PSA: This Hidden Feature in OS X Makes It Easy to Sign Digital Documents 

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 8 2014 2:39 PM

PSA: This Hidden Feature in OS X Makes It Easy to Sign Digital Documents 

You’ve probably been there: You’re filling out an application or contract as an interactive PDF. Filling it out should take just a couple of minutes. You work your way to the document, figuratively crossing every T and dotting every I, and you’re just about to finish before the very last line stops you dead.

Of course. How are you going to sign this thing?

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You could print out the PDF, fill it all out, then email a scan or snail-mail a hardcopy. You could fax it. If you lack the necessary hardware, you could photograph your signature with your phone, email the photo to yourself, cut it out with an image editor, then figure out a way to sneak it into the PDF. Whatever the method, the once simple task of signing your name became a test of your resourcefulness, planning, and patience, requiring a combination of printers, scanners, apps, stamps, and artistic abilities to complete. Neo plugged into the Matrix faster than you could insert your real-world signature into your computer.

Well, somebody in Cupertino must have gotten fed-up with this. Buried deeply in OS X’s otherwise boring Preview application (the default app for viewing PDFs) is one of the most thoughtful features on the whole system: a function that allows users to quickly scan signatures via the Mac’s camera and drop them into any PDF.

Here’s how the function, which has been around since Mountain Lion, released in 2012, works:

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1. Sign your name on a piece of paper with black ink.

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2. Curse to yourself, crumple the paper, and do it again because it’s never right the first time. Repeat as necessary.

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3. In the Preview application, go to the menu bar, select “Tools,” then mouse down to “Annotate,” select “Signature,” and finally select “Create Signature from FaceTime HD Camera.” A window will pop up showing a feed from your computer’s camera.

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4. Take the piece of paper and show it to the camera, lining up the base of your letters with the guideline shown. Click “Accept” when the frame contains the entire signature and the base of the letters align with the guideline.

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5. Click on the PDF where you would like to place the signature. Drag to scale it.

Voila! Your cut-out signature is now on the page, and you can henceforward place it on documents at your leisure by clicking the “Show Edit Toolbar” button next to the search bar and clicking the “Sig” button. If you’d like to use your signature elsewhere, such as a Word document or in your email signature, you can take a screenshot of it using Command-Shift-4.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Chris Kirk is Slate's interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.