What is a wet signature?
What’s the difference between wet signature, electronic signature and a digital signature?
When do you use it?
In this article, we will break down the notion of “wet signature” so you know all there is to know about it this type of signature.
We will first see what is a wet signature, look at its formats, compare it to an electronic signature and digital signature, look at its advantages and disadvantages, examples and more.
By the time you are done reading this guide, you’ll have an awesome understanding of wet signatures.
Are you ready to start!
Let’s do this…
Table of Contents
What is a wet signature
A wet signature refers to how documents and contracts are signed by physically placing a signature or a distinctive mark on a hard copy of a document using ink or a pen.
We say “wet” signature as traditionally documents were signed in wet ink or pen using ink.
For example, a contract is traditionally signed in ink on the signature block.
For centuries, wet signatures were used to produce legally binding documents between contracting parties by physically signing a piece of paper or apposing a wet signature.
Today, with the widespread access to the Internet and online technologies, we have seen a rapid change in how we’ve signed documents moving from wet signatures to electronic signatures.
More and more organizations and individuals are using web-based technologies and software tools to handle their document signature and contract signature process.
Wet signature formats
The most common wet ink signature is to sign a document using “wet ink” or a pen.
A wet ink signature can be created using a cursive format where the characters are joined.
A wet signature can also have a stylized format or non-cursive format representing a symbol or unique graphical representation showing a person’s acceptance.
By marking an “X” on a document, you can perfectly and legally sign a document.
What’s important with a signature is that it conveys the intention of a person to accept or agree with the content of a document.
How documents were signed in history
Wet ink signatures or physical signatures have been used for centuries.
The most common type of wet signature has been using wet ink to place a mark or sign a document in ink (to sign in ink!).
With the passing of time, we’ve evolved from wet signatures to eventually reach electronic signatures.
Here is a quick history of how we’ve evolved over time:
- Documents or legally binding documents were signed using an ink (John Hancock’s signature on the Declaration of Independence)
- Documents were signed using a name seal (Magna Carta was authenticated by King John using his name in wax seal)
- Acceptance messages were communicated through Morse code (in 1896, the courts recognized such message as legally binding in the case Howley v. Whipple)
- Documents were physically signed then faxed to a person using a fax machine
- Documents were physically signed and then emailed to another person through the Internet
- eSignature platforms were used to electronically sign documents where the process is handled from start to finish electronically
Shift away from wet signatures
In the past few decades, the business world has shifted away from wet signatures to electronic signatures.
We’ve seen a dramatic evolution in the way we sign documents and contract on a day-to-day basis.
In other words, more companies rely on online transactions requiring a person to accept and sign digitally instead of requiring the good old fashioned way of printing a form, completing it by hand and send it to them.
Keeping electronic records of hundreds, thousands and millions of records are much simpler with electronic documents than with physical documents requiring companies to store contracts in archive rooms and costly storage facilities.
Using your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can complete a transaction online without having to rely on a pen and paper.
Particularly, in the year 2000, the U.S. adopted the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) where the law recognizes electronic signatures to have the same legal weight as wet signatures.
What is an electronic signature
An electronic signature refers to the process of how a person receives and accepts an electronic document or transaction.
The electronic signature to be the opposite of a wet signature.
For a person to electronically sign a document, there must be criteria designed to:
- Ensure the right person receives the document
- Enure the person expresses the acceptance with the document
- Ensure the acceptance is transmitted back to the sender of the document
For example, when you make a purchase online:
- You will typically enter your name and contact information or you may log in to your account
- You will be prompted to check a few boxes to accept the terms and conditions of the sale
- You will press a “purchase” button to express your acceptance
Once you complete that process, you have essentially given the vendor your electronic signature.
What is a digital signature
A “digital signature” and an “electronic signature” are not the same things although they are used interchangeably.
A digital signature or a cryptographic signature is a secure and complex mathematical process used by computers to ensure the validity of a document transmitted electronically.
On the other hand, an electronic signature is a process of how a person receives and accepts a document electronically.
For instance, an encrypted document will have a digital signature allowing a specific server with the encryption key to decrypt the information.
The server places a digital signature on the information it sends to it can ensure its validity and authenticity.
For example, if you use a digital signature platform (eSignature platform) to sign a document, the software platform will use a complicated mathematical process to place a digital signature on the document you are signing so that the document can only be viewed by those who have an authorized technology.
