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How-to: Use Preview to put signatures on PDF’s, Pages Documents, and Mail messages

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 1.13.17 AM

As we have written about in previous articles, Preview is a valuable tool in OS X that does not get a lot of press. In this article, we will review how you can use Preview to capture your signature using the iSight camera on a Mac, then use it in Pages documents, to sign PDF documents, and as an image in your signature in the Mail app.

Open the Preview App and capture your signature
If you already have a PDF that you’d like to sign, double-click on it to open it in Preview. Then click on the Pen icon near the top right, select the Sig icon, and choose “Create Signature from Built-in iSight…”.


Alternatively, if you don’t have a document to sign at the moment, you can open the Tools menu in Preview, then choose Annotate > Signature > “Create Signature from Built-in iSight…”.


This will bring up a Signature Capture dialog box. Confirm that “Save this signature for use after Preview quits” is checked. Now, take out a piece of paper, and sign it. I recommend using an index card. Hold the piece of paper up to the iSight Camera, and adjust the position of the paper until the camera recognizes and displays your signature. Click on the Accept button to save the signature.


You can have more than one signature available or capture a better version of your signature by accessing Manage Signatures. To do this, click on the Pen icon near the top right, and then the Sig icon, and choose Manage Signatures. Use the + and – signs at the bottom left to add and remove signatures. Clicking the + sign launches the Signature Capture dialogue box again.

Use your signatures in PDFs
To sign a PDF, click on the Pen icon near the top right, and then the Sig icon, and click on the signature you want to use. Then click, hold, and drag across the PDF in the area you want to sign.

If necessary, you can also mark up the PDF with text boxes using the same method by clicking the Aa icon to the left of the Sig icon. Details about how to create text boxes using Preview are included in a previous article.

text boxes

Use your Signature in the Mail app
Open a PDF that you have signed. Create a screen shot of your signature using Command & Shift & 4 on the keyboard, and dragging across your signature. The screen shot of your signature will be on the desktop.

Now, open the Mail app and select the “Mail” menu, then choose Preferences. Click on Signatures and create a new signature with the + button. Drag the image you created in the previous step from the desktop into the signature, and add any additional info you want below it.

drag screenshot

To save and use the signature, drag the signature from the center column to the email account listed on the left. Then, choose the default signature for the email account  using the Choose Signature pop-up menu at the bottom.

Now when you compose, forward or reply to an email using the Mail app, your signature will appear automatically.

use email sig 3

Use your signature in Pages
The screen shot you captured of your signature in the steps above can be used just about anywhere you would like to place your signature. In Pages, you can use the signature you created by dragging it into the body of your document. After you drag it in, click on the Arrange tab on the top right and choose None from the Text Wrap pop-up menu. Now, you can easily resize and reposition your signature so it appears they way you want.

At this point, you might as well save this as a template, so you have a Pages document with your signature in it saved for future use. From the file menu, choose “Save as Template…”, click the “Add to Template Chooser” button and save it with a name such as Signature.

Having the ability to use your signature in the various apps where it makes sense adds convenience, and stylishly customizes your correspondence.

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  1. Gary Lum - 9 years ago

    Fantastic. Thank you.

  2. Cameron Bernhardt - 9 years ago

    It’s the little things like this that make OS X so great.

    • weakguy - 9 years ago

      This is why I love Mac. I have been using OS X for years and still can discover features that I didn’t know were there.

  3. Simon Potts (@simoncbp) - 9 years ago

    It would be so useful to be able to use an existing scanned signature – say in JPG format, especially for those of us with Mac Mini’s and therefore WITHOUT an iSight camera

    • Well, you wouldn’t be able to apply a signature in the way shown here in the Preview app. However, careful reading shows that you can scan your signature and use it in the Mail and Pages apps. Though anyone can do this with any computer. Just think of it as inserting an image – because that’s all it is. The only thing is that you can’t do it in Preview – but you could use Adobe or Word to open the PDF and place the image file of your signature over that.

  4. Brian Erdelyi - 9 years ago

    While you’re at it you may as well sign a blank cheque and use that in your email signature. What is to prevent a criminal from stealing a copy of your signature and using it to apply for new credit cards, loans or bank account? how about using it to transfer funds out of your bank accounts?

