Fingerprints on Plastic Surface: How Long Do They Stay? Development Techniques

Fingerprints on the plastic surface have more ridge details when compared to porous surfaces such as fingerprints on clothes. However, as the nature of plastic is a non-porous substrate, the chance of finding finger marks is less as compared to semi-porous surfaces such as fingerprints on paper.

Latent fingerprints on plastic surfaces can be developed for up to 5 years. On rigid plastic, the finger marks can last for 5 years if remain undisturbed (or even more). In flexible plastic surfaces, they can be developed up to a few weeks to a few months. For blood fingerprints on plastic, development depends highly on environmental conditions.

Plastic MaterialsTime Fingerprint Rest*
Plastic bottle6 months
Food Packaging Film3 months
Plastic Plates and CupsFew years
Window Panels5-6 Months
Toys1-12 months
Plastic File Covers1 year
Pen2-4 weeks
Knife handle1-2 months
Cookware handle1-2 months
Credit and Debit Cards3 months
Pipes (PVC)1 year
Cable Insulations1-2 weeks
Black Garbage bag3-6 months
Adhesive Tapes (Non-sticky side)1 month
Tape Cassettes1 year
Electrical Appliances1-5 year
Slippers and Flops 2-4 weeks
*Only if fingerprints remain undisturbed in a stable environment with a good amount of sweat or other liquid.

When You Find Fingerprints on Plastic? And When Not?

The presence or absence of fingerprints on any surface depends on various factors as follows:

A. The environment in which the fingerprint is being taken

Environment plays a very important role in the preservation of fingerprints. Contamination of prints with soot gets deteriorated very soon. However, prints contaminated with blood, pigments, ink, etc are more resistant to deterioration.

Joseph De Alcaraz et al. determined various factors related to fingerprint degradation on surfaces (glass and plastic) over 6 months.

B. The surface containing the fingerprint

For plastic, the substrate can be plastic which can be categorized in terms of

(i) Porosity: Usually non-porous and rarely semi-porous. Porous is usually not found with the plastic substrate.

  • Non-Porous substrate: most plastic
  • Semi-porous substrate: creative sheets and some plastic papers (check developing prints on paper).

(ii) Rigidity: Plastic can be rigid or soft/flexible. The rigid plastic surface tends to retain fingerprints longer than flexible and soft plastics.

C. Age of the fingerprint

The age of the fingerprint is the difference between the time of deposition and collection. Cadd et al. explore the various donor composition characteristics along with the kinetics of variations for getting fingerprints. 

How to Find Fingerprints on Plastic?

Common Visual Remedies for finding fingerprints:

  1. Visible Prints: Fingerprints stained using dyes, pigments, blood, grease, etc. are visible to the naked eye. Hence, they can be identified as such.
  2. Latent (hidden) Prints: can be found using:
    • Bright light at oblique angles
    • Alternate light sources, and captured using camera filters
    • Laser, UV, and IR Spectrum

Ways of Developing Fingerprints on Plastic

There are various ways of fingerprint detection and identification (as per various manuals of Forensic Agencies) as follows:

  1. Powders: Various magnetic powders and non-magnetic powders are used for the development of fingerprints. Eg. Black fingerprint (Ferric Oxide powder, Lampblack powder), White fingerprint (TiO2 powder, Chalk), Grey fingerprint (Lead Carbonate powder), and Luminescent powders.
  2. Iodine fuming: A universal technique for the development of fingerprints.
  3. Cyanoacrylate fuming
  4. DFO (1,8-Difluoren-9-one) gives fluorescence
  5. Vacuum Metal Deposition (VMD)
Plastic SurfaceExampleFingerprint DepositionDeveloping Agents
Dark Color PlasticAny plastic substrateLatentWhite powder, Cyanoacrylate fuming (CAF)
Dark Color PlasticAny plastic substrateBloodAcid Yellow 7, Cyanoacrylate fuming (CAF)
Light Color PlasticAny plastic substrateLatentBlack powder
Light Color PlasticAny plastic substrateBloodAmido Black or Acid Violet 17
Rigid PlasticPVC, Plastic containers, etc.LatentCyanoacrylate fuming (CAF), Powder
Rigid PlasticPVC, Plastic containers, etc.BloodAmido black, Acid Yellow 7, Superglue method
Flexible PlasticPlastic garbage bags & other polytheneLatentSupeglue, Amido black
Flexible PlasticPlastic bags & other polytheneBloodVMD, Powder, Amido black, Acid Violet 17

Research Data: The fingerprint development technique used. Sarah J Fieldhouse observed the effectiveness of Cyanoacrylate fuming on textured and smooth plastic surfaces while aluminum powder was effective on the glass surface.

Can You Lift a Fingerprint From a Plastic Surface? When and When not?

Yes, fingerprints can be lifted from most plastic surfaces. The ability to lift a fingerprint from a plastic surface depends on the following factors:

1. Surface Uniformity: If the surface is smooth, the fingerprint developed can be easily lifted after development. However, the damage to the surface (scratches, pits, holes) will restrict a clear print. Hence, partial prints will be lifted from such surfaces.

2. Porosity of surface: The more porous surface will have difficulty in lifting as the fingerprints have more seeped through pores. 

3. Thickness of Plastic surface: Surfaces such as wood wrap plastic are so thin that lifting might damage the surface and fingerprint. Hence, thin layered plastic makes it difficult to lift fingerprints.

Is it Possible to Extract DNA from Fingerprints on Plastic? And how long?

Yes, DNA can be extracted from fingerprints on plastic. According to a study by Lana Ostojic et al., a full DNA profile can be obtained even after 40 days from fingerprints. However, after a certain time, it may not be sufficient for DNA typing and identification.

However, the extent of recovery is attributed to several other factors as follows:

1. Pre-Development vs Post-Development: Robin Parsons a study on the recovery of DNA on various surfaces before development to determine the extent of recovery and damage to both ridge details and DNA. The team compared various lifting techniques on various surfaces and their effects on getting DNA.

2. Shredder Status: The experiments of Lowe et al. showed that the amount of DNA left on an object by touching it presents an inter-individual variability that allows subjects to be grouped as good or poor shedders.

3. Best method for DNA recovery from a Fingerprint: According to a study conducted by Sarah Fieldhouse, flocked swabs and gel lifts were the least destructive DNA recovery technique. 


  • Fingerprint composition and aging: A literature review by Cadd, S., et al. (2015). [ScienceDirect]
  • Latent Fingermark Aging Patterns (Part III): Discontinuity Index as One Indicator of Degradation by De Alcaraz-Fossoul, J., et al. (2017) [NCBI]
  • Determination of latent fingerprint degradation patterns—a real fieldwork study. De Alcaraz-Fossoul, J., et al. (2012). [Link]
  • Evaluation of latent fingermark color contrast as aging parameter under different environmental conditions: A preliminary study. De Alcaraz‐Fossoul, J., et al. (2020). [Wiley]
  • The effect of DNA recovery on the subsequent quality of latent fingermarks. Fieldhouse, S., et al. (2016). [ScienceDirect]
  • An Investigation into the Use of a Portable Cyanoacrylate Fuming System (SUPERfume®)….. by Fieldhouse, S. J. (2011). [Researchgate]
  • Analysis of fingerprint samples, testing various conditions, for forensic DNA identification. Ostojic, L. and E. Wurmbach (2017). [Pubmed]