Electronic Signature vs. Digital Signature: The Showdown

Ever since the ESIGN Act (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act) was passed in 2000, electronic signature adoption has been on the rise. Currently, the prevalence of at-home work due to COVID-19 has further reinforced the importance of online document signing workflows vs the wet signature, and by 2023, the eSignature market is expected to be worth over $9 billion

With the DTM (Digital Transaction Management) industry poised to grow into a $10.5 billion market by 2026, electronic signatures are well on their way to achieving mainstream adoption. As a major player in this space, you may have noticed that Aragon Research Globe named SignEasy as one of its “top innovators” in 2020 for DTM, marking our third year in a row on the list.  Despite how widely recognized electronic signatures have become, consumer awareness is still limited in a number of ways. For example, the terms ‘electronic signature’ and ‘digital signature’ are often used interchangeably, even though they are not exactly the same.

The Complete Guide to Electronic Signature Laws around the World

To set the record straight once and for all, this blog post will highlight the most important differences between these two types of signatures.

Electronic Signatures

What is an electronic signature?

According to the ESIGN Act, electronic signatures (or eSignatures) are an “electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record.”

In other words, an eSignature is a digitized version of your handwritten signature, and bears all of the same legal implications. It can be used to approve or accept the contents of a document.

What makes electronic signatures popular?

Arguably the greatest eSignature advantage is that they are easy to use. They allow users to sign documents online with the click of a mouse, or trace their handwritten signature using a finger or a stylus. They also allow businesses and individuals to process paperwork exponentially faster, eliminating the need for snail mail, printing, scanning, and hard-copy filing.

Following the sudden arrival of COVID-19, social distancing measures, and the mass shift towards working from home, eSignatures began skyrocketing in popularity: businesses still needed to maintain their operations, but in the absence of office equipment like scanners and printers, they quickly realized that an eSigning solution was the way to go. Between March 16 and April 16, 2020, SignEasy experienced a 2.4x increase in paid subscriptions compared to recent months, among many other upward trends in usage across the globe.

Digital Signatures

What is a digital signature?

A digital signature is a category of electronic signature that leverages algorithms to generate a unique digital fingerprint (AKA a “hash”) that is unique to each document. This hash can be linked to the signer’s identity and therefore prove the document’s validity.

How do digital signatures work?

Digital signatures are usually created using the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) system. These softwares use an algorithm to generate two keys (a sequence of numbers): a private key and a public key, which are mathematically linked.

When a user signs a document online, they use the private key to create a signature. The private key remains solely under the owner’s control.

During the signing process, a unique crypto code ID is embedded into the document. At the time of verification, the signer simply uses his/her public key to unwrap the digital signature code and compare it with the document to ensure a match.

What makes digital signatures popular?

Digital signatures leverage cryptography to prove the integrity and origin of each signature. This way, it’s impossible to dispute who created the original document, and whether the signatures are valid.

For an overview of the comparison between these two signatures, please see the table below.

Electronic SignaturesDigital Signatures
Use a wide array of methods – including email, employee ID, or phone verification – to authenticate signer identityLeverage certificate-based IDs to authenticate signer identity
Leverage an audit trail to demonstrate the validity and legality of a signed documentBind each signature to the document via encryption to demonstrate the validity and legality of a signed document
Easy to incorporate into existing processes and workflowsA little more complicated to understand and implement
Used for verifying document authenticityUsed for securing document integrity
Equivalent to a wet ink signatureNot the same as a wet ink signature.


Now that you know the difference between electronic and digital signatures, you will be able to make an informed decision about the kind of electronic signature software that best suits your business.

Get on board with eSignatures today and boost your productivity by signing up for our free trial!

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