Digital Signatures vs Wet Signatures: What's the difference?

Signatures are a way to indicate that a person has agreed to a particular document or contract. For most of human history, wet signatures (aka “physical signatures”) were the only option available. But thanks to technical advancements, digital signatures have become increasingly common.

Below, we’ll compare digital signatures vs. wet signatures and discuss the benefits of using the former.

What are wet signatures?

Wet signatures are the traditional way to sign documents. This is where a person physically signs a document by e.g. using a pen. The name “wet [ink] signature” actually comes from the ink on the page.

The signature is a unique representation of the person's identity and is legally binding when determining the original identity of the signer. Throughout history, wet signatures have been widely used and accepted for all kinds of documents and contracts in various settings.

What are digital signatures?

A digital signature is an electronic alternative to the physical way of signing documents. Such a signature is uniquely tied to a person’s digital identity. Digital signatures have been developed to make signing digital documents more efficient and secure, helping to better verify the identities of everyone involved. In recent years, digital signatures have become increasingly common as replacements for wet signatures in particular use cases.

Digital signatures are more secure than wet signatures as they provide the possibility to verify the authenticity of the signer. That’s because Public Key Infrastructures (PKIs) are used in digital signatures, creating digital certificates that connect a produced signature to an actual identity.

Furthermore, trusted timestamping is also a key security component in digital signatures that follow PKI as it proves that a signature existed at a given time. Trusted timestamping effectively protects the signature from being changed.

From this perspective, digital signatures are quite unique in comparison to wet signatures since the identity of a digital signature will always be verified and the time of the signature will be known.

Why choose digital signatures over wet signatures?

There are a number of reasons to pick a digital signature over a wet signature.

1. Convenience

Digital signatures are highly convenient compared to wet signatures. You can sign documents from anywhere, at any time. This lets people digitally sign documents without having to meet in-person, saving both time and money for all parties.

2. Efficiency

You are able to sign documents much faster with a digital signature since it can be done online using your digital identity. You can skip the unnecessary steps of having to print, sign, scan, and return a physical document. This is especially useful in scenarios where multiple signatures are required and time is of the essence.

3. Security

Documents that are signed with digital signatures are a lot more secure than wet signatures. Due to the human element, physical, handwritten signatures are more easy to tamper with or forge. By transitioning to a digital signature process, you can significantly reduce the risk of human error and fraud.

4. Cost-effectiveness

Digital signatures make your business processes cost-effective in several ways:

  • The intrinsic efficiency of digital signatures saves valuable time
  • Their digital nature lets companies reduce the need for physical document storage
  • Digital signatures eliminate the need to print paper

All of this not only saves time, space, and money, it also helps reduce the impact on the environment.

5. Legally binding

Digital signatures are just as legally binding as wet signatures. They are signed and authenticated using electronic identities, which safely tie the signature to a real person. According to the eIDAS regulations, a digital signature is as valid in legal terms as a physical signature. Therefore, individuals and businesses that sign documents with digital signatures can be assured of their validity.

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Which cases are best suited for using a digital signature vs. a wet signature?

While digital signatures are generally acceptable replacements for wet signatures, their use is especially relevant in the following cases.

Industries that require frequent signing

Digital signatures can benefit a wide range of industries but are uniquely relevant to those that require frequent signing of documents or contracts in a secure way. 

For example, businesses that operate within the finance, healthcare, law, or HR industries have already adopted the use of digital signatures due to the high volume of documents they need to sign on a regular basis, securely and efficiently.

By ensuring a more streamlined, automated, and secure digital process of signing documents, companies can even create a competitive advantage within their field.

Companies that work remotely

Compared to wet signatures, digital signatures can also benefit businesses that operate remotely or have geographically dispersed teams, letting them sign documents quickly and easily from any location. 

This became particularly relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as many companies started working remotely, with colleagues spread out across the country or even international borders. Businesses that fail to adopt a digital signature process risk spending more time and resources than necessary.

Environmentally sustainable businesses

Finally, companies that prioritize sustainability and reduce paper waste will benefit from the environmentally friendly nature of digital signatures. It’s an effective way to improve your brand image by showing that your company cares about the environment and takes concrete steps to decrease its environmental footprint.

In short, businesses in any industry that value efficiency, security, convenience, and sustainability will benefit from implementing digital signatures in their workflow to stay competitive in their field.

Using Criipto to get started with digital signatures

In order to optimize your business processes and workflows, you can use a company like Criipto to get started with digital signatures.

We ensure that the identity of our digital signatures follow the PAdES-LTA standard and are verified through local electronic identities, including:

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