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Signing PDF Documents With Digital Signature Certificates

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Digitally signing documents is becoming a common task for professionals. But how can you prove that a digital signature is legitimate? That it is not forged? You can sign a pdf with a certificate to do that. The certificate contains encrypted information unique to you. It will prove to people that you were indeed the signer, verifying the document's authenticity and integrity.

The information you'll find below will make you better informed about digital signature certificates. Furthermore, you will learn about two fantastic PDF solutions that allow you to attach digital signature certificates (DSC) to PDF files. So, without further ado, let's take a deeper dive.

person in suit using a laptop

Part 1. What Is a Certificate-Based Signature?

A Digital Signature Certificate is different from an e-signature. The latter is a markup you put on documents to show that you approve of the content. But other people can fake that. That's why you must make it certificate-based. It encrypts unique information to the signature and uses certified-based IDs for authentication. That helps confirm the document's authenticity and integrity.

Part 2. Digital Signature or E-Signature, Which One To Use?

For documents that are not that important, you can use e-signatures to sign the document. On the other hand, use digital signatures for things that matter a lot. One use-case scenario is when signing contracts.

Digital signatures will let your partner, boss, employees, or anyone involved know that it is you that signed the document. That makes the document more credible.

Part 3. Adding Digital Signature Certificate to PDF Using Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is one of the tools allowing users to add digital certificates to PDFs. For that, you must prepare some things. You need an image of your signature saved as a PDF file. Then, you need to make or obtain a digital ID.

A digital ID contains a private key, a certificate with a public key, and more. The program uses the private key to create a certificate-based signature. Meanwhile, the certificate is a credential applied automatically to the signed document. That verifies the document when the recipients open it.

It may sound way too complicated now, but it's simpler than that. Here's a guide on how to create and manage certificate-based signatures on Adobe Acrobat.

Get a Digital ID

You can obtain a digital ID from your organization or buy one from an Adobe security partner. If these are not options, you can make a self-signed digital ID. Here's a guide on how to make one.

Step 1 Click Edit > Preferences > Signatures in Adobe Acrobat.

Step 2 Under Identifiers & Trusted Certificates, click More.

adobe identifiers and trusted certificates option

Step 3 Click Digital IDs > Add ID.

Step 4 Choose A new digital ID I want to create now > Next.

Step 5 Select where to store the digital ID. Click Next.

Step 6 Enter the information the next window will ask you. It includes your Name, Organization Name, Organization Unit, Email Address, and Country. You can also select your preferred Key Algorithm and specify what the digital ID is for. Click Next.

 entering information for adobe digital id

Step 7 Click Browse to select where to select a storage location for the digital ID. (Optional)

Step 8 Set a password for the digital ID.

Step 9 Click Finish.

Add an Appearance to the Digital Signature

Step 1 Click Edit > Preferences > Signatures in Adobe Acrobat.

Step 2 Under the Creation and Appearance section, click More.

customizing appearance of adobe digital id

Step 3 In the Creation and Appearance Preferences panel, Click New.

Step 4 Give a title for the appearance.

naming the appearance for digital id

Step 5 Under Configure Graphics, select Imported Graphic > File. Import the PDF containing the image of your signature.

Step 6 Click OK > OK.

Step 7 Select the information you want to appear on the signature from the Configure Text section. The Distinguished Name displays your name, organization, and country based on your digital ID. The others, like Date, Location, or Logo, display what you'd expect they'll display.

Step 8 Click OK.

Sign a PDF With a Digital Signature Certificate on Adobe Acrobat

Step 1 Open the PDF you want to sign with Adobe Acrobat.

Step 2 Click Tools > Certificates.

certificates tool in adobe acrobat

Step 3 Click Digitally Sign. Click once on the document and drag your pointer to make a box where your digital signature will appear.

selecting the digital sign tool in adobe

Step 4 Select the Digital ID you created, then click Continue.

