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What is a wet signature?

Some agreements require wet ink signatures. Digital technology can help you obtain these physical signatures quickly.

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A woman filling out a signature using their mobile phone while holding coffee outside a building

By definition, any signature affixed to a hard copy with a pen or other writing device is a “wet signature.” And although they might seem a little old school with electronic signatures (e-signatures) becoming more commonly accepted on contracts and other documents, some governments and private businesses may still require parties to physically imprint their mark on a signed document. Plus, some signers (also known as “signatories”) just prefer to use handwritten signatures in general.

In addition, some wet signatures may require a notary to be present at signing.

How to obtain a wet signature quickly and efficiently.

Wet signatures are not usually as easy to obtain as electronic signatures, but Adobe Acrobat can speed up the process. Acrobat supports both written and electronic signature options, and wet signatures are built into the workflow.

Here are 5 easy steps to get an ink signature into a primarily digital document flow:

  1. Send the signing party a downloadable PDF or Word document with the field requiring their wet signature
  2. The signer downloads and prints the document.
  3. The signer physically signs the document.
  4. The signer scans the document back into digital form. This can be done with a free scanner app on a smartphone device.
  5. The signer uploads the file and sends it back to the requester.

Learn more about collecting wet signatures

Difference between wet signature, electronic and digital signatures

Electronic signatures have been legally recognized in the United States for decades. In 2000 the US Congress passed the US Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which made electronic signatures on digital documents legally recognized as a valid way to sign documents in every US state, territory where federal law applies. Since the passage of the ESIGN Act, electronic signatures have become more common internationally and are now recognized in many countries as a way for businesses or individuals to sign binding legal documents when using electronic forms.

Even though many people and businesses use the terms electronic and digital signatures interchangeably, there are some key differences between the two. Subsequently, there are significant differences between the two types of online signatures and a wet signature. Here are the main differences to keep in mind:

  • Wet signature is a physical signature where a person uses wet ink to sign a document
  • Electronic signature is a broad term that covers any electronic process which indicates acceptance of an agreement or a record.
  • Digital signature is a type of electronic signature, which is more secure and uses a digital certificate that’s cryptographically bound to the document using public key infrastructure (PKI).
Signing documents with wet signatures with Adobe Acrobat on a mobile device, tablet, and laptop

When do you need a wet signature?

As mentioned above, in the US, as well as numerous other countries, electronic and digital signatures hold the same weight as traditional wet signatures, Key legislation governing electronic signatures, such as the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) in the U.S., the Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation (eIDAS) in the European Union, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act in Canada, the Electronic Transactions Act in Australia, and the Electronic Communications Act in the U.K. have made e-signature legally binding.

However, there are still many jurisdictions that still call for a wet signature. For instance, in the US and Canada notarized documents require signatures in wet ink. Similarly, any documents in areas such as family law, wills, trusts, or banking also require to be signed in wet ink. In the UK, tax authorities require a wet signature for any tax documents that British residents file.

For business documents on the other hand, e-signatures are widely accepted. Many businesses have made electronic signatures their standard with Adobe Acrobat. Adobe Acrobat can enable compliance with many electronic signature laws and syncs seamlessly with many other industry-standard business software. Adobe Acrobat Pro allows you to create fillable PDFs and collect electronic signatures so you can save time and cut costs by taking paper out of your document management workflow. ore.

Case studies: how companies moved from wet signature to digital signatures

Using wet signatures can take time, effort, and money. The following organizations sped up their workflow with electronic signatures, saving valuable time for all parties involved

Police ICT

Police in the United Kingdom had to meet with each witness in person to have them sign a hard copy of their statement. Then,  Adobe ICT partnered with Police ICT, a company that supports law enforcement in the UK, to streamline and digitize the process. Police met with witnesses via phone and obtained electronic signatures verifying their statements using electronic documents, reserving in-person meetings for more serious crimes. This move toward a greater use of electronic signatures saved approximately 25,000 work hours per year.


CXC is an Australian workforce management company. Some years ago, they were expanding rapidly and needed to onboard over 2,000 contractors as quickly as possible. By adding electronic signatures to their workflow, CXC was able to save 28 hours per month in contract management time, grow rapidly, improve business processes, and turn what could have been a painful expansion into a smooth transition.

Wet signature FAQs

What is an original signature?
An "originally signed" or "original signature" describes a signature that isn't mechanically or electronically reproduced. In other words, it means that someone wrote their signature, in person and by their own hand.
What is a signature release?
A signature release form — either online or on paper — lets the intended recipient of a shipment opt to receive it without the need for a signature. This allows the mail carrier or courier to leave the letter or parcel at the delivery address without anyone having to physically sign for it.
Does a signature have to be in cursive?
Traditionally most people signed in cursive, but there's no legal requirement that a signature must be in that style.
What’s the meaning of “wet signature”?
A wet signature simply means you’ve made an imprint on a physical piece of paper. In other words, you actually physically “signed” a document with a pen, seal, or other identifying mark. Although e-signatures have become more common, there are circumstances such as the signing of wills, trusts, adoptions, divorce proceedings, and more where wet signatures continue to be required. Plus, in the US, a notary public generally requires a wet signature to verify a signer’s identity. For more information on e-signature legality, visit Adobe’s Trust Center here.