Published on
May 18, 2023

Three types of electronic signatures for secure and legally binding documents

In today’s increasingly digital world, electronic signatures are essential for signing and exchanging documents. However, not all electronic signatures are created equal. If you’re working within the document and contract management ecosystem and rely on Electronic Signatures, it’s essential to understand the three types – (1) simple, (2) advanced, and (3) qualified.

By understanding the nuances of each type of electronic signature, you can make informed decisions about which type is right for your business or personal needs—a quick overview before we deep dive into each signature’s use case, nuances, and context.

The simplest type is the simple electronic signatures (SESs), suitable for basic transactions. For more security, the advanced electronic signatures (AdESs) are linked to specific signers, making them more secure.
The most secure and legally valid are the qualified electronic signatures (QESs), ideal for critical transactions such as real estate purchases or government contracts. QESs involve third-party authentication, such as a digital certificate issued by a trusted provider, or biometric authentication, like fingerprint scanning or facial recognition.

1. Simple Electronic Signature

If you’ve ever signed a document online without a physical signature, you may have used a simple electronic signature (SES). It’s a convenient way to sign documents using your finger on a touchscreen or by typing your name and converting it to a signature font.

SESs are helpful in various contexts, including signing online contracts, forms, and agreements, authorizing transactions, and verifying identity. They’re used in business settings where speed and convenience are essential.

SESs are particularly valuable in large firms for contract management and HR processes. For instance, SES can simplify signing many contracts with clients, vendors, or partners, saving time and increasing efficiency.

Additionally, simple e-signatures can speed up HR workflows by providing a secure, paperless method for onboarding new employees, enrolling employees in benefits programs, and managing performance reviews. It can improve efficiency and help large firms manage their employees more effectively.

However, SES is prone to fraud and hence not recommended for serious business transactions.

Examples of Simple Electronic Signatures (SES)

  • Signing Online Forms
  • Signing a delivery confirmation
  • Scanning and attaching a handwritten signature to a PDF document

2. Advanced Electronic Signatures

Advanced electronic signature (AdES) ensures that the signature is unique to you, but it may still not provide sufficient legal certainty in a dispute. A digital certificate linked to your email address or phone number is an example of an advanced e-signature.

AdES can provide added security to protect against fraud or other unauthorized activities, especially in sales and HR contracts.

  • Uniquely linked to and capable of identifying the signatory;
  • Created in a way that allows the signatory to retain control;
  • Connected to the document so that any subsequent change in the data is detectable.

For instance, in a sales contract, you can use AdES to verify the identity of the buyer and seller and ensure the contract is legally binding and enforceable. Similarly, in an HR contract, you may use AES to verify an employee’s identity and ensure the agreement is legally valid.

Examples of Advanced Electronic Signatures (AdES)

  • A digital certificate to sign a software license agreement
  • Signing a sales contract using a cryptographic key
  • A biometric signature, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition, to sign a medical consent form

3. Qualified Electronic Signatures

To ensure the maximum security and legal validity of your electronic signatures, consider using qualified electronic signatures (QESs). To create a QES, you need a digital certificate from a trusted third-party provider, which acts like a virtual ID card to verify your identity and ensure document integrity.

For instance, when purchasing a car and signing the contract online, a QES would be necessary if the contract involves significant financial transactions or legal consequences. Similarly, you need QES to perform government transactions, such as signing tax documents or applying for a passport, where it is essential to maintain the security and legal validity of signatures.

In summary, a QES provides additional protection for electronic signatures in situations where authenticity and legal validity are crucial.

Examples of Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES)

  • Signing a legal affidavit using a QES
  • A qualified digital signature to sign a government contract
  • Signing a real estate purchase agreement using a digital certificate issued by a qualified trust service provider


We touched upon the three types of e-signatures, i.e., simple, advanced, and qualified. For a detailed explanation of Electronic Signatures, their benefits, best practices, and use cases, please visit “A Comprehensive Guide to Electronic Signatures“.

You can refer to the 2016 eIDAS regulation passed by the European Union (EU) to understand the differences between various electronic identification, authentication, and trust services. The regulation outlines specific details about these services and can help you better understand how they differ.

Note: Docfield lets you create and incorporate Electronic Signatures in your documents and contracts.