Docusign eSignature types


You may not know, but Docusign offers more than just simple electronic signatures to sign documents. Though electronic signatures are broadly accepted throughout the industrialized world as the modern substitute for a written or “wet” signature, we actually offer a few different ways that you can authenticate and identify your signers to meet the legal  requirements in your country.

This is the first part of a two-part series of blog posts. In this first post I introduce the three types of eSignatures. In the second post I’ll show you how to use the Docusign eSignature API to send envelopes that use these different types.


The eIDAS regulation was passed by the European Commission in 2014 and came into effect in July of 2016.  This law unified the laws of the EU member states, creating a single framework that applies throughout the EU.

eIDAS defines three different types of eSignatures: simple electronic signatures, advanced electronic signatures (AES), and qualified electronic signatures (QES). Simple electronic signatures do not require any ID verification from the signer; advanced electronic signatures do require ID verification; and qualified electronic signatures require the ID verification to be completed face-to-face (either remotely via video chat or in person). Due to the heightened ID verification requirements, QES provides the strongest level of signer assurance, but also the highest level of technical and procedural burden as each party must be verified in person.

Similar tiered structures for electronic signatures exist in many countries.  For example, in Brazil, they use a similar tiered system where simple electronic signatures can be used for many use cases but advanced signatures are preferred for some transactions; whereas other countries’ laws show a stronger preference for using only advanced electronic signatures. For information on eSignature requirements around the world, see the eSignature Legality Guide and consult your organization’s legal counsel. 

How are they different?

Simple electronic signatures are perfectly acceptable and legal in many countries, including the US. However, you may still elect to have signers authenticate themselves in various ways even where it is not legally required. Advanced electronic signatures require signers to use digital certificates to verify their identity. When a signer receives the envelope to sign, the sender can specify if they would like for the signer to sign using an AES certificate from Docusign, an AES certificate stored on the senders’ Docusign Signature appliance, or by using a certificate owned by the signer, such as a smart card. The signer will receive the envelope and sign as normal while having the certificate applied in the senders’ desired form.

Qualified electronic signatures use a qualified trust service provider (TSP) authorized by a government to: 

  • verify the identity of the signer either face-to-face or through a video chat with a valid identification document 
  • validate the identity of the signer at the time of signature through signer-held or cloud-based certificates  

Docusign has an extensive list of trust service providers, broken down by country, that are available to meet your requirements.

Why would I use each type?

Different use cases require different types of eSignatures. Depending on the type of transaction, the country where one is located, and a company’s internal policies, different types of eSignature may be preferred.  It is often helpful to develop an internal eSignature policy that addresses when employees should use each type. 

In the next blog post about the different signature types, I'll show you how you can use them via the Docusign eSignature API. For testing on your developer account, you may need to have certain settings changed by the Docusign Support team that enables your account to test these features. If this is the case, you should contact Support and let them know what you are interested in testing. If you currently have a production account, you can always reach out to your Account Executive to inquire further as well.

Additional resources

Jonathon Sammons
Jonathan Sammons
Developer Support Engineer