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Fingerprints and pattern evidence


Investigators have been using the results of forensic fingerprint analysis to solve crimes for more than a century. Fingerprint analysis generally involves comparing fingerprints found at a crime scene — called latent fingerprints — with fingerprints from a known individual and assessing how similar they are. A trained fingerprint examiner makes that assessment by comparing details including the shapes that the ridge lines form and where the lines end or split. Latent prints are often partial, distorted or smudged, so the first step is to determine if there is sufficient detail in the latent print to make a comparison. If not, no further analysis is done. If there is enough detail in the latent print, the examiner will carefully compare the features of the two prints and determine, based on training and experience, if the prints are likely to have come from the same person or from different people.


Some studies have shown that different examiners occasionally come to different conclusions when assessing the same evidence. This is not unexpected, as any human endeavor necessarily involves some chance of error. However, those chances can be reduced. NIST is working to develop computer algorithms that would automate some parts of the fingerprint analysis process, with the goal of reducing the opportunities for error and making the process more reliable and efficient.


News and Updates

Projects and Programs

NIST Ballistics Toolmark Database

The NIST Ballistics Toolmark Research Database is an open-access research database of bullet and cartridge case toolmark data. This database will: foster the

Fingerprint Chemistry

The goal of this focus area is to leverage the wealth of chemical information present in fingerprint deposits for novel forensic applications. This includes


Markup Instructions for Extended Friction Ridge Features

Melissa K. Taylor, Will Chapman, Austin Hicklin, George Kiebuzinski, Peter Komarinski, John Mayer-Splain, Rachel Wallner
This document provides instructions for latent print examiners in marking friction ridge features to maximize consistency among examiners. This document builds

Latent Interoperability Transmission Specification

Melissa K. Taylor, Will Chapman, Austin Hicklin, George Kiebuzinski, Peter Komarinski, John Mayer-Splain, Rachel Wallner
The Latent Interoperability Transmission Specification (LITS) is an application profile of the American National Standards Institute/National Institute of

Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach

Melissa K. Taylor, David H. Kaye, Thomas Busey, Melissa Gische, Gerry LaPorte, Colin Aitken, Susan M. Ballou, Leonard Butt, Christophe Champod, David Charlton, Itiel E. Dror, Jules Epstein, Robert J. Garrett, Max Houck, Edward J. Imwinkelried, Ralph Keaton, Glenn Langenburg, Deborah A. Leben, Alice Maceo, Kenneth F. Martin, Jennifer L. Mnookin, Cedric Neumann, Joe Polski, Maria A. Roberts, Scott A. Shappell, Lyle Shaver, Sargur N. Srihari, Hal S. Stern, David Stoney, Anjali Swienton, Mary F. Theofanos, Robert M. Thompson, John Vanderkolk, Maria Weir, Kasey Wertheim
Fingerprints have provided a valuable method of personal identification in forensic science and criminal investigations for more than 100 years. The examination

Extended Feature Set Profile Specification

Melissa K. Taylor, Will Chapman, Austin Hicklin, George Kiebuzinski, John Mayer-Splain, Rachel Wallner, Peter Komarinski
This specification defines Extended Feature Set (EFS) Profiles - sets of features to be used in latent friction ridge (fingerprint, palmprint or plantar)


NIST Biometric Image Software (NBIS)

Current Release: NBIS : Release 5.0.0 AboutThe NIST Biometric Image Software (NBIS) distribution is developed by the National Institute of Standards and