Fingerprinting: Learn How to Lift Prints from a Crime Scene

Learn about fingerprinting and how prints are lifted from a crime scene.

What are fingerprints?

A fingerprint is an impression of the friction ridges of all or any part of the finger. A friction ridge is a raised portion of the epidermis on the palmar or plantar skin, consisting of one or more connected ridge units of friction ridge skin.  These ridges are sometimes known as “dermal ridges” or “dermal papillae”.

Fingerprints may be deposited in natural secretions from the eccrine glands present in friction ridge skin (secretions consisting primarily of water) or they may be made by ink or other contaminants transferred from the peaks of friction skin ridges to a relatively smooth surface such as a fingerprint card. The term normally refers to the impressions transferred from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, though fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers (which are also used to effect identifications).

What are they used for?

Fingerprints are often used as a method of identifying people, especially in forensic science and crime scene investigation, as no two prints are alike. Prints are used by crime scene investigators and coroners to help positively identify a criminal or identify a body when the identity of the individual is unknown. Various types of prints are “lifted” or taken from crime scenes and the results are analyzed and electronically compared to national databases to determine a possible match. Many people think that fingerprints are the only prints that are left at a crime scene. Other types of prints include: lip, hand, mouth, and more.

Reference Books, Equipment and Supplies

If you’re interested in learning more, the following books provide information on the history, processes involved, and how the techniques are currently being applied to investigate crime scenes. These books will help you learn how to:

  • Understand how fingerprints are lifted from a crime scene and how they are preserved for future evaluation and analysis
  • Learn how prints are analyzed and linked to a person through the use of software and database technology
  • Understand the various types of prints that might be left at a crime scene such as lip prints, hand prints, mouth prints, etc. and how they are used to identify and convict the guilty
  • Learn the types of equipment, technology and software used such as ink, pads, forms and scanners

List of Books

Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case That Launched Forensic Science (Hardcover) – The story of a scientific breakthrough that solved one of the most brutal murders in England’s history and forever changed the criminal justice system. This book tells the  story of how technology found its way into the criminal justice system. Well-researched, this book traces fingerprinting to its present-day applications and explains why the unique tracks we leave with our fingers continue to be one of the most important means of identifying criminals.

Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Paperback) – Tells the history of finger prints and how we shouldn’t have blind faith in the technology that defines our individuality.

DNA Fingerprinting – This books explains how modern identification techniques are used in the courts to convict the guilty, free the innocent, and even inspire legal treachery.

Buy these and other Books at

The following  supplies are available through Private investigators use various specialized equipment and supplies to take prints at the scene of an investigation.

Fingerprint Cards, Applicant FD-258, 50 pack – This is the standard FBI card, form No. FD-258 used by the FBI, Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and many police agencies for noncriminal printing such as for employment clearances or immigration purposes. Perfect for classroom use. Cards come in packs of 50. These are the most recent version of the FD-258 cards, with the new privacy statement.

Lee Products Inkless Fingerprint Pad (S03027) – This “Inkless pad” produces crisp finger imprints on any paper.  The pad is specially formulated to not dry out.

Fingerprint Pad for roll – This finger print pad is 3.5″ X 4.5″, and is a rub-off Ink Pad (best use for roll printing). The pad is made of Porous Polyethylene pad with smooth surface which allows you to gather clean, true black prints. Results produced by this product are accepted by the FBI for classification, search and retention. No messy, never dries, capacity 5,000 impressions. It is suitable to use for local, state, federal governments’ background checks.

Helpful Resources

Following are resources including in-depth articles, supplies, equipment and reference books for more information.

  • Gemalto – The world’s leading supplier of integrated system solutions using biometrics for both government and commercial customers.
  • – The website where you can learn everything the process, its history, and its present day use. Contains informative and useful articles on the subject including DNA and related products.

Articles, and News

  • – Sir Francis Galton’s books, papers, articles, letters, interviews, and other published matter on the subject.
  • Carnegie Mellon – Presents a system for document comparison based on textual similarity for related document searches and copyright/plagiarism protection.
  • National Science Foundation: From Fingerprints to Fiberprints – Prints left on a piece of research equipment sprouted nano fibers when they interacted with cyanoacrylate glue.

U.S. Government Resources

  • U.S. Federal Government: – Includes biometrics reference room, recommended biometric standards, and Subcommittee on Biometrics and Identity Management info.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology: Includes NIST interactive “Solving Crimes, Improving Security” and suspect matching game.
  • Biometrics Task Force
  • U.S. Department of Defense: Biometrics Task Force – Government organization dedicated to protecting the nation through the employment of biometric technologies and capabilities.
  • U.S. Marshals – United States Marshals website asks what type of prints do you have and why fingerprint identification?

What do Private Investigators Need to Know?

Private investigators may need to examine and/or lift impressions from a crime scene during an investigation, such as while investigating a theft, or when examining stolen property. Private investigators may also need to track down the results of an analysis with the appropriate lab or agency. Many private detectives have prior experience in law enforcement and in conducting crime scene investigations.  If you have a need to check for finger prints or to have prints analyzed, contact an investigative agency in your area.  To hire a P.I. that specializes in providing these services, please visit our Private Investigator Directory.



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