Create and Use a Digital Signature in Adobe Acrobat X

These instructions are written for Adobe Acrobat X, which even as of this writing is no longer supported by Adobe. Future editions of Acrobat will likely not work exactly this way.

Major Steps

There are two major steps to set up a digital signature in Adobe Acrobat:

  1. Get a Digital ID
  2. Create the Signature (appearance) based on that Digital ID

Once you have it set up, it's easy/quick to sign documents with your ID.

Get a Digital ID

The Digital ID is what proves you are 'you'. This can actually be done in either of two ways:

  1. Get an ID from a 'Certificate Authority'
  2. Create and use a 'Self-Signed Digital ID'

Get an ID from a Certificate Authority

You can get a digital ID from a company by verifying your identity to them. Once you've done that, the company will issue your certificate, and when you use it to sign documents, they'll verify for your readers that the certificate is the one they issued you. There are a lot of companies that will issue digital ID's, but for this example, we'll use Comodo, who also happens to provide the service for free.

Get a Digital ID Certificate from Comodo

Note: I recommend you use Internet Explorer for this process - I had some trouble getting Google Chrome to loosen up its security settings to allow this process to work.

  1. Visit Comodo's Free Secure Email Certificate site, and click the 'Sign Up Now' button

    You may get a warning window pop-up, saying "The Web site is attempting to perform a digital certificate operation on your behalf." Click the 'Yes' button on this window - this is the whole point of visiting this page.

  2. Complete the application

    1. Enter your name and email address information (these will appear in your digital ID later)
    2. Also create a 'Revocation password'. This can be pretty complex - it's not something you're going to use, until/unless you want to cancel/invalidate your digital signature. This might be necessary if your computer is lost or stolen. Write this password down and store it somewhere safe.
    3. Decide whether you want to opt in for Comodo's email newsletter, and uncheck that box if not.
    4. Read through the Subscriber Agreement, Accept the terms, and click the 'Next' button You will get another warning about allowing a 'digital certificate operation' to occur on your behalf. Click 'Yes'.
    5. You should now see an 'Application is successful' page on Comodo's site. Check your email for the confirmation.
  3. Retrieve and Install your Certificate

    1. Click the 'Click and install Comodo Email Certificate' button in the email from Comodo
    2. You'll visit a comodo web page, and your certificate will download (with a file name of something like 'user.crt')
    3. Open the downloaded file, and verify that you really want to open it by clicking 'Open' on the security warning window
    4. You're now looking at the certificate in its own window. You should see information about what the certificate is intended for, who it's issued to (your email address), who it's issued by (COMODO) and when it's valid (one year).
      1. Click the 'Install Certificate...' button to install it.
      2. Click 'next' on the next two windows, and 'Finish' to complete.
      3. You should now see a window that says "The import was successful".
    5. Move on to the Creating the Signature section

Create and use a Self-Signed Digital ID

Adobe will help you create and sign your own certificate. This is probably a fine option for many people, especially if you're sending and receiving with the same small group of people all the time. It's not as secure as using a Certificate Authority, but it's still better than printing, signing, and scanning on paper.

Adobe has a nice set of instructions for this entire process, under the 'Create a self-signed digital ID' section of this page.

I don't recommend doing more than the steps from that page. They don't appear to be accurate for Adobe Acrobat X.

Create a Digital Signature for your ID

First, we have to tell Adobe Acrobat to use your new digital ID for signing documents:

In Adobe Acrobat X:

  • Click the 'Tools' link in the upper right corner of the Adobe window.
  • On the 'Sign and Certify' tab, click 'More Sign and Certify', and then 'Security Settings'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Windows digital ID's' link. Your digital ID (and maybe others) will appear in the top right pane
  • Select your Digital ID by clicking it, and then click 'Usage Options>Use for Signing' in the top ribbon
  • Close this Security Settings Window

Next, we have to create the 'appearance' of your signature:

In Adobe Acrobat X:

  • Click 'Edit>Preferences', then 'Security' on the left side
  • Click 'New' in the Appearance pane
  • Give your signature a title (e.g. "John's signature")
  • Check boxes for the parts of your signature you want to appear. This is worth experimetning with a little (you can come back to this screen and 'edit' the appearance. I unchecked the 'Reason', 'Distinguished name', 'Labels', and 'Location' checkboxes.

(Optional) Customizing your digital signature with a 'real' signature

You need to already have an image file saved on your computer with your 'real' signature in it. If you can save in a format that allows you to delete the background (png?), that will look a little nicer in your finished signature. Otherwise, you end up with a white block behind your signature.

On the 'Configure Signature Appearance' window (Edit>Preferences>Security, Select your Appearance, then click 'Edit...') * Change 'Configure Graphic' from 'No Graphic' to 'Imported Graphic' * Click the 'File' button, then browse to your signature image file and select it

Using the Digital Signature

To sign a document in Adobe X:

  • click the 'Tools' link in the upper right corner of the window to show the Tools Panel
  • click the 'Sign & Certify' link to open that section
  • click the 'Place Signature' link (NOT the 'Sign Document' link!)
  • Draw a box on the page where you want the signature to appear

The 'Sign Document' window will appear.

  • Choose the certificate you want to use to sign with (it defaults to the one you picked earlier)
  • Choose the 'Appearance' you want from the Appearance dropdown list (if you only have one, this is easy)
  • Click the 'sign' button, and be sure to save the document (maybe overwrite the previous/unsigned version of it)

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