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Hate your signature? Try plastic surgery for autographs

Posted Feb 28, 2023 9:46pm ET

A custom signature created by Priscilla Molina (left) appears alongside images of original customer signatures and initials on a cellphone in Los Angeles on February 22, 2023. (` Photo/Ashley Landis)

NEW YORK – Doctors, lawyers, celebrities: There’s a kind of new cosmetic surgery they’re all signing up for.

By this we mean giving money to hire a calligrapher for a new approach to writing one’s name in cursive. With a pen or other writing implement. On paper.

A corner of TikTok, Instagram and other social media is dedicated to signature design, keeping practitioners on their toes.

Priscilla Molina in Los Angeles makes at least 300 custom signatures monthly and offers packages with up to three signature choices, unlimited designs, or a new set of initials. She asks for between 10 and 55 dollars according to the motto: “Where originality meets legacy”.

Molina said her Planet of Names clients include professionals and celebrities who are looking for new ways to sign autographs, though their lips are sealed on the identities of high-profile signature-seekers.

In general, Molina said, people come to her to change their signatures for one simple reason: They’re tired of the way they’re signing their names.

“They are not satisfied with their signatures. They don’t relate to who they are. They’re not conveying the message they want to convey to the world,” she said.

Molina and other signature doctors promise a range of styles. For Molina, this includes elegant, subtle, dramatic, sharp, classic, artistic, condensed, curvy, legible – or even illegible, among others.

She and others offer templates and stencils, encouraging clients to practice their newfound John Hancocks, with results in weeks if they put in the time.

John Hancock, for those who shed light on US history, was President of the Continental Congress and put his large and flamboyant signature on the Declaration of Independence when it was signed in 1776.

Fast forward to 2023, where — despite the rise of digital alternatives — signatures are still important to some.

Sonia Palamand in St. Louis, Missouri, started nodding to calligraphy in middle school. She does business on TikTok, charges $35 for three signatures, and advertises in videos designing for select commenters for free.

“It’s a way for people to reinvent themselves. How you present yourself on the outside can affect how you see yourself on the inside. I think with signatures it adds some intention,” she said. “It’s also an artistic pursuit.”

Artistic, sure, but what happens when a client’s signature needs to be matched to a signature on file? Think of voter rolls, passports, credit cards, health documents, wills, insurance or financial records.

There is of course the option to go back to an old signature, although some satisfied customers choose to adapt their world of saved signatures to the new one.

But are the new signatures somehow easier for scammers to replicate?

James Green, a board-certified document examiner who has testified in more than 140 legal cases around the world, went through the customer experience at one of the signature design companies. He paid for a package that included three options.

“At this point, I can’t throw signature design services under the bus,” he said. “However, the jury is still out. Of course, if customers request a simplified signature style or limit it to their initials, the opportunity for fraud increases.”

Signature Pro, the company Green used, provided him with a writing template to help him better sign the new way. Green in Eugene, Ore., said the three samples “could not be easily simulated because of squiggles, spacing, elevation ratios” and other proportions.”

Asked about copyright, Signature Pro told him the company doesn’t retain any rights. Signature Pro charges $170 to $600 for a range of services, the most expensive of which offers unlimited options, one signature for everyday use, and another for special occasions.

In Miami, cargo pilot Juan Herrera decided to redo his signature after his wife gave him a $750 Montblanc pen and he realized “my signature looked like my daughter’s signature in fourth grade.”

He saw a post from VipArtni Calligraphy Studio on Facebook and decided to dive in, paying around $99 for 10 signatures to choose from.

“I always felt that my signature was always the same from high school, without any style, and it was easy to copy,” Herrera said.

He was given exercise sheets and soon mastered the one he had chosen.

“I use it every day,” he said. “I also use it for legal documents.”

Yevgeniya Ruzanova, co-founder of VipArtni, said she and an old friend started the company during the pandemic, initially providing fancy digital signatures before expanding their offering. The company is a side job for Ruzanova, who runs social media for a sports academy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“It’s relaxing,” Ruzanova said of the calligraphy work. “I was looking for rest.”

Most of their customers are located in the United States, although they and other companies serve customers around the world. Ruzanova, her business partner, and a third set of hands create signatures for 30 to 70 clients a month, charging $99 to $129. Their services include providing videos so customers can see their new signatures being drawn, stroke by stroke.

So how long does it take to reinvent your identity in ink?

“I would say some people get used to the new signature within three days if they practice 15 to 20 minutes a day,” Ruzanova said. “It all depends on how much effort they put into learning something new.”

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