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Fingerprint Brushes: Types And How to Choose One? A Forensic Guide

For latent print development, a fingerprint powder is needed. And to make fingerprint powder works an applying medium is required which is provided by a fingerprint brush.

Parts of Fingerprint Brush

There are five main parts of a fingerprint brush. These are:

  1. Toe: where hairbrush ends, also called head.
  2. Bristles: Hair of brush. It can be made from fiberglass, polyester, natural animal hairs, feathers, or nylon.
  3. Ferrule: part that connects bristles with handles.
  4. Crimp: part of Ferrule that cramps the fibers and secures them to handle.
  5. Handle: flat cylindrical or curved design. Usually made of wood or acrylic.
Parts of Fingerprint Brush

Fiber Mount Styling in Fingerprint Brushes

There are two common fiber mount styling: Zephyr or Artist/Mop.

A. Zephyr Style Fingerprint Brushes

In Zephyr style brushes, fibers/hairs are straightly cut, quite long, and attached to a thin handle. They usually have a wide application area with equal-sized flat bristles. The fibers are attached with a single flat crimp on a handle.

B. Artist or Mop Style Fingerprint Brushes

Mop-style brushes are also called artist-style mounts. The head (brush ends) is made to be rounded with shorter hair at the corners while longer hair in the middle. The handle is also thicker which levels with the Ferrule of the brush with a thinner handle (other) end.

Zephyr vs artist or mop fingerprint brushes

[Table] Zephyr Vs Mop Style Fingerprint Brushes

FeatureZephyr BrushesArtist or Mop Brushes
Fibers ArrangementAlmost equalShorter at corners and longer in middle
Brush head (Toe)Flat Rounded
Bristles LengthLongerShorter 
Surface areaLargerShorter
CrimpSingle wide crimp as flat cylinderDouble or triple crimp
HandleThin with uniform areaThicker stick with curved handle design

Types of Fingerprint Brushes For Finger Marks Development

There are seven fingerprint brushes of which four are common. All these fingerprint brushes are:

  1. Fiberglass Brush
  2. Animal Hair Brush
  3. Feather Brush
  4. Magna Brush (Magnetic Brush)
  5. Polyester Brush
  6. Carbon Brush
  7. Nylon Brush

1. Fiberglass Fingerprint Brush

Fiberglass Fingerprint Brush
  • Style: Fiberglass brushes are Zephyr Style Brushes with ultra-fine and soft fiberglass bristles.
  • Average Fiber Diameter: 7 to 10µm. These are one of the thinnest fingerprint brush fibers.
  • Powder Retain: They do not require constant powder replenishment like other traditional brushes.
  • Always soft: Fiberglass brush tips remain soft and get softer with use (this also creates problems).
  • Common sizes: 6″, 7.5”, or 8″ fiberglass fingerprint brush.

Fiberglass fingerprint brushes are available as lightly starched or unstarched. Lightly starched fiberglass is less prone to tangling than unstarched ones. Hence, less prone to shed glass fibers.

It is shown by a study that unstarched fiberglass brushes do slightly better in fingerprint development than starched ones but they are more tangled in use and can break more than starched ones (Source). 

Disadvantages: Glass fiber brushes tend to break and become airborne which may irritate eyes, skin, and can cause respiratory health problems. One should use specs/masks while using glass fiber, especially using unstarched ones.

Commercially Available Services:

Note: If you’re planning to buy for the presentation in a closed environment or for a class with teenagers, I highly suggest you go with other brushes such as feather or animal brushes.

2. Animal Hair Fingerprint Brush

camel hair fingerprint brush
  • Style: Both zephyr and mop styling
  • Animal hair brushes: Camel, squirrel, and pony hairs brush
  • Average Fiber Diameter: at tip = 7 to 27µm, and body = 38 to 95µm
  • Structure: Surface is covered with scales that make it rougher.
  • Cross-Section: They have hollow structures with thin exteriors which appear dumbbell-shaped.
  • Powder Performance: When developing prints on larger areas, they do not retain powder well and need to be recharged regularly.
  • Powder Usage: granular or magnetic powders.
  • Size: Small to medium in mop style and longer in zephyr style.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Not optimum brushes for aluminum-based fingerprint powders.
    • Do not retain powder very well and needs to be regularly recharged.

