Ideally you should be able to add your signature directly to the Word document, and then print it to PDF or just send it. This turns out to be really tricky to do, but today I've cracked the problem.
Typically, you get a document looking like this:
How do we add a signature? Well, we could sign our name on a white piece of paper, scan it and just plant that image in Word, right? Not quite. When you scan an image (or take a photo with your iPhone for that matter) you get a JPEG image, and JPEG images do not support transparency.
Here's what a scanned signature looks like right off the scanner:
First thing you'll notice is it's big. If you want your signature to look legit when the document is printed you have to scan it at at least 300 DPI. Your computer screen, however, has a resolution of about 75 DPI normally. So if you add this photo to Word you'll have to re-size it down. The end result is something that looks like this when printed:
First of all, the white background of the signature photo is opaque. As a result the image hides the "Signature" text and the line we're supposed to sign on. We want to somehow make the white areas transparent, so that when we plant the signature onto the page it looks as if it was drawn on by hand, not plastered on with a computer. This can be done with image editing software, such as Paint.NET (free), if you know what you're doing. The resulting image must be saved in a more appropriate image format - one that supports transparency. Best is PNG.
But even that's not enough. The end result, when printed, still looks terribly fake. Here's a close-up version to illustrate:
See how pixelated it looks? When you print this on a piece of paper you definitely see the difference. Why is this happening? Didn't we take a hi-res scan of the signature?
Why? Because Word is dumb. When you scan an image in high resolution (e.g. 300 or DPI, same as a good printer) the image you get on your computer is big. When you then resize the image in Word to fit the signature space, Word just prints the picture as it appears on screen (i.e. in 75 DPI). It's not smart enough to say "this picture is scaled down, but I do have the original high-resolution at hand, so I can send it to the printer at 300 DPI".
Also, what if we want to print at 600 DPI, but our scanned image is just in 300 DPI? Ideally we'd want a vector image of our signature, not a raster image. Vector graphics nowadays is usually saved in the popular (and open) SVG format. And you can find services online that will try to convert a raster image (e.g. jpg) to SVG. Only one problem with this: Word can't handle SVG. So there's one more hoop to jump through.
Here's what you need to do to take a scanned image of a signature and convert it to something you can actually add to Word. You need just one application - it's called Inkscape and it's a totally free vector graphics application.
- Take a white A4 paper and put your signature on it using a nice, thick pen.
- Scan it at 300 DPI (grey-scale is fine, too).
- Crop out everything but the signature. This can usually be done in the scanner program itself if you do a pre-scan. But you can also do it with MS Paint.
- Save it as JPG.
- Open Inkscape.
- Drag and drop your scanned JPG into Inkscape.
- Select the image in Inkscape and choose Path -> Trace Bitmap from the menu.
- Use "Brightness Cutoff" with a high threshold (over 0.9) and press Ok.
- It will create a vector version of the signature and place it directly above the image. Drag it away to see the difference between the two.
- Feel free to play with the threshold until you get a good reproduction of the original image.
- Now select the original image and delete it (DEL).
- Select the good vector version and do File -> Document Properties -> Fit page to selection.
- Now save as EMF.
- You can now drag and drop this EMF into Word. Make sure the Text Wrap property of the image in Word is set to "In Front of Text" and then just place it over the signature space.
Here's a close-up of the raster vs. vector images side by side in Inkscape:
Here's just one letter scaled way up, just so you see how good the vector version is:
And here's what it looks like in Word:
Keep that EMF file at hand. No more printing, faxing and scanning.