Revolutionary forensic fingerprint technique could help fight against fraud

Forensic examiners can now determine whether a fingerprint was placed on a piece of paper before or after any text was printed on it.

The revolutionary technique could help resolve cases of fraud, for example where the defendant claims to have no knowledge of the document but does admit to handling the sheet of paper it was printed on whilst it was blank.

“Let’s say a document was found with your fingerprint on it,” said Professor Paul Kelly, of Loughborough University. “You could say that it’s there because you loaded the paper, but later someone actually printed off the document.

“Normal development techniques just reveal the presence of fingerprints, however, this one allows us to show that you touched the document after the text had been printed.

“Of course, depending on the case, this could be good or bad for the defendant.”

Prof Kelly developed the technique with his former PhD student, now at forensic technology company Foster+Freeman, Dr Roberto King.

He said it is easy to carry out and uses common forensic tools – gelatine lifters are a standard tool of crime scene investigators.

The process works by placing a thin layer of gelatine over any fingerprint that overlaps with printed text.

The gelatine is then peeled away and placed inside a sealed vacuum chamber and filled with disulfur [PW1] [PK2] dinitride vapour, which reacts with the sample.

The fingerprint will then appear either masked (A - below) if put down before the text was printed on the paper or complete (B) if put down after the text had been printed.

One perk of the technique, added Prof Kelly, is that it does not destroy the fingerprint, or the document, meaning they could be used for further forensic testing if needed.

"A key feature is the ease of collection of the information – simple application and peeling off a gelatine pad – and the fact it’s non-invasive.

“So, documents or artefacts that are rare or expensive or historically significant could be tested without causing any damage.”

The technique was developed at Foster+Freeman’s labs based at Loughborough’s world-class science and enterprise park, LUSEP.

Both Dr Beth McMurchie and Dr Richard Wilson, who run the labs, are also former PhD students of Prof Kelly’s.

He said: “It shows the value of partnerships based at LUSEP as all the authors came through our group at Loughborough and the work was completed at Foster+Freeman's satellite site on campus.

“It’s an excellent example of how PhD training, and the maintaining of close links via LUSEP, can benefit everyone and produce cutting edge results.”

In the past, Loughborough University has worked with Dr King and Foster+Freeman to create technology that makes it impossible for criminals to destroy their fingerprints.

Read the full paper, A preliminary investigation of a two-step, non-invasive process to determine chronological deposition order of fingerprints and printed ink on paper, online in the journal, Scientific Reports.

RECOVER | Research and Innovation | Loughborough University (


Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/165

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.