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Key Words:
Fingerprint, loop, whorl, arch,rolled impression, fingerprint spoon

See Also:






Section I. Introduction

The purpose of this program is to provide information regarding the nature of fingerprints and outline techniques for taking legible fingerprints.

Fingerprints can be recorded on a standard fingerprint card or digitally. Obtaining quality fingerprint impressions can be a matter of using proper techniques. Even though the methods of recording fingerprints may differ, the techniques for obtaining quality fingerprints are very similar.


    I.     Introduction

    II.    Fingerprint Pattern Types
           1. Loop, Whorl, Arch

    III.   Fingerprint Impression Types
           1. Rolled, Plain

    IV.   Basic Fingerprinting Equipment
       1. Ink, Paper, Live Scan

    V.    Steps for Fingerprinting

    VI.   Special Situations
       1. Amputations
           2. Bandaged Fingers
           3. Scars
           4. Deformities
           5. Worn Fingerprints
           6. Extra Fingers

    VII.  Quality Checklist

Section II. Fingerprint Pattern Types

Fingerprints are the result of minute ridges
and valleys found on the hand of every
person. In the fingers and thumbs, these
ridges form patterns of loops, whorls and

Example of a Loop Fingerprint pattern Example of a Whorl Fingerprint pattern Example of a Arch Fingerprint pattern

Each of the three pattern types have focal points which are used for classification.
In the Loop pattern there are two focal points: the Core, or the center of the loop, and the delta. The Delta is the area of the pattern where there is a triangulation or a dividing of the ridges. When recording fingerprints, the delta and the area between the delta and the core must be completely recorded.
Loop Pattern focal Points Graphic
A Whorl pattern will have two or more deltas. For a whorl pattern, all deltas and the areas between them must be recorded.
Whorl pattern focal points graphic
The Arch pattern has no delta or core; but, it too, must be fully recorded so that its individual characteristics can be readily distinguished.
Arch pattern graphic
Section III. Fingerprint Impression Types

There are two types of impressions involved in taking fingerprints. The upper ten impressions are taken individually, thumb, index, middle, ring, and little fingers of each hand. These are referred to as the "rolled" impressions because the fingers are rolled from one side of the fingernail to the other, in order to obtain all available ridge detail.

The impressions at the bottom of the card are taken simutaneously without rolling, printing all of the fingers of each hand at a forty-five degree angle and then the thumbs. These are referred to as "plain," "slapped," or "flat" impressions. The plain impressions are used to verify the sequence and accuracy of the rolled impressions.

Fingerprint card displaying rolled and plain impressions
Section IV. Basic Fingerprint Equipment

Fingerprints can be recorded with any of the following materials:

Ink (Black Printers Ink or Porelon Pad) and Paper (Standard Fingerprint Card,
  FD-249 Criminal Card or FD-258 Applicant Card). A Porelon Pad contains a
  built-in ink supply.

Chemicals and Paper (Standard Fingerprint Card)

Livescan. For a list of FBI certified Live Scan and Card Scan devices see the
  FBI Certified Equipment List at www.fbi.gov.

Section V. Steps for Fingerprinting

The recommended height for the fingerprinting device (Card or Live-Scan) is approximately thirty-nine inches from the floor. This will allow the forearm of an average adult being fingerprinted to be parallel to the floor, at which position it is best to roll and record fingerprints. If the fingerprinting device is not at this height, care must be taken or the finger tends to rise off the device. If this happens, the technician will fail to capture the
lower portion of the first joint and necessary ridge detail will be missing.

1. Fingers to be printed must be clean and dry. Wiping the individual's fingers
    with an alcohol swab and then drying them should prevent perspiration from
    being a problem. If the individual's occupation has caused a wearing down or
    rough surface on the fingers, use lotion to soften the fingers (be sure to wipe
    the lotion off before printing).

2. The individual being fingerprinted should be asked to stand in front of and
    at a forearm's length from the fingerprinting device. The individual
    should stand to the right and rear of the person taking the fingerprints.

3. Encourage the individual being fingerprinted to relax. Ask them to look at
    some distant object to distract them from what you are doing.

4. Grasp the individual's right hand at the base of the thumb with your right
    hand. Cup your hand over the individual's fingers, tucking under those fingers
    not being printed. Guide the finger being printed with your left hand.

5. If using the ink and paper method, roll the finger on the inking plate or
    Porelon Pad so that the entire fingerprint pattern area is evenly covered with
    ink. The ink should cover from one edge of the nail to the other and from
    the crease of the first joint to the tip of the finger. Using the right amount
    of ink is of vital importance. Too little ink and the impression will be too light.
    Too much ink and the fine details will run together.

photo of fingerprint displaying the bulb and first joint
6. In taking the rolled impression, the side of the bulb (see illustration above)
    of the finger is placed upon the paper fingerprint card or the fingerprinting
    device, and the finger is rolled to the other side until it faces the opposite
    direction. Care should be exercised so the bulb of each finger is rolled
    evenly from tip to below the first joint. Generally, the weight of the finger is
    all the pressure needed to clearly record the fingerprint.
7. In order to take advantage of the natural movement of the forearm, the hand
    should be rotated from the more difficult position to the easiest position.
    This requires that the thumbs be rolled toward and the fingers away from
    the center of the individual's body. This process relieves strain and leaves
    the fingers relaxed when rolling so that they may be lifted easily without
    danger of slipping which smudges and blurs the fingerprints.
8. Roll each finger from nail to nail in the appropriate space taking care to lift
    each finger up and away after rolling, to avoid smudging.
9. If using the ink and paper method and a rolled impression is not acceptable,
    you may use an adhesive re-tab to cover the fingerprint in its space. (No
    more than one re-tab per finger block is permitted.) For live scan, the
    image can be deleted and retaken.
10. Plain impressions are printed last, at the bottom
      of the card. The technician simutaneously
      presses the individual's four fingers (on the right
      hand), keeping the fingers together, on the
      surface of the fingerprint card or the fingerprinting
      device at a forty-five degree angle in order to
      capture all four fingers in the allotted space (see
      illustration). Repeat this process for the left hand.
      Print both thumbs simutaneously in the plain
      impression thumb blocks (to ensure that they
      are in the proper spaces).
Photo of fingerprints being taken
Please Note: Never place a fingerprint impression on the back of a
fingerprint card.
11. If using the ink and paper method, complete the information at the top of the
      fingerprint card (masthead). If using live scan, complete the required
Section VI. Special Situations

