Signing PDFs using the Topaz Digital Signature Pad

There certainly is a lot of pressure to be “green” these days. Reducing paper is a rally cry at big law firms and many smaller firms are thinking about it, too.

While it seems pretty easy to send PDFs instead of printing documents, are there times when we must print? For example, to sign a document?

If you are a regular reader of this column, you might remember my article about creating signature stamps. In that piece, I explained how to use Acrobat to “stamp” your personal signature on documents. This is a good practice to use anywhere fax signatures are accepted.

What about gathering the signatures of clients and partners?

A client comes and is ready sign your standard intake agreement and retainer. How could you accomplish that without printing anything? Could you digitally capture a signature and protect yourself at the same time?

Short answer: Yes, but you need a digital signature pad, like the
Topaz SignatureGem (available from resellers such as Computime) which is the subject of this article.

Topaz Signing Pad

You’ve probably used a digital signature pad when checking out at a department store. Signatures collected from a digital signature pad are superior in many ways to paper signatures. Not only does the pad capture the signature itself, it also captures how the signature was made by tracking variables such as pressure and pen angle. That offers additional assurance.

For those who want to peak ahead, I recorded a Topaz Signing Pad Demo Movie.

More info, after the break . . .


Installation of the Topaz SignatureGem is easy. The only hiccup I ran into is that the box I received did not contain a plug-in compatible with Acrobat 9. I was able to download an updated plug-in from the Topaz web site.

After installing the software, you plug the pad into an available USB port. Optionally, you can run a test utility to make sure it’s working (I did). I probably could have accomplished the same thing by just trying it in Acrobat . . .

The Topaz Read Me mentions to change Security Settings in Acrobat so that the standard Acrobat signing handler does not appear when signing. That might be good advice for someone who only would sign using the pad.

However, I frequently need to show a variety of different signature handlers to customers and I knew that would not work for me. The good news is that Acrobat offers you a choice of signature handlers when signing, so you can pick the one you need when signing.

Signing a PDF Document

To digitally sign a PDF document, you need to add a signature field. The best method for you will depend on whether you are signing a “one-off” document, or whether you are creating a form that you will regularly use.

One-off Signing Workflow

If the form is a one-off document you need to sign, the preferred method is to “place” your signature. Here’s how:

  1. Choose Advanced—> Sign and Certify—> Place Signature
    — or —
    Click the Sign button on the Acrobat toolbar and choose Place Signature
  2. Place signature in Acrobat
  3. You’ll be prompted to select a Digital Signature Method. Choose the Topaz.GemSignPlus.
  4. Choose the digsig method
  5. Next, Acrobat will tell you to create the signature field:
  6. Draw the signature field
  7. Use the mouse to create the digital signature field. Once you finish, the Signature Capture window will open. Write your name on the signature pad:
  8. Sign your name on the pad
  9. Click the Accept button. A confirmation dialog will appear and your signature is placed on the document:
  10. Signed in Acrobat
  11. A blue status bar appears to show you signature status:

Creating a Form for Signing Reuse

For a form you intend to fill out and use more than once, it’s best to add necessary form fields and then save the document.

Most forms can be automatically recognized in Acrobat. If you clearly label your fields, Acrobat does a pretty job picking them up. Use underlines to indicate the fielded information and add a text label to the left or underneath the line. If you place the label “Signature” next to a field, Acrobat will create a digital signature field for you! Here’s an example of a good way to label fields:

Example of fields

Space precludes me a full discussion of creating forms, but the general steps are below.

  1. Open the form in Acrobat
  2. Choose Forms—> Add or Edit Fields . . .
    — or —
    Click the Forms button on the Acrobat toolbar and choose Add or Edit Fields . . .
  3. Acrobat will ask if you want to add fields. Click Yes.
  4. Acrobat will find your fields for you:
  5. Filled fields
  6. Click the Close Form Editing button.
  7. Close Form Editing button
  8. Save your document.
  9. Click the signature field to sign the document.
  10. Digital Signature Field

Note: Acrobat may not be able to find all of the fields on your form, especially if they are not clearly labeled. Use the form tools to add any needed fields. If you want to know more about forms, check out my recorded Forms eSeminar.

Sign and Destroy . . . watch out!

When you use the Acrobat signature handler, you are always prompted to SAVE AS after signing. That’s not the case with the Topaz signing solution. When you sign using the Topaz pad, the document is immediately saved!

Since you can’t remove a signature after applying it, you could lock yourself out of ever using the form again..

Always sign a copy of the document. Keep your valuable, original forms in a separate folder just in case.

When Not to use Digital Signatures

Digital signature fields— once signed— add a layer of security to your document. The document is encrypted as part of the process.

That’s fine for documents used in your office or sent to clients. Digitally signed documents are tamper-evident, which is probably a good thing.

Digital signatures (and security, in general) do encumber the document in certain ways. Many legal workflows (e.g. discovery) rely on the unfettered access to documents, so be careful.

Also, keep in mind that most courts and the USPTO do not accept encrypted documents.

Instead, use a signature stamp which does not encrypt the document.

What I didn’t Cover

To keep it simple, the intended workflow here is for documents you intend to archive in your office, capturing client signatures for your use.

When you shared digitally signed documents, there is the issue of establishing trust. If you want other folks to be able to see the blue ribbon on your documents, you need to exchange certificates with them.

To do so, choose Advanced—> Manage Trusted Identities and click the Request Contact button.

Watch the Movie

Check out how to sign a PDF with a digital signature pad by watching my Topaz Signing Pad Demo Movie.