Commercial Stores: Check Various Types of Animal Hair Fingerprint Brushes at CSIequipment.com.

3. Feather Fingerprint Brush

Feather Fingerprint Brushes

Feather Brushes are soft hair that is mainly made from Marabou feathers. These feathers have tendrils that can collect fingerprint powder with ease and cover a longer surface area.

With the feather brush, much less pressure is needed than animal hair fingerprint brushes but they do have jagged barbs at regular intervals pointing towards the tip of the feather. These jagged barbs seem to be vein structures on leaves.

Moreover, the tips of these fingerprint brushes sometimes are made by trimming resulting in coarse ends that might cause damage to finger marks on very smooth surfaces. They, like animal brushes, do not work well with aluminum powder.

They are usually available in three color feathers: red, white, and black.

4. Magnetic Brush (Magna Brush)

Magna brush or magnetic brush applicator

When using magnetic powders, a special type of magnetic applicator is used called Magna brush. They have magnetic tips that capture magnetic powder and form a “magnetized brush” that can be directly applied over latent fingermarks.

Commercially, they are available in various sizes and magnetic strength. The best magnetic brush would be with higher magnetic strength so that it captures more magnetic powder and forms a larger brush. This reduces the chance of destruction of latent fingermarks and also has a larger surface brush area to cover. 

One of the major advantages of using Magna brushes is the ease and mess-free application on horizontal surfaces. Excess powder can also be removed from the substrate by moving the Magna brush over the developed fingerprints.

Major disadvantages of Magna brushes are; (1) powder tends to fall over vertical surfaces, and (2) hard to apply over magnetic surfaces.

Read More: When Magnetic Powders are Used? And on What Surfaces?

Note: In 1962, MacDonell introduced a magnetic fingerprint applicator which he named ‘Magna Brush’. It has a retractable bar magnetic in a non-magnetic cover design.

5. Polyester Brushes

These are available in zephyr and artist/mop style and usually have tapered ends. They have thicker polyester fibers— probably one of the thickest— and have a fiber diameter of 100 μm. The tips are usually tapered to a fine point but some of them have cut not fine.

The overall weight of the brush is heavier due to thicker hair. It may also be the cause of the destruction of latent fingermarks due to non-tapered ends with heavier strokes.

Avoid using polyester fingerprint brushes over fiberglass or animal hair fingerprint brushes. Polyester fingerprint brushes perform similarly to artist-styling squirrel hair brushes in terms of powder performance.

However, if you want a safer alternative to fiberglass and don’t want to use animal products, Zephyr polyester brushes are the way to go. And, at all costs, avoid using mop-style polyester brushes. 

Commercially, they are available as Skye I, II, or III, or Tetra Washable.

6. Carbon Fingerprint Brush

They are rare. Very few sellers and their use are limited to laboratory work. None of the crime scene investigators’ team uses carbon brushes in the USA. This is probably because they profoundly shed large clumps of fibers easily from the brush. They have very smooth surfaces.

I highly suggest you not use them for fingerprint development without proper ventilation and a face mask. It can be used for research purposes and is not suitable for fieldwork.

7. Nylon Fingerprint Brush

These are also absolute. No longer available in the market for common use. However, in the early 2000s, you could buy them. They have chopped tips that cause more friction over the latent prints and increase the chase of getting fingerprints.

Performance-wise they are comparable to feather fingerprint brushes over the glass and glossy polished woods. 

How to Identify Which Type of Fingerprint Brush You Have?

S.No.Fingerprint BrushIdentification Markers/ Features
1.Fiberglass BrushZephyr style long smooth bristles attached to a flat cylindrical handle
2.Animal Hair BrushRough with uneven thickness and size. Usually available in artist style.
3.Feather BrushSoft and light with the highest surface area and has microscopic vein structures
4.Magnetic BrushMagnetic tip with a de-magnetized rod at the other end.
5.Polyester BrushThickest, heavier, and tapered ends
6.Carbon Brush*Tends to break often with smooth fibers.
7.Nylon Brush*Chopped tips
*not commercially available as a fingerprint brush.

