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I have repeatedly encountered lawyers who refuse to sign documents using red ink or accept documents that are signed in red ink.

No one has been able to articulate exactly why in my conversations, but there seems to be a belief that red ink is forbidden or that a signature in red ink is somehow not binding.

Is there any legal authority to support this reluctance?

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    This may not have any bearing from a legal standpoint, but many red dye formulations used in modern (last century or so) red inks are not 'light fast'. Which means that they fade over time especially with exposure to light. Might give you an unintentional disappearing ink.
    – Stewbob
    Jan 19 at 13:11

4 Answers 4

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Sometimes there is a requirement that a document be "photographically reproducible" which in effect means it can be copied with a copier or imaged with microfilm. Decades ago, some photocopiers would not record red ink. That used to be a problem with microfilm too; I don't know if is still a problem.

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    Readability by a fax machine may be a consideration too, given how slow some users can be to adopt technology changes, like doctors.
    – Criggie
    Jan 16 at 22:57
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    More commonly, the color that is designed not to be photocopied is a light blue - they make drafting pencils in this color specifically for this purpose. Jan 17 at 18:05
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    Agree with @Darrel Hoffman that light blue is the current choice for a color that won't photocopy. But in the 1970s and 80s my company kept orange graph paper in the stationery supplies to use when only the drawn line, not the grid, was to be copied. Jan 17 at 19:04
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It depends on jurisdiction and purpose. In Ohio, per O.R.C. 317.114(A)

an instrument or document presented for recording to the county recorder shall have been prepared in accordance with all of the following requirements:..

(4) Black or blue ink only;

There are also blue-specific requirements, for example in Pierce County WA juvenile courts, a petition to list a sex offender registration requirement must be signed in blue (so that the original can easily be identified).

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    Yes, upvoted. Lawyers are savvy people, and even if it isn’t an issue in their jurisdiction for a particular piece of paper, they would rather be conservative with something legally binding and not get bit by it later. Plus, asking people to use odd colors (and anything but black and blue is an odd color) for legal documents sounds fishy to begin with. IANAL, and I wouldn’t accept OP’s red ink either.
    – Dúthomhas
    Jan 15 at 7:15
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    @Dúthomhas I also ANAL, but it makes sense for a lawyer to apply this rule to every contract, especially given that correcting the oversight later --- in the few specific cases that actually matter --- could easily cost more than a gold-plated space pen.
    – jpaugh
    Jan 16 at 20:59
  • @jpaugh Are... you agreeing with me or disagreeing with me?
    – Dúthomhas
    Jan 16 at 21:02
  • @Dúthomhas Agreeing.
    – jpaugh
    Jan 17 at 0:31
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I have no idea where that notion came from. I am reasonably sure that a signature in red ink, or green ink, or any other unusual color, is just as binding as one in blue or black ink. Indeed a signature need not be in ink. Blood is actually somewhat traditional.

I suppose some shades of red might not photocopy well.

§ 3-401 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) reads:

(b) A signature may be made (i) manually or by means of a device or machine, and (ii) by the use of any name, including a trade or assumed name, or by a word, mark, or symbol executed or adopted by a person with present intention to authenticate a writing.

§ 3-402 reads:

(a) If a person acting, or purporting to act, as a representative signs an instrument by signing either the name of the represented person or the name of the signer, the represented person is bound by the signature to the same extent the represented person would be bound if the signature were on a simple contract. If the represented person is bound, the signature of the representative is the "authorized signature of the represented person" and the represented person is liable on the instrument, whether or not identified in the instrument.

However § 3-406(a) reads:

(a) A person whose failure to exercise ordinary care substantially contributes to an alteration of an instrument or to the making of a forged signature on an instrument is precluded from asserting the alteration or the forgery against a person who, in good faith, pays the instrument or takes it for value or for collection.

If it is somehow easier to forge or alter a signature in red ink, 3-406(a) might apply, but I don't see why that would be.

But there is no specific mention of color of signatures in the UCC.

Under 15 USC 7001 and subsequent sections, electyronic signatures must generally be accepted in commerce.

Specifically:

(a) In general
Notwithstanding any statute, regulation, or other rule of law (other than this subchapter and subchapter II), with respect to any transaction in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce—
(1) a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form; and
(2) a contract relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation.

Upcounsel's page on "Legally Binding Signature" states:

What Constitutes a Signature?

A signature may be issued by anything that marks on paper. The pencil is not the ideal choice because it can erase or be smudged, but signatures made in pencil are just as valid as signatures based in pen. Signatures can be issued in digital form or via stamps because there are various forms of writing implementations. If you cannot sign an agreement on your own, you can give it to another party who can sign documents on your behalf. You may also use what’s called a digital signature, a way of signing documents that’s not in printed form.

FindLaw's page on "What Are the Rules Regarding Signatures in Contracts?" states:

Usually, a signature is simply someone's name written in a stylized fashion. However, that is not really necessary. All that needs to be there is some mark that represents you. It can be -- as many signatures end up -- a series of squiggles, a picture, or historically, even the traditional "X" for people who couldn't read and write. As long as it adequately records the intent of the parties involved in a contractual agreement, it's considered a valid signature.

Usually this mark is made by a pen, but not necessarily. The signature can be made by anything that marks the paper. Pencil is not favored because it can smudge and be erased, but a signature made with a pencil is equally valid as a signature in pen. Signatures can also be made with stamps or with electronic means, since these are all different forms of writing implements.

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    "Blood is actually somewhat traditional." Ha! FWIW, I actually have come across one or two documents signed in blood in my legal career.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 14 at 22:13
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    @ohwilleke Really? I have read of holograph wills written in blood when a person was seriously injured and had no othet method. But I was mostly thinking of Jabez Stone v. Old Scratch and similar cases. Jan 15 at 1:38
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    Great point about signatures. There's generally no legal requirement that your signature have any specific features or include any part of your legal name. Those are traditions that are upheld because of cultural friction as well as expediency. They are social rules, not legal rules. If you change your signature to a sketch of a smiling dragon driving a motorcycle, that's legal but is likely to get you a lot of delays from skeptical clerks and judges who will insist on spending extra time verifying that your signature is really yours. Jan 15 at 12:10
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    Deals with the Devil are required to be in blood.
    – Barmar
    Jan 15 at 18:24
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    "There's generally no legal requirement that your signature have any specific features or include any part of your legal name" - or, indeed, to even be legible.
    – Vikki
    Jan 17 at 6:03
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It doesn't seem to be illegal, but it's unwise regardless. Red ink can fade more quickly, and some people with color blindness may have trouble reading red ink. (See here.) I have a relative who signs autographs with blue ink because it lasts longer.

For these reasons, it's better to sign legal documents with blue or black ink, not red.

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    It may be better practice to use blue or black, but none of your sources support a statement that red ink is "unacceptable". Please provide a better source or modify this language, perhaps to ":unwise" or something similar.. Jan 14 at 20:46
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    @DavidSiegel I retract the use of the term "unacceptable," as "unwise" is more precise.
    – The Editor
    Jan 15 at 20:29
  • Did you just copy an unsourced answer on another site?
    – DaG
    Jan 16 at 16:17
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    There are many different varieties of every color of ink, some much longer-lasting than others. No reason that red is inherently better/worse than blue, black or any other color. Jan 16 at 17:21

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