What is a Wet Signature?

A wet signature (also called wet ink signature) is a mark placed on a physical document with a pen, pencil, or any other writing tool to show an agreement between two or more parties-whether that’s people or institutions. For example, a handwritten signature on a mortgage deed, or on a divorce agreement.

But a wet signature isn’t limited to a handwritten signature only. It can be as simple as an ‘X’ mark or as sophisticated as using a name seal (a piece of wax or lead with a unique design stamped into it) to guarantee the authenticity of the document. 

In this article, we’ll talk about:

  • When you need a wet signature
  • The pros and cons of using a wet signature
  • The alternatives to wet signatures
  • The differences between wet, digital and electronic signatures

Let’s dig in!

When do you need a wet signature?

You need a wet signature when an institution requires a physical signature on a document or when the law does not recognize the validity of electronic signatures for a document. 

For example, you’ll need a wet ink signature to sign any of the following documents because the law doesn’t allow the use of electronic signatures with them. 

  • Family law documents like (divorce, adoption, etc.)
  • Wills and trusts
  • Utility cancellations
  • Housing documents (eviction, foreclosure, etc.)
  • Court orders
  • Life and health insurance terminations
  • Hazardous material travel documentation.

Although the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign Act) allows the validity of e-signatures, it also permits institutions in the United States to impose signature policies based on their preferences. This means that an institution that prefers that people sign their contracts with a written signature can enforce that preference.

Pros and Cons of using Wet Signatures

To decide if you should use wet signatures, it’s important to look at the pros and cons.

What is a Wet Signature?

Pros of Wet Signatures 

They are universally accepted 

Wet signatures are accepted virtually everywhere. They are the oldest and most common form of signatures, after all.

You don’t need special equipment to sign them

Unlike electronic signatures and digital signatures, you don’t need special equipment to sign wet signatures. All you need is a pen to scribble your signature on the document given to you.

Cons of Wet Signatures

They are expensive and inconvenient to use

Businesses that rely on wet signatures must purchase paper, printers, and ink. They also have to pay to store the signed documents in an offsite contract repository. A company spends around $25,000 to fill one file cabinet and an additional $2,100 each year to maintain it. The costs of filing thousands of documents can cause higher expenses for a business. 

People can easily forge wet signatures

Wet signatures are not secure. With enough practice, someone can easily forge a wet signature. Take the case of ebay bookseller, Forrest Smith, who forged autographs and sold autographed books to over 400 people before he got caught. 

They can take long when there’s a physical distance between signatories

On the signing day, all the signatories and their witnesses have to meet at the location to sign the documents. If a signatory cannot make it to the location on the signing day, someone would have to snail mail the documents to the signatory. When that signatory has signed, they have to mail back the documents to the other contracting parties. This process takes a lot of time.

They are not eco-friendly

Wet signatures are not eco-friendly because it involves the use of paper. According to a report documented on ResearchGate, the production of paper contributes to land, water and air pollution, and climate change. To make paper, the manufacturers need to cut down trees and process the wood. The production of paper in paper mills releases sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide into the air, all of which are air pollutants. Finally, when paper rots after it’s disposed of, it emits methane—a greenhouse gas—into the air.

Wet Signature Alternatives to Consider

While wet signatures are universally accepted, they are not very secure because they’re easier to forge. If you want a signing method that is both secure and flexible, consider alternatives like electronic signatures and digital signatures.

Electronic signature

An electronic signature is a symbol (like a checkmark, for example) attached to a document and used by a person who wants to sign the document. 

Businesses and people save time and money when they use electronic signatures instead of wet signatures because they don’t have to print the document.

You simply click a box, use your finger to draw your name on your device’s screen, or type your name into a signature field shown to you from your computer, tablet or mobile phone.

You’ll need an electronic signature software like SignWell to sign electronic signatures. SignWell handles electronic signatures in a way that makes them compliant with E-Sign laws around the world. It tracks, identifies the people involved, proves intent –people have to agree to sign electronically, and ensures that the documents aren’t modified.

Digital signature

A digital signature is a PKI-based certificate that confirms the identity of a signatory and ensures that no one has forged or altered an electronic document or message. A public key infrastructure (PKI) is the set of policies, software, hardware and procedures that is needed to provide unique digital identities for signatories and protect sensitive data. 

Digital signatures are a bit more complicated than electronic signatures and aren’t necessary for most documents. They provide non-repudiation for electronic transactions. This means that a signatory who has the signature key pair for a document cannot successfully claim that they did not sign that document. This feature is especially useful for workflow processes where multiple people have to approve the signed document, like the financial management of expense reports or supply chain management.

You’ll need a digital signature software like Secured Signing to sign digital signatures.

5 Differences between digital, electronic, and ‘Wet Ink’ Signatures 

Wet signatures are easy to differentiate from other signature types because they are the only handwritten signatures. But what about digital and electronic signatures? 

Here’s how each signature type differs from the rest in five areas:

  1. Accessibility

  • Wet signatures are the most accessible signature type. You only need a pen to write your name or make a mark on a paper document.
  • To append an electronic signature you need to use a mobile device or a computer, which may be inconvenient if you don’t have one.  
  • You need a mobile device or a computer plus special software to sign digital signatures.
  1. Convenience 

  • Wet signatures are inconvenient when distance is involved. You’ll need to physically mail the document back and forth to complete a contract.
  • Electronic signatures are convenient because you don’t have to go to any location or snail mail the document. You can sign your document right from your phone or computer.
  • Digital signatures are typically inconvenient because they require special software and usually extra steps for verification of identity. And the software/technology is often hard for non-technical people to understand.
  1. Verifying signatories

  • Because wet signatures are physical, there’s no way to easily verify who signed it. The only way a court can attribute a wet signature to a signatory is if notary publics witnessed the signing process and confirmed the signatory’s identity or if the signatory admits to signing the document. 
  • Electronic signatures identify signatories through their emails, IP tracking, and by the browser connection of the signatory at the time of signing. 
  • Digital signatures identify signatories using the private and public keys of the signatory.
  1. Forgery

  • Someone can easily forge a wet signature with practice.
  • It is difficult to forge an electronic signature because the signing system keeps track of the email address and IP address of the signatory, which can prove the identity of the signatory. 
  • It is near impossible to forge a digital signature because the signing system assigns each signatory unique private and public keys, which can prove their identity. 

Electronic signatures are convenient, less messy and legal

While using wet signatures is the old way of signing documents, electronic signatures eliminate the slow tasks of printing, scanning, and faxing or mailing contracts. Electronic signatures are especially great for remote workers who cannot appear physically to exchange and sign contracts.

Electronic signatures are secure too. Unlike wet signatures, electronic signatures provide traceable data about who the signatory is, when they signed and where they signed.

If you’re considering using electronic signatures for your business, tools like SignWell make every process from the document creation to the actual signing easier.

FAQs about wet signature

Why is it called a wet signature?

It’s called a wet signature because contracting parties use ink or wax to make it, which leaves a moist imprint immediately after signing.

Can a wet signature be scanned?

Yes, you can scan and use a wet signature in online documents. A document is acceptable under the law if it has a scanned wet signature on it.

When is a wet signature still required in a contract?

In the United States, certain documents around insurance, wills, adoptions, divorce, trusts, mortgages, and other collateral documents may require wet signatures.

You should also use a wet signature when an institution’s policy states that they only accept wet signatures or when the signatories prefer to use this method, as opposed to electronic or digital signatures.