Special attention must be given when fingerprinting an individual with abnormalities
of the fingers, thumbs or hands. Special situations include:

Bandaged Fingers or Hands
Worn Fingerprints
Extra Fingers
Webbed Fingers

An amputation exists when an individual has one or more fingers, thumbs or hands
missing. This condition should be noted in the appropriate block of the fingerprint
submission. Total amputation should be designated using the following notations:

Amputation (AMP)
Missing at Birth (MAB)

Please Note: The term "Missing," is not interpreted as amputation by
the FBI.
Bandaged Fingers or Hands
If the individual has a bandage or cast on a finger, thumb or hand, place the
notation, "Unable to Print" or "UP" in the appropriate finger block.

A scar exists when an individual has permanent tissue damage to finger, thumb
or hand and when only pattern areas that have been totally destroyed or the ridge
detail appears distorted. These fingerprints should be taken as they exist. The
scars can be noted as "Scarred," but it is not required.

A deformity may exist as a result of an injury, birth defect or disease. An attempt
should be made to fingerprint the individual with the techniques outlined
previously; although special equipment (e.g., a fingerprint spoon) may be
needed when fingerprinting individuals with deformities. The equipment can
be found in the "Postmortem Kit" and consists of:

Black Printers Ink
Fingerprint Card Strip Holder (Spoon)
Fingerprint Card Strips

photo depicting use of a fingerprint spoon
How to Use the Fingerprint Spoon

1. Place a fingerprint card strip in the fingerprint card strip
     holder (spoon).

2. Using the spatula, ink the finger (starting with the right
     hand) and be sure to apply ink from nail to nail.

3. Place the inked finger on the fingerprint card strip
     holder (curved area) and press down. Do not roll
     the finger. The curved shape of the holder will serve
     the same purpose as rolling the finger.

4. Cut out the finger block from the card strip and paste
     in the corresponding block on the standard fingerprint

5. Repeat these steps for each of the remaining fingers.
     Be sure to record the correct finger in the correct finger

Please Note: A strip of fingerprint re-tabs can be substituted for the
fingerprint card strip
If utilizing Live-Scan equipment, the use of a Fingerprint Spoon is not an option. You
may want to fingerprint the individual on a standard fingerprint card using either Black Printers Ink, Porelon Pad or the Chemical method so that a Fingerprint Spoon may be used. Then either scan the fingerprint card and submit electronically, or mail the card.

If Live-Scan is the only option, then the finger block(s) should be left empty with a notation of "Unable to Print" or "UP." However, the number of finger blocks without fingerprint images should be kept at a minimum (no more than five).

Worn Fingerprints
An individual may, by the nature of their work or age, have very thin or worn ridges
in the pattern area. Light pressure and very little ink are used to record these types
of fingerprint impressions. A technique known as "milking the fingers" can be used
to raise the fingerprints prior to fingerprinting. The technique involves applying
pressure or rubbing the fingers in a downward motion from palm to fingertip.
In a situation of dry, flaky fingers, simply add a small amount of hand lotion or
ridge builder prior to fingerprinting.

Extra Fingers
If an individual has more than ten fingers, the thumbs and the next four fingers
should be printed. When a subject with more than ten fingers has an intentional
amputation performed, it is invariably the extra finger on the little finger side
that is amputated.

Fingerprint card notating not to print extra finger
Webbed FIngers or Split Thumbs
An individual may have two or more fingers webbed or grown together, making it impossible
to roll such fingers. Such fingers should be rolled as completely as possible, and a
notation made to the effect that they are joined or "webbed."
Fingerprint card notating to attempt to print webbed fingers as clearly as possible Fingerprint card showing notation of webbed fingers
Section VII. Quality Checklist

To verify that the fingerprint impressions meet the FBI's requirements, please use the
following checklist:

1. Is there a fingerprint impression in each finger block? If there is a missing
     fingerprint impression, is there a reason noted in the finger block (e.g.,
     AMP, missing at birth, unable to print, etc.)?

Fingerprint card showing notation of amputated fingers
2. Are the fingerprints rolled fully, from nail to nail?
Graphic depicting acceptable and unacceptable fingerprints
3. If the fingerprint impression is a loop, are the delta and core present?
    If the fingerprint impression is a whorl, are all deltas present?

4. Are the fingerprint impressions clear and distinct?

5. Are the fingerprint impressions uniform in tone and not too dark or light?

Graphic depicting prints that are too dark, too light, and where in is unevenly distributed
6. Are the four finger impressions and a thumb impression in the plain
    impression block for each hand?

7. Are the rolled fingerprint impressions in the correct finger blocks when
    compared to the plain impressions?

Graphic depicting fingerprints are in correct order on card
Please Note: If using live scan equipment to capture fingerprint
impressions, it is important to clean the equipment regularly and
calibrate routinely per the manufacturers guidelines, to ensure the
quality and integrity of the fingerprint images.

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