    • I would hope no one would ever be so stupid to include their actual signature. I would assume someone would have a short form signature for legal purposes and sign their emails with a full name so that you’d have plausible deniability when some illegal activity occurs.

    • There are many things that prevent criminals from doing those things, namely, requirements involving photo IDs, social security numbers, etc. You can’t just walk into a bank and get access to someone’s cash using the account holder’s signature.

      The idea that you put yourself at risk by providing that signature to someone you’re emailing (whom you presumably know) is kind of silly when you consider the uncountable number of strangers you give your signature to when making credit or debit card purchases.

  5. Casey Hancock - 9 years ago

    Is there a security risk in using an image of one’s signature in emails? Can someone do something nefarious with that signature image?

    • Brian Erdelyi - 9 years ago

      A signature is a mark that is typically used as a form of verifying (or authenticating) ones identity… similar to a password. You wouldn’t share your password so readily would you? It’s also used for showing intent when signing a contract (such as a loan or credit card application).

      I have personally seen fraud occur when a criminal was able to copy a signature from a previously signed contract and paste it into a new contract (i.e. a wire request form). I’m sure the same technique has also been used for opening credit accounts.

  6. telecastle - 9 years ago

    Signing every email with your signature is a sure way to invite trouble. Who gives this type of advice?

    The reason Preview has this feature is to sign editable PDF documents, which are normally legal forms. It’s no accident this feature is not part of Mail or Pages. Your next article should be on how to insert a high-resolution image your ID

  7. Danny Bristow - 9 years ago

    I never knew about this, brilliant!

  8. Greg Figaro - 9 years ago

    It’s really useful feature! I’m just wondering how to remove the signature, the author didn’t mention undo function.

  9. And they practically broke this functionality in Mavericks.. When trying to capture the signature with an iSight, you need to search for the right placement of the paper for a minute or two for Preview to actually capture the signature. So annoying, it was working like a charm before. The overall quality of Apple’s late software is just devastating. Everything is filled with bugs now. The fact that Mac OS X and the iLife apps don’t get 5 (some don’t get even 3) stars on the App Store is pretty indicative of that.

    • multimillionario - 7 years ago

      I’m baffled at how bad Apple software is becoming, especially on mobile devices. It seems the bankers and their stooges (like Al Gore) must be into the whole affair of reversing the progress and productivity experienced in the past, and going backwards. iOS 6 on my phone was a hundred times better than iOS 7, and 8, and I don’t even want to download 9, too many risks. When I newly updated iOS 8 to hopefully cure so much that was wrong with iOS 7, I was left without copy and paste functionality for months until a fix was made in an update. It simply baffles the mind. The efficiency with iOS 6 far surpassed the next two versions in my opinion, and not just opinion, I can show the ways. So aggravating.

  10. Bryan Tomlinson - 9 years ago

    My clients will love this feature

  11. Gregory Wright - 9 years ago

    Thank you very much. I’ve always wanted to but could never figure out how to add my signature to an email. Very handy.

  12. andrewmccreath - 9 years ago

    Learn something new every day :D

  13. Greg D'Andrea - 9 years ago

    The only issue with this is if it’s a secure document, which is when I typically need my signature! Let say my accountant sends me my tax returns and asks me to print out the signature page, sign, then scan back in and email it back to him so he can file it for me. Well, instead of printing, signing and scanning, I want to use this Preview signature instead. But my tax returns are password protected. Preview will let me open the tax returns by putting in my password. It will even let me add my signature. But then I’m stuck – I cannot save it, export it or anything else because it’s password protected. The best I can do is take a screenshot of my signature page, but that image is a bit fuzzy. Am I missing something?

  14. I have followed your instructions, regarding PDF Preview, yet once the signature is not saved after I click “Accept.” I have tried repeatedly, with different types of PDF documents to no avail. Any suggestions?

  15. Kristine Washburn - 9 years ago

    Thank you! That was so clearly explained!

  16. Pat Lowe - 8 years ago

    I can’t do either of these things. No ‘pen’ icon appears on my screen for the first method. For the second method, ‘signatures’ is not highlighted in my Tools scroll, so I can’t activate it.

  17. Amro Hussain - 8 years ago

    This was so helpful. Thank you so much for posting.

  18. Matteo D'Angelis - 6 years ago

    Just what I needed, thank you for posting!

  19. Diego Vergara - 6 years ago

    Very helpful. Thank you very much!