How To Choose Fingerprint Brushes Based on Surfaces?

Before buying a fingerprint brush, you should first be aware of your common surfaces to work on. And also which type of fingerprint powder you’re going to use. In any fingerprint development kit, there are at least three types of fingerprint brushes. These are fiberglass, animal fiber (mostly camel or squirrel), a Marabou feather brush, and a Magna brush.

In any case, you mostly require two to three fingerprint brushes. If you want to use the magnetic powder you need a Magna brush (or artist animal hairbrush). Otherwise, for non-magnetic and fluorescent fingerprint powder, fiberglass fiber works well.

In the case of using Magna brushes, they only work with magnetic powders. 

SurfaceFingerprint Brush
GlassFiberglass, Animal, Magna brushes
PVC/ PlasticFiberglass, Magna, Animal hair brushes
Glossy WoodFiberglass, Animal, Magna brushes
MetalFiberglass, animal, and feather brushes
Unpolished woodMagna brush 
Paper (fresh)Magna brush and animal hair brushes
Texture surfaceMagna brush
Smooth LeatherFiberglass, Magna, and feather
Textured leatherMagna brush
Plastic BottlesMagna brush and fiberglass
DoorknobsFiberglass, feather, and animal hair brushes
TV ScreensFiberglass and feather
MirrorFiberglass and feather
ClothesChemical Methods
SkinPhysical developer method
Mobile ScreenFiberglass, feather, and animal hair brushes
BeginnersMagna brush and fiberglass brushes
* For lifting on texture surfaces, use thick gel tapes or casting, and avoid using regular lifters.

How to Clean Fingerprint Brushes? Advice to Follow

  1. Use Carrying Tube: Most fingerprint brushes come with a carrying tube. You should keep them in it when not in use.
  2. Avoid washing whenever possible. It generally makes fibers slightly rougher and less flexible for a period of time. 
  3. Washing Advice: First make sure you contact the manufacturer. In the general case, you can rinse in warm water and then squeeze out excess water by pressing toward the tips. Dry them overnight. Don’t sun-dry fingerprint brushes. Comb with a fine-tooth comb
  4. Don’t Cut Tips: Don’t cut tips unless you have a plan to make their tips flare again. For that, you can use a fine-tooth comb.

General FAQ

What is the purpose of a fingerprint brush?

Fingerprint powder alone can’t develop prints. An effective delivering medium is needed which is fulfilled by a fingerprint brush. An idle fingerprint brush holds and doesn’t shed excessive powder over surfaces, maintaining idle friction by their fibers that don’t damage latent marks.

What are the types of brushes used for powders forensics?

There are mainly four types of fingerprint brushes used by forensic experts. These are fiberglass, camel hair, and feather brushes with non-magnetic or fluorescent powders on smooth surfaces. For texture surfaces, Magna brushes with magnetic powder are used. 

What are forensic fingerprint brushes made of?

Forensic fingerprint brushes are made from glass fibers of 7 to 10µm diameter; animal hair of squirrel, camel, hog, and pony; feather brushes from Marabou’s bird feather; and Magna brushes from a magnetic bar with demagnetize clip.

What technique uses a Magna brush?

Magna brush uses simple magnetism. When the magnetic powder is influenced by a magnet, its atoms begin to align electrons with the flow of the magnetic field, which makes powders magnetized. This forms a “brush” structure on Magna brush by the attraction of magnetic powder.

What animal hair is used for fingerprint brushes?

Most common animal hair fingerprint brushes are made from squirrels, camel, pony, and hog hairs. The hair used for making these brushes are taken from different parts of the body whose cross-sectional diameter is not more than 95µm (~100µm). 

Which is the Best Brush for Classroom Demonstration?

Considering both health and fingerprint development equally important, I prefer to use animal hair or feather brushes with non-magnetic powders, and Magna brushes with magnetic powders. Fiberglass is the best material for development, but it tends to shed airborne fibers.

What removes excessive fingerprint powder?

If prints were developed from conventional brushes, lightly swinging with a clean feather brush removes most of excessive fingerprint powder. If you don’t have an additional feather brush, you first have to declutter powder from the used one and then swipe it overprints. For magnetic powder, you simply have to move clean Magna brush overprints.

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