If John wants to have Suzanne sign a document electronically, the signature platform must validate the technology used by Suzanne to ensure that only Suzanne can see the document and only Suzanne can express her acceptance of the document.
Then, that acceptance is transmitted in a secure and authenticated manner back to John.
You’ll typically see certificates of authority confirming the validity of an electronic document.
When to use wet ink signatures
There are instances where you must use a wet ink signature to sign a document for it to be legally binding.
Here are some situations where you may need to use wet signature:
- When the law of the jurisdiction does not recognize electronic signatures
- When the law imposes some formality on the signing of a document, typically transfer of title documents (however that is changing and evolving to electronic signatures as well)
- When the law requires that a Notary Public verify the identification of the signing party for documents like wills, trusts, adoptions or insurance
- When required by an organization such as banks granting loans or mortgages
- When an organization has adopted a policy to collect original signatures
The evolution from wet signatures to electronic signatures is fast changing the legal landscape around the world.
This evolution has accelerated tremendously with the spread of the COVID-19 virus requiring companies to operate remotely and perform transactions online or electronically instead of wet signatures.
Major economies in the world have adopted laws to govern and recognize electronic signatures such as the ESIGN (Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act) and UETA (Uniform Electronic Transactions Act) in the United States or eIDAS (Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation) in the European Union.
Also, due to better efficiency and cost-savings of using electronic signatures, major companies around the world have adopted electronic signatures.
For those readers who are in a legal department or who manage contracts, be sure to read our post on ways you can eliminate inefficiencies in the legal department.
Advantages of wet signatures
Placing a physical signature on a document can have its advantages.
Hand-signed (wet) signatures give a reason for the signing parties to try to meet and sign in one another presence.
By meeting and signing in person, you have the assurance that all the signing parties were in agreement when signing the document and could have verbally exchanged their sentiment in addition to apposing a real signature or a hard signature on the document.
With a wet signature, you also have an original document in your possession that you can rely on to prove the assent of the other contracting parties.
Disadvantages of wet signatures
While collecting someone’s original signature has its advantages, wet signatures do have drawbacks as well.
In today’s fast-paced electronic and digital world where transactions happen instantaneously, millions of times a day, sticking to the traditional wet signatures process in of itself will result in business delays and potential losses to your business.
Also, as more and more people sign electronically with ease and in a secure manner, requiring wet signatures will affect your competitiveness in the market.
Requiring wet signatures means that, as a business, you need to hold on and store the original documents.
The storage and filing costs of thousands of documents can result in higher expenses for your business and unnecessary overhead.
Another drawback is the more tedious task of finding and retrieving signed documents.
If ever you needed to look for a signed document, it may take hours, if not days, to look through your archives, find the original document and consult it.
In today’s economy where more transactions are performed online than ever before, going against the grain by requiring wet signatures can result in adverse effects on your business.
Here is a quick recap of the downsides of using wet signatures in business today:
- Longer time to process the signature of the document
- More costly to manage than electronic signatures (cost of paper, ink, mailing, filing, storage)
- More difficult to store, file and retrieve for record-keeping purposes
- Not as great for the environment to use paper when the same thing can be done electronically
Wet signature vs electronic signature
The most obvious difference between a wet signature and an electronic signature is how they look and appear.
A wet signature is a manual signature on a piece of paper leaving a wet copy of the person’s cursive or stylized signature.
An electronic signature is a process of how a person receives a document electronically, accepts it and transmits the acceptance to the other signing party.
A wet signature requires a hard document (paper document) while an electronic signature requires a soft document (electronic document).
Both wet signatures and electronic signatures are legally binding in many countries such as the United States.
Wet signatures are administratively heavier to manage and will take much longer to process whereas electronic signatures can be done using automation, software tools and technologies and stored in a centralized contract database such as contract management software.
Both wet signatures and electronic signatures are used to convey an intention to be legally bound by the terms outlined in a document or contract.
Wet signature vs digital signature
A wet signature is a mark or symbol written on a piece of paper to convey a person’s acceptance or acknowledgment of the contract language in the document while a digital signature is an electronic means of validating the authenticity of a document.
Even though we are using the term “signature” in “digital signature”, we must not confuse the authentification process with the actual signature process conveying intent.
Think of a digital signature like a fingerprint or an electronic identification process allowing a computer or a server recognizes electronic communication to be real and authentic.
For example, when you use a digital signature platform, the platform must not only collect the signature of the parties (their acceptance) but also must ensure that the right people receive, view and sign the right document without any alterations (authenticity or digital signature).
