What is Involved in the Fingerprinting Process?

Dan Cavallari

The fingerprinting process is used for a variety of reasons, most often in law enforcement applications. The traditional fingerprinting process is different from more modern methods in which scanners and computers are used, but the traditional ink and paper method is still very common. In order to obtain clean fingerprints, the hands of the person being fingerprinted need to be cleaned thoroughly. The fingertips themselves are usually cleaned with alcohol to clear any grease or natural oils from the skin. This allows the ink to adhere properly to the skin without smudging on the paper.

Fingerprints can be stored in a law enforcement database.
Fingerprints can be stored in a law enforcement database.

Once the hands and fingertips are appropriately cleaned, the fingers are pressed against an ink pad until the fingertips are thoroughly covered. This is an important step in the fingerprinting process, as an insufficient amount of ink on the fingers will prevent the paper from receiving full prints. Fingers are often coated with ink one finger at a time to prevent the ink from drying before it can be applied to the paper. The first finger will be applied to the paper in a specific box that indicates which finger this print matches. The finger must be rolled from one side to the other while applying firm pressure to get a clean and thorough print.

The traditional ink and paper method of taking fingerprints is still common.
The traditional ink and paper method of taking fingerprints is still common.

The fingerprinting process continues with the same practice on each finger on both hands. Once each finger has been printed on the card, all five fingers are pressed in a larger area on the fingerprint card. Each hand will be printed in this manner. The card is allowed to dry briefly, and then it can be filed appropriately. Criminals being booked into jail or prison are fingerprinted, and in many regions of the world, teachers must be fingerprinted to obtain a fingerprint identification card that is kept on file by the school and school district.

More modern fingerprinting process methods include the use of computer scanners to obtain fingerprints. This allows law enforcement officials to avoid the paper and ink method and obtain clean prints quickly and efficiently. The scanned prints can be stored electronically for faster access, or they can be printed on a hard copy paper for filing in a physical file. Other fingerprinting process methods include searching for fingerprints at a crime scene, which is a much more involved and difficult process. It can be difficult or impossible to find fingerprints at a crime scene, but if they are found, they can be compared to a fingerprint database kept by law enforcement officials.

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