Step 5 In the Appearance section, select the appearance you created.

selecting an appearance for the id

Step 6 Check the Lock document after signing box so no one can edit the PDF file after you have signed it.

locking a document after signing

Step 7 Type the password you set for your digital ID.

Step 8 Click Sign.

Step 9 Save the signed document on your computer.

You can also watch the video below to see how to create and use a digital signature certificate on Adobe Acrobat:

Part 4. How To Sign PDF With Digital Signature Certificate Using PDFelement

What if Adobe Acrobat’s signature tool is too complicated for you? You can use PDFelement instead. Wondershare PDFelement is another tool you can use to sign documents with a digital signature certificate. It's a more budget-friendly and user-friendly alternative to Adobe Acrobat. And despite the lower price and simplicity of the program, it rivals Adobe Acrobat in terms of reliability.

Here's how to attach certificate-based signatures to PDF files using PDFelement:

Step 1 Open the file you want to sign with PDFelement.

Step 2 Go to the Protect tab and select Sign Document.

sign document feature on pdfelement

Step 3 Click once on the document where you want the signature to appear.

Step 4 Click New ID > I want to create a new digital ID > Next.

creating new digital id on pdfelement

Step 5 Select where to store your digital ID. Click Next.

choosing storage for digital id

Step 6 Enter the needed information like your Name and Email Address. Click Next.

typing information for digital id

Step 7 Set a password for your certificate-based digital signature, then click Finish.

setting a password for digital id

Step 8 Type your password to use the digital ID you just made.

typing the set password for id

Step 9 Select Create New Style in the Appearance section. This is optional but highly recommended.

Step 10 Add a title to the appearance you are creating.

Step 11 In the Configure Graphics section, select Imported Graphic > Browse. Find an image of your signature. Unlike Adobe Acrobat, it does not need to be in a PDF file.

imported signature image to pdfelement

Step 12 Click OK > OK.

Step 13 Put a check in the box for Lock Document After Signing.

locking the signed document on pdfelement

Step 14 Click Sign. PDFelement will create a new file for the signed document. Give it a name and save it.

Part 5. Why We Like PDFelement

PDFelement allows you to attach DSC on PDF files for free. You can't do that on Adobe Acrobat free version, which only allows PDF viewing. However, you still need to purchase the paid version of PDFelement to remove the watermark. Thankfully, PDFelement is cheaper than Adobe Acrobat.

Another commendable thing about PDFelement is how easy it is to create and manage digital signatures. Since it accepts JPEG and PNG files as an appearance for signatures, the process is more hassle-free. You don't need to convert the image into a PDF first.

Overall, PDFelement is a solid option for adding digital signature certificates to PDF files.

Part 6. Other Things Wondershare PDFelement Offers

PDFelement also allows you to create basic e-signatures. You can opt for that when making or signing documents that are not that important - for example, an authorization letter for receiving a package.

But that's not all. PDFelement, even the free version, is a full-blown PDF editor. You can extract data from forms, recognize and fill forms, perform OCR on documents, and add comments and notes.

Besides those, PDFelement is also a PDF viewer, converter, and merger. That said, it provides value for the bucks.

Part 7. FAQs

Here are some FAQs about digital signature certificates.

1. Should I use certificate signatures?

Yes, you should, especially on important documents like contracts. It secures the authenticity and integrity of the document, as it tells the recipient that you are the one who signed the document. It is more accepted than a basic e-signature, especially in business.

1. What is the use of certificate ID?

A certificate ID is an electronic document used for verifying one's identity. You can identify an individual, a company, a server, or some other entity through a certificate ID. Furthermore, you can associate that identity with a public key. Essentially, it provides the recipient with encrypted data, confirming that you are the one who signed a document. Think of something like fingerprints, but digital.


Signing documents with digital signature certificates is the best way to sign PDF documents. It makes the document much more secure and makes its authenticity and integrity not questionable. Of course, you would need a PDF tool with this function. We recommend Wondershare PDFelement, a fast, feature-rich, and affordable PDF solution. It lets you attach certificate-based signatures to PDF and do more.

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