The most significant characteristic of signatures is that they are unique to every individual. For this reason, they are the standard method for accurately distinguishing between parties in a written agreement. While we have covered the specifics of signing legal contracts in previous posts, here is some additional information about choosing the right ink color and quality when signing important documents.
A Brief History of Document Signing
Researchers have found evidence of signatures in written transactions in Jewish and Muslim cultures dating back to the 2nd century. Yet this phenomenon didn’t truly catch on in Europe until the 16th and 17th centuries when literacy became more prevalent and education systems improved.
In 1677, the Statute of Frauds—written in England—stipulated that contracts must bear a signature. Since then, signatures have been the standard for validating agreements, a practice that would eventually be adopted in colonial America. During this time, an assortment of customs was used, in addition to signing with a signature, to formalize contracts. Wax seals were particularly common and continue to be the norm in many countries around the world, most notably in China.
Even more casual methods of authentication were used in the past to confirm agreements. Cutting off a lock of hair and giving it to someone was a frequent custom during medieval times. Sometimes, an act of violence confirmed an agreement, such as a slap. This was to ensure the parties involved would recall the physical pain and associate it with the deal that was made.
What Ink Color Should I Use for Legal Documents?
While there does not appear to be any laws regulating the color of ink used to sign a legal document, some organizations, jurisdictions, and individual document custodians (county clerks, notaries, etc.) have specific preferences and practices regarding ink color. Of course, important documents should never be signed in pencil as your signature can easily be erased or otherwise altered.
In the days before color photocopiers, blue or black ink was preferred because other colors were not dark enough to reproduce. Although photocopying technology has improved in recent years, some colors should not be used on legal documents as a safety measure. Many document scanners are unable to make out unusual colors such as orange or green and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
For instance, people may create multiple copies of their Power of Attorney so their lawyer and their attorney-in-fact can each have a copy (as well as anyone else who may need one). That’s why it’s a good idea to use blue or black ink for any legal document that you want multiple copies of. This will reduce the chance that signatures in the document do not show up properly.
When it comes to choosing between blue or black ink, the consensus is that blue makes it easier to assume a document is a signed original as opposed to a black-and-white copy. Regardless, you should always read the document instructions concerning color preferences—or research local procedures—before signing a document that will be notarized or submitted to a court.
Read More: What Makes a Contract Invalid?
Does Ink Quality Matter When Signing Legal Forms?
When selecting a pen to sign a legal document, ink quality also matters. It’s important not to use a cheap pen, as lower quality inks tend to be water-based, meaning they can be washed off and altered, or fade over time. Often, these inks also contain acid that eventually wears away the paper. For legal documents, look for an archival quality pen that is permanent, waterproof, and acid-free. These can be purchased for a relatively low cost at any office supply store.
Read More: Legal Resource Roundup for Small Biz Owners
Does it Matter What Type of Pen You Use?
There’s a great deal to consider when you’re trying to select the best pen for signing documents. Factors such as the type of ink, pen width, writing purpose, and paper all slightly affect the writing experience from person to person. The cost can also be a major factor as some of the most highly regarded collectors’ pens are incredibly expensive. Unless you have very deep pockets, you probably won’t be spending thousands of your hard-earned dollars on a pen. So, choose the one that best suits your personal style and budget, while bearing in mind that the pen you select may very well be used to sign documents of significant importance.
Final Thoughts and Reminders
Historically, there has been a general preference (not legal requirement) towards blue ink. This is because blue ink easily distinguishes an original document. Black ink can be confused with a photocopy, especially over time as the ink fades. If there are instructions for a document to be signed in a specific color, those instructions should be followed. Parties are free to request that people sign in a certain color if they choose.
Although the ink color is one factor, the most important element of a signature is the parties’ intention. Did each party intend to sign? If they did, the form of the signature (including the ink color) is usually irrelevant. Therefore, people can sign with gibberish and still be found to have genuinely signed the agreement. This means someone can’t get out of a contract just because they signed with a signature different from their own. The same goes for color.