The digital signature platform will use a complicated mathematical process (encryption) to place a digital signature on the document so that it can recognize the document to be valid.
Wet signature vs original signature
A wet signature is a form of original signature although an original signature is not necessarily a wet signature.
A century ago, when you referred to an original signature, you could have referred to:
- Ink signature
- Pen signature
- Sealed document
Today, when you refer to an original signature, you can refer to:
- Wet signature
- Electronic signature
- Fax signature
In other words, you can obtain an original signature from someone in a fully digital or electronic way and that signature will represent the original signature of that document.
Laws like ESIGN and eIDAS recognize electronic signatures and give it the same legal value as wet signatures.
Parties who have signed an electronic document do not need to print it and sign it “originally” or in “ink”.
The term “original” is extended to “original electronic” documents.
Wet signature vs wet stamp
A wet signature is not the same thing as a wet stamp.
We know that a wet signature allows you to sign a document and demonstrate your acceptance.
The result is that you are legally bound to the terms of a contract that you signed.
Can you be legally bound to a document if you use a wet stamp?
A wet stamp, even though you are using ink does not necessarily convey acceptance even if it said in capital terms “APPROVED” or “ACCEPTED”.
A signature must convey a person’s intention while a stamp alone does not reach a level high enough to prove that intention.
Think about it, anyone can create a stamp and sign a document on your behalf, that would be too easy!
If a wet stamp is used along with a unique process or your handwritten initials, you will be able to prove acceptance in court.
Otherwise, a court may exceptionally consider a wet stamp as legally binding based on the circumstances and factual elements of the case.
Technically, you don’t need an express contract to be legally bound in a contract.
Your acceptance can be implied (implied contract) even when just using a wet stamp.
Examples of wet signature
One of the most historic documents signed in using a wet signature is the U.S. Declaration of Independence signed on July 4, 1776.
Another historic document was the signature of the Magna Carta by King John who authenticated it using his seal.
The wax seal was lost over the centuries but the Magna Carta document remains:
Wet signature FAQ
What is wet signature
A “wet signature” or “wet ink” signature is when a person writes his or her name (or signs using a stylized signature) on a physical document by ink.
The wet signature conveys the person’s acceptance or agreement with the terms of a document.
It’s called “wet” signature as when the document is traditionally signed, the ink is still wet and takes time to dry out.
Hence, a wet signature is a phrase used to refer to the liquid aspect of the ink used to sign the document.
Types of electronic signatures
There many types of electronic signatures.
What is important is that the person signing is properly identified, the person expresses his or her acceptance and the information be transmitted to the other party.
You can have the following types of electronic signatures:
How do you make a wet signature
To make a wet signature, you’ll need to:
- Draft the content of your document either on the computer or by hand on a piece of paper
- Print the draft of your document if you wrote it on a computer
- Using a pen, sign the handwritten document or the electronic document that you printed
- Your handwritten signature on the document represents your wet signature
So how do you create a wet signature you ask?
All you need is a pen and paper!
Why is a wet signature required
A wet signature can be required:
- Because it’s imposed by the law
- Because a Notary Public needs to validate the identity of the signing party
- Because a company’s policy requires a wet signature
This is the case for documents like mortgages, wills, bank loans, property transfers and so on.
Is a stamp a wet signature
A stamp in of itself is not a signature.
A signature can be in cursive or stylized format to demonstrate a person’s acceptance, agreement, intention to be legally bound by the terms of a document.
Some stamps may replicate the image of your signature or your name.
However, a stamp on a document itself does not prove acceptance.
Typically, to ensure that the document is validly signed (to show the element of intention), a person may use a stamp along with an initial or some distinctive marks to show that there was an element of intention.
At the end of the day, anyone can create a stamp with your name on it and start signing contracts.
When is a wet signature required
You’ll need to use a wet signature when the law requires this formality or when a vendor or organization specifically demands wet signatures.
In countries like the United States, even though electronic signatures and wet signatures have the same legal weight, it is up to the organizations to develop their own signature policies and apply them.
How to use a wet signature online
Most eSignature platforms allow you to replicate your wet signature online so you can use your usual distinctive sign or mark when signing electronically.
One way is to sign an original document using a wet signature, scanning that document and using the image of your wet signature to upload in signature platforms.
Some other platforms allow you to use a stylus pen to create an electronic version of your wet signature directly on their signature platform.