’ve got similar options with Google Drive too. You can upload a file directly from HelloSign or, with the Chrome add-on, sign files through the Google Drive app.
And all this file handling works both ways. When someone signs a document and sends it back to you, it can get saved back to your cloud storage platform of choice.
HelloSign doesn’t hold back on the other features, either. It supports custom branding, templates, and, on higher plans, advanced team management. If you want to integrate HelloSign with non-cloud storage apps, you can do it with Zapier. That way, you can do things like automatically send a contract when someone fills in a Typeform or get an SMS when someone signs.
HelloSign Price: Free for 3 documents/month with one user; from $20/month for the Essentials plan with unlimited documents
Best electronic signature app for occasionally signing documents on a Mac
If you’ve been sent a document to sign and nobody needs all the alarm bells and security whistles that come with one of our other picks, you have options. If you have a Mac, you don’t need to worry about installing any software or signing up for any services. You can sign things straight from Preview.
Open the document you want to sign in Preview and go to Tools > Annotate > Signature > Manage Signatures and click Create Signature. You can then create a signature using your trackpad, your iPhone, or by signing a piece of paper and holding it up to the camera.
Click Done, and then you can drag your new signature to where it needs to be. Save the document, send it back, and you’re good to go. And your signature stays saved in Preview for future use.
Preview Price: Included free with all Macs
Best electronic signature app for occasionally signing documents on a PC
Adobe Acrobat Reader DC (Windows)
Windows PCs don’t have an awesome built-in option like Preview, but you can still quickly sign any document with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC app—something you probably already have installed. If you don’t, download it from Adobe’s website.
Open the document you want to sign in Adobe Reader, and in the right sidebar, select Fill & Sign. Click the Sign button in the toolbar and then Add Signature.
There are a couple of ways you can create a signature: you can type your name and have Adobe Reader convert it into something that looks like a signature, draw one with your trackpad, or upload an image of your signature. Drawing is probably the easiest if you want something unique without too much hassle.
Drag your signature to where you want it to be, save the document, and send it back. And just like that, you’re done.
Adobe Reader DC Price: Free
Best electronic signature app with a pay-as-you-go option
A lot of eSign apps limit the number of documents you can send per month without signing up for one of the more expensive plans. It’s pretty inconvenient if your eSigning needs vary throughout the year. You either can’t send all the documents you need to when you want to, or you have to overpay most months. eSignatures.io, with its exclusively PAYG option, bucks this trend entirely.
As soon as you sign up for a free account, eSignatures.io encourages you to send a sample contract to yourself so you can see how the service works. (The same demo is also built into the website homepage, which is pretty awesome.) After that, things are up to you—although the onboarding wizard helpfully guides you through.
Unlike other services, eSignatures.io isn’t really made for sending individual contracts to one-off recipients. You can do that if you like, but it’s really designed for businesses looking to batch or automate their contracts using templates.
To make a template, head to the Templates tab. You can build your own from scratch, use a sample one as a base, or extract one from an uploaded Word doc. Just fill in all the legal details, add all the placeholders you need, and click Save Template.
With a template set up, eSignatures.io is almost ready to use—you just need to add credit card details. Head to Account > Billing and add them. Then you can start sending out documents without worrying about monthly fees or usage limits.
To get started, select the template from the dashboard and click New Contract. You can also upload an Excel spreadsheet of contacts, if you want, and bulk send everyone the same documents to sign. Just click the dropdown and then Bulk Send Contracts.
eSignatures.io doesn’t even need you to be this hands on to work. There’s an API if you want to code your own integrations, and there’s built-in Zapier support for everyone else. That means you can easily do things like have new signed contracts automatically uploaded to your Google Drive account or saved back to an Excel sheet.
eSignatures.io Price: $0.49/document.
Best free-forever electronic signature app
Not every business needs to send or sign dozens of contracts a month. If that’s the case, then Docsketch, with its three documents per month free plan, might be the perfect fit.
