The identifying loops, whorls and arches on our fingertips - and how to lift them

A Youth Academy participant uses a magnifying glass to examine a fingerprint during the Cedar Rapids Police Department's
A Youth Academy participant uses a magnifying glass to examine a fingerprint during the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s Youth Academy class. (Cedar Rapids police photo / Gazette file photo)

11:00AM | Fri, August 07, 2020

11:00AM | Fri, August 07, 2020

12:30PM | Wed, August 05, 2020

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Maybe you already know that your fingerprints are especially unique — no one, not even if you have an identical twin, has prints exactly like yours.

That’s what can make a fingerprint left behind at the scene of a crime so helpful to investigators and detectives. If they can capture a perfect print, it might lead them to their suspect.

Almost everyone’s fingerprints are marked with whorls, loops or arches. (It’s very rare, but some people, who have a condition called adermatoglyphia, are born without fingerprints!) Often, our fingerprints’ patterns resemble those of our parents’.

How to lift fingerprints

To find out what the prints you leave behind — on drinking glasses, books and all the other flat surfaces you touch — look like, all you need is a pencil, some clear tape and two white pieces of paper.

1. On one piece of paper, draw a rectangle and divide it into 10 equal parts — two rows of five. Label one row for your left hand and one for your right, then label each box as thumb, pointer, middle, ring and pinkie fingers.

2. On the other piece of paper, use the edge of your pencil to create a dark area of graphite. It doesn’t need to be too big.

Pick your first finger and rub it on your patch of graphite. Take a piece of tape and carefully place it on your finger, take it off, and place it on in the right spot on your first piece of paper.

3. Repeat this for all of your fingers. What do you notice about your own prints now that you can see them more clearly? How are they different or the same as your siblings’ or parents’?


If you want to stage a full-blown investigation at home — who took the last cookie from the cookie jar? Who left a glass on the table? Who “borrowed” your toy? — you’ll need to create a database of sorts of fingerprints. Ask the people you live with if it’s OK, and then have them repeat the steps above.

Now grab that jar or glass or toy. If you can find a print, take a fluffy brush — like a paintbrush or a makeup brush — and lightly dust the area. Cocoa powder, according to Scholastic’s website, should work. Blow lightly to remove the excess powder, then use a piece of tape to “lift” the print and transfer it to a white piece of paper.

Lifting prints, a key to forensics work, is a tricky process. If you can get one, compare it to the prints you’ve compiled from family members and try to guess who it belongs to.

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