Use Preview In Lion To Capture Your Signature

Use Preview In Lion To Capture Your Signature

Lion Capture SignatureI have written a number of times about the built-in Preview in Mac OS X (or to Mac nerds). It is a pretty great tool for working with paperless documents, and the price (free) doesn’t hurt either.

With the release of Lion, Apple has a cool new feature that is relevant to us paperless types – the ability to capture and use your signature (hat tip to awesome DocumentSnap reader Ron who told me about this way back before I had Lion installed).

You know the drill. You download or receive a PDF form, and you have to print it, sign it, scan it (or worse, fax it), and send it back.

That isn’t as bad of a workflow as it used to be, and I’ve written a few times (here and here for example) about how you can do that. However, the Lion Preview update makes it so that you don’t even need a scanner. Here is how it works.

Capture Your Signature

Fire up Preview and hit the Annotations button on the toolbar (the one that looks like a pen).

Then hit the Signature button, and choose Create Signature from FaceTime Camera (Built-in)…

I suspect that if you have an external camera hooked up you could use that too, but I haven’t tried that myself.

Capture Signature
Capture Signature

Then grab a piece of paper and write your signature. I have found that using thicker ink (like a gel pen) works best, but ballpoint will probably be fine.

You will feel like a bit of a goof doing this, but hold up the piece of paper to your Mac’s camera. Move it closer until your signature is taking up the box and the bottom is touching the blue line (don’t worry about the fact that your signature looks backwards).

Once it is touching the blue line, you’ll see a preview of what your signature will look like. Pretty cool right?[1]

Capture signature in Preview using built-in camera
Capture signature in Preview using built-in camera

When it looks good, hit Accept.

Use Your Signature

That’s great that Preview can capture your signature, but what can you do with it?

For starters, when you click on the Signature button in the Annotations toolbar, you should now see your captured signature like this:

Lion Signature Captured
Lion Signature Captured

To use it, click on your signature and then move the mouse cursor to the signature line in your PDF. Click, and you’ll see your signature there on the page.

Use the mouse cursor to move the signature to just the right place, and you can click and drag on the the circles around the edge of the signature to resize it.

Signature On PDF
Signature On PDF

When you have it the way that you like it, hit the Annotations button again and the circles will be gone. Your signature is now in the document.

My Thoughts

You can, of course, use this for anything else you can capture with your camera, not just signatures. Be creative and come up with other ideas.

One possible downside of Lion’s implementation of this feature is that it is black & white only. If you want to capture your signature in, say, blue pen, you’ll want to use another tool. I use PDFPen for that personally.

How about you? Do you “sign” your documents with a scanned signature? How do you do it?

  1. No, that is not my real signature.  ↩

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 4 comments

Ian Downie - November 27, 2013 Reply

Hi Brooks. I got here via a link on today's DocumentSnap Paper Cuts (27 November 2013) and it appears that your instructions are out of date. On my iMac running Mountain Lion/Preview 6.0.1, the process is different – you have to go through Preview/Preferences to create a signature before trying to add it to a document, after which it is the same as you describe. Here are the instructions from Preview Help:

"Sign a PDF document
You can take a picture of your handwritten signature and then add it to any PDF document.

Take a picture of a signature
1. Choose Preview > Preferences, click Signatures, and then click Create Signature.
If a signature already exists, you can choose the Create Signature command from the Signature pop-up menu in the Annotations toolbar.

2. Follow the instructions displayed onscreen.
Make sure your signature fills the box on the left and sits on the blue baseline.

3. When the signature preview looks correct, click Accept.


    Brooks Duncan - November 27, 2013 Reply

    Oops, thanks Ian! Sounds like an update post is in order.  -Brooks

David Troup - December 29, 2012 Reply

This doesn't work for me. I can capture my signature, but whenever I try to insert it, nothing happens when I click on the signature line after selecting my signature. I'm frustrated.

    Brooks Duncan - December 29, 2012 Reply

    Lion? Mountain Lion? Snow Leopard?

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