As soon as you sign up, you’re good to start sending contracts. Just click New Document on the dashboard. You can either upload a document to be signed or build a template (though you only get one on the free plan). Whichever option you take, you’ll use Docsketch’s modern and, honestly, really nice-to-use web app to add any information and signature fields. Click Send, and it’s on its way to be signed.
Now, don’t worry—Docsketch is on this list because it’s a good, easy-to-use, and fully-featured electronic signature app. That it’s got a great free plan is just a big bonus. If you need to send more documents some months, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend upgrading to a paid plan. The $10/month Personal plan gets you 5 templates and unlimited documents, while the $30/month Business plan has unlimited templates, custom branding, and a few other nice-to-have features like data validation.
If you like to automate your workflows, Docsketch also integrates with Zapier. That way, you can do things like automatically get a Slack notification or update a Trello card when someone signs a contract.
Docsketch Price: Free for up to 3 documents per month. From $10/month for the Personal plan with unlimited documents.
Eversign is another eSignature app with a great free plan. It allows you to send up to five documents per month, but the app isn’t as easy to use. Also, there are no templates on the free plan. If you want to send four or five documents each month, however, it’s worth checking out.
Best electronic signature app for collecting payments
PandaDoc (Web, iOS, Android)
Everyone likes getting paid: PandaDoc makes it really easy to make it part of your contract signing workflow, even on the free plan. You can set things up so when someone signs whatever documents you send, they enter their credit card information, and get charged. If you’re sending people contracts for a specific service or job, it’s a great way to tie everything together. You get your legally binding agreement and the first installment in one go.
PandaDoc integrates with a couple of different payment gateways including Stripe, Square, and PayPal. To set up payments, you’ll need an account with whatever gateway you want to use, then head to Settings > Payment Gateways and enable it. Getting started is certainly a little more involved than some of the other apps, but the Get Started wizard will walk you through everything.
Once you’ve got your payment gateway set up, you can add a credit card information form to any document—whether you’ve made it with PandaDoc’s built-in editor or uploaded an existing contract.
PandaDoc isn’t exclusively for collecting payments, and you can send contracts out to be signed without them. It’s just clear from the user interface that they’re a big part of its feature set. The dashboard, for example, lists the dollar value of the contracts at every stage of the signing process, and there are sections for Paid and Unpaid contracts. The three sample documents are also an invoice, a sales proposal, and a sales quote.
PandaDoc works with Zapier, although you’ll need to sign up for the $59/user/month Business plan to use it. If you do, you’ll be able to do things like integrating your invoices with QuickBooks or Freshbooks.
PandaDoc Price: Free for unlimited documents and payments. From $25/user/month for the Essentials plan with templates and document analytics.
Best electronic signature app for small teams
signNow (Web, iOS, Android)
For many businesses, paperwork is a team effort. You may need people from different departments to collaborate on, or at least check out, documents before you send them off. Many electronic signature apps charge a significant per-user monthly fee. Adding two or three extra accounts doesn’t just double or triple your costs; when compared to the single-user personal plans, it can easily quadruple or quintuple them. That’s why signNow is our favorite app for small teams. At $20/user/month when paid monthly, it’s at the more affordable end of the spectrum. And, if you pay annually, it’s just $8/user/month. As long as you’re prepared to commit to the platform and know you’ll need to work on a lot of contracts, that’s as good value as it gets.
When you sign up, the first thing you’ll need to do is invite your other team members. Click Teams in the bottom left corner, give your team a name, and then add the email addresses of anyone you want to invite.
Creating a team adds a Shared Templates option to the left sidebar. This is where you’ll want to store any templates that you want other team members to have input on or be able to use. You can also create a Shared Documents folder in the Team Settings; that way, every team member will be able to see any completed documents too.
In addition to its team features, signNow ticks all the boxes of a great electronic signature app. Signing documents is easy for recipients, you get unlimited templates for different document types, and there are even mobile apps. You can also use Zapier to connect it your other services, so you can automatically do things like track documents using Google Sheets or update original files in Google Drive as they’re updated or signed.
signNow Price: Starts at $20/user/month for the Business plan.
Originally published in April 2015 by Paula DuPont, this post has had previous contributions from Hannah Herman.
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