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ATF National Laboratories


Types of Fingerprints

  • inked/rolled
    • creates a permanent record
    • tracks criminal history
  • latent
    • fingers, palms, soles of feet
    • establishes presence at the crime scene

Obtaining Inked/Rolled Prints

  • Have subject wash hands prior to printing
  • Print the fingers, palms, writer's palm
  • Note all missing and unprintable fingers
  • Make sure prints are clear & legible
  • Use thinly rolled ink--not porlon ink pad
  • Agent and suspect should sign & date card

Latent Prints

  • Types
    • plastic
    • visible/ patent
    • invisible
  • Prints are affected and effected by:
    • person touching surface
    • the receiving surface
    • the conditions of the scene
    • how item is packaged, shipped & processed at lab


  • ATF Form 4473
  • Submit:
    • the original 4473
    • original print card if available
      photograph of printcard--not photocopy!
    • include palm and "writer's palm" prints

Factors Concerning Prints

  • Time between print deposit and development directly effects print recovery.
  • Improper shipment techniques can wipe off or eliminate prints.
  • Lab specialists have the training, equipment, and are willing to assist in the field.

Packaging and Shipping

  • Make sure all items are dry before packaging and transporting to lab.
  • Plastic and visible prints: photograph before object is moved or print is lifted.
  • Invisible prints: with proper training/experience, agents may use superglue method to fix prints prior to shipping.
  • Non-porous evidence:
    • Print lies on surface (examples: guns, pipe fragments, plastic fragments, metal cans, plastic bags, drug scales, glass).
    • Do not allow these types of items to come in contact with other objects.
    • Do not allow item to shift inside packaging.
    • Do not use styrofoam packaging materials.
    • Remember to clear and render-safe all guns before shipping (use wire or nylon tie downs to secure inside box).
    • Always wear gloves & handle object as little as possible.
  • Porous evidence:
    • Moisture from print is absorbed into the matrix (examples: paper, untreated wood, cardboard)
    • Wear gloves when handling object
    • Use paper envelopes, document protectors, or heavy duty plastic bags
    • Wrap wood & cardboard boxes in paper

Reprinted with permission.

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