What is a Wet Signature?

Wet ink signature, commonly called a wet signature, is a term to describe the process of signing a physical paper document, form or contract with pen and ink. It is often used to distinguish pen and paper signatures from electronic signatures or e-signatures.

Throughout history a wet signature represented a binding contract and was used to prevent fraud. Today, an electronic signature can carry the same weight and legal effect as traditional wet signatures on paper documents in most cases. E-signatures save time and money, reduce risk and offer a better experience for customers, partners and employees. E-signatures are also widely recognized and accepted throughout the industrialized world.

So when can you use an electronic signature instead of a wet signature?

When should you still use a wet signature?

There are a few occasions when you must collect a wet signature to make a document legally binding. Wet signatures are still required for certain documents pertaining to wills, trusts, adoptions, divorce proceedings, court orders, evictions and insurance benefits.

Electronic signatures require that the signer consent to using electronic signature technology. So you should allow a wet signature when the document recipient insists upon a paper process to execute an agreement or contract.

Can you use Docusign for a wet signature?

Docusign eSignature is primarily used to manage electronic and digital signatures in the cloud. However, you can also use it to help accelerate the collection and management of wet signatures.

Let’s say that you’re working with someone who prefers signing their agreement on paper. You can still use Docusign to send the agreement. Digital delivery (even through SMS) of your documents reduces any chance of your documents getting lost in transit. This allows you to get your document to the recipient safely and immediately.

From there, your recipient can fill out any additional information before printing the agreement out to sign. Once they have endorsed it with their wet signature, they can scan the document and upload it to the Docusign platform.

In cases where a wet signature may be required, you can still use Docusign to handle your documents to expedite initial delivery and manage your documents for future reference. 

Aren’t wet signatures more secure than e-signatures?

Typically, for wet signatures, validity and attribution are established by comparing copies of signatures and presenting testimony from handwriting experts or witnesses who were present at the signing. Not only is this expensive and time consuming, it’s less reliable due to the human element.

E-signatures are more secure than traditional wet signatures and thus less susceptible to forgery. Contracts signed with Docusign eSignature come with a secure electronic record. Docusign’s backend technology records the IP address of the signer, as well as the date and time the document was signed, providing critical data should the signature’s validity come into question.

By removing the chance for human error and automating the entire data capturing process, audit trails make it easier to establish authenticity and address disputes over signatures both in state and federal courts.

What are the downsides to collecting a wet signature?

Companies face several challenges when collecting wet signatures:

  • Turnaround time: When collecting wet signatures, companies are at the mercy of delivery services, couriers, business days and holiday schedules. When using Docusign eSignature, 80% of documents are completed in less than 24 hours. 
  • Cost: It's not only the cost of the paper and the overnight delivery service that you have to consider. You also have to factor in the cost of lost revenue when it takes over a week to receive a signed contract. A delay in the arrival of your sales contract could give time for a potential client to explore other options from competitors. 
  • Customer experience: Will customers and partners be eager to sign your document once they receive it, even if there is a delay? Will someone need to travel to deliver the document to either party? Will they run into any barriers, such as not being able to print the document or not being able to reach their courier's drop off before the weekend. They will likely appreciate the speed and simplicity of reviewing and signing a document online versus printing, signing and mailing it offline. 
  • Security and privacy: Paper documents can be lost or stolen and it can be difficult to control who has access to the sensitive information contained on them. eSignature offers multiple methods to verify the identity of signers and those who can access the documents.
  • Record keeping and retrieval: Documents signed with a wet signature and returned to your company have to be scanned and filed away, either into a local drive or into the cloud. If you or the signer needs to refer to the physical document in the future, it will take longer to retrieve it from filing cabinets or boxes in storage versus pulling it up on your computer. 
  • Social responsibility: Companies using the Docusign platform can feel good about helping to save the forests as well. Since 2003, Docusign customers have saved 55 billion sheets of paper and the 5.9 billion gallons of water needed to make that much paper. This significant reduction of physical paper usage saved 6 million trees and spared the earth from the production of 326 million pounds of waste and 4.7 billion pounds of additional CO₂.
Yasamin Yousefi
E-Signature Expert