Sign a PDF without Printing it First

Last Updated May 20, 2010 12:33 PM EDT

You know the drill. Someone e-mails you a document, contract, or whatever. It requires your signature, so you print it, sign it, then dust off the fax machine so you can send it back.

That's what I call a waste of time and paper. What you need is a fast, easy, paperless solution. Enter Adobe eSignatures, a free service for electronically signing documents. (Just to be clear: PDF documents.) Here's how it works:

Let's say you're the one sending the contract. Using eSignature's way-simple Web interface, you upload your PDF (maximum size: 25MB), enter one or more recipient addresses, choose a due date, and then apply your own digital signature.

Each recipient gets to review the document online, then apply his/her own "signature." Along the way, the document retains Adobe's certification to prevent any unauthorized alterations. If somebody does make changes, the certification tag no longer appears.

Pretty cool. And amazingly easy. You can prep and send out a document in a matter of minutes. Want to see it in action? Check out Adobe's demo video. Concerned about the legal validity and trustworthiness of electronically signed PDFs? Adobe has a quick primer on electronic signatures.

Adobe eSignatures is currently in beta. It's free, and will likely remain that way. I can totally see using this; it's a zillion times quicker and easier than the ol' print-sign-fax method. The 20th century is over, people!

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.