What is an e-signature, and how does it work?

Tips & tricks
4 mins
An illustation of a phone with "e-signature" written on it in a cursive font.

If you’ve recently signed a new job contract, finalized the lease on an apartment, or confirmed a loan online, chances are you’ve used an e-signature app—or could have benefited from one.

The use of e-signature app agreements soared by 747% between 2012 to 2017. A lot of people are getting with the program.

E-signature apps are secured by encryption/decryption technology that can confirm the consent of both parties and testify to the validity of the deal. They are practically impossible to replicate or forge, making them far more authoritative than traditional paper-based agreements.

How do e-signatures work?

An e-signature app streamlines the process of signing soft copies of documents. Users save their signature to the app using methods such as writing their signature on a touchscreen device or uploading a picture file.

To sign a document, the user opens the document and tags the places where a signature is required. Most apps will help you email the signed document onward.

Are e-signature apps legally binding?

All electronic contracts have the same legal validity and standing as ink-based agreements. That’s thanks to the ESIGN Act, passed into law by Congress in June 2000.

One of the ESIGN Act’s most fervent proponents was Senator Spencer Abraham, who pushed for the passage of the bill in 1999, convinced that it would enable the growth of online businesses. America’s interest in the internet economy was at fever pitch during those days and a number of states had already passed their own versions of laws pertaining to electronic commerce. The federal ESIGN Act helped to recognise the legality of electronic signatures for interstate commerce.

While judges have consistently ruled in favor of contracts signed electronically since the passage of this act, it’s important to know that they need to be convinced of the intent behind the agreement. Plus, if a judge suspects that a document has been altered after signing due to poor security or unavailable audit logs, they might rule it as inadmissible.

So the next time you buy or sign an e-signature app, make sure that it uses rigorous technical standards and comes with a solid reputation.

7 e-signature apps to try


DocuSign boasts over 200,000 users, making it one of the most popular and robust e-signature apps in use today. It’s easy to use, and customizability is another strong point as it offers several APIs that can integrate into your existing software.

DocuSign uses a strong suite of security features to safeguard signed agreements and has been granted several security certifications across the world. Standard plans start at 25 USD per month, with a free trial available.


HelloSign includes a Chrome browser extension, making it easy to request and sign documents on the fly. Plus, native apps for both iOS and Android add to its user experience. You can make use of saved signatures for multiple documents or upload a picture of your actual signature with your phone.

In-built dashboards help track documents, including those pending signature. You can use HelloSign for free for up to three documents each month, while the Pro plan offers unlimited signatures for just 13 USD per month.


AdobeSign is a true enterprise-grade package with a price point to match. It was one of the first software companies to venture into this space, and it’s set the standard for other e-signature apps that have followed.

Contracts executed using AdobeSign can be signed from any browser or mobile device, without the need to log in to an Adobe account. Plus, Adobe’s API means you can keep pre-used signatures within other applications across the Adobe suite.

Adobe slots in perfectly with other third-party tools like Salesforce and follows global compliance benchmarks. Plans start at 29.99 USD per month for up to nine users. A free trial is included.


Docsketch offers a bevy of features including document tracking and courtesy reminders. You can also include personalized messages and other custom features depending on your choice of plan.

Embedded audit reports ensure compliance with international e-signature law, and the software comes with a free plan that lets you sign up to three documents per month. Power users can opt for the unlimited plan, which is priced at 15 USD per month. It includes unlimited document signing and templates, as well as options to change colors, images, and font styles.


eSignLive aims to provide competition to AdobeSign in the enterprise space. It offers best-in-class security features and is trusted by large companies such as BMW and IBM.

Businesses can use eSignLive both with on-prem servers (for greater security) as well as a cloud-based solution for remote workforce and third-party agreements. It’s accessible on both mobile and desktop. Professional plans start at 20 USD per month. A 30-day free trial is included.


Signable is unique in that it offers a pay-per-use option. It’s aimed primarily at European markets. It easily integrates with several third-party platforms such as Zapier and offers multi-language support for German, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Portugese, along with English.

Signable is available on both iOS and Android, as well as via email. Pay-per-use starts at 1 GBP per document, while corporate plans can go up to 149 GBP per month.


Zegal is an online law firm that offers an e-signature service as part of a broader legal package. The dashboard stores all your documents online and lets you have full control of everything you create, allowing for secure collaboration between authorized parties.

Zegal is an online service, accessible through any browser. The first five signatures are free, then subscriptions start at around 100 USD per month.

I like to think about the impact that the internet has on humanity. In my free time, I'm wolfing down pasta.