Removing fingerprints from paper is different from lifting them. Lifting means removing the developed part of the fingerprint but they still rest over the paper. While removing means completely obliterating or removing them from paper.
In this post, I am going to state whether it is possible or not to remove finger marks that rest over the paper and also how to remove them.
Is it Possible to Remove a Fingerprint from Paper?
Yes, it is possible. The time since registration and the surface of the paper determine whether a fingerprint can be removed. With the right papered surface and soaked fingermarks (with time), they become more difficult to remove and can develop even after 40+ years.
A. Paper Surface
When the paper surface is glossy, it is much easier to remove (unidentifiable) prints by swapping. However, in the case of dry fingermarks, the prints are too soaked to be removed. Even burning them isn’t a solution.
If you believe you can burn a questioned document and your fingerprints will be destroyed, you’re wrong. My friend, you underestimate forensic science.
There are methods for detecting prints on burnt (charred) documents using infrared and ultraviolet lights. Know more: 14 Myths of Fingerprints And Questioned Documents: A Forensic Study
B. Time Since Registration
If you just register your fingermark on paper, and smudge them or wipe them immediately, there is a good chance that they get smudged to identifiable.
It’s as if you were writing with a gel pen and suddenly you wiped it away. What is going to happen? They smear or tail in the direction of wiping. This is also possible to fingermark, especially on glossy and coated papers.
Thus, it is fairly easy to remove (unidentifiable) fingermarks from glossy or coated papers because the absorption ability of papers is too low to absorb fingerprint residue in a short period of time.
How to Erase Fingerprints From a Paper?
Following are the best practices to remove the prints from paper surface,
Please Note: These practices only make the fingerprint invisible (if they are prior visible). They can still be made visible using fingerprint development techniques for paper. However, prints on glossy/coated paper can be completely removed (unidentifiable) if they were recently registered.
Method 1: Using Chemical Cleaners
Chemicals such as detergents, white vinegar, nail polish, and glass cleaners can be used to remove the oil and fats of fingermarks.
- Mix one part of the detergent in the 10th part of water.
- Dip a soft, clean, and lint-free microfiber cloth into the prepared solution.
- Dampen slightly over papered fingermarks and clean with a single swipe.
- Multiple swipes can remove the fibers from the paper.
When to use?
- Prints on a glossy sheet or photographic paper
- Paper thickness more than 90 gsm.
Method 2: Direct Lifting Methods
It’s a little technical and scientific, but it can hide actual print marks on paper. To make it easier, you can use very fine corn powder instead of fingerprint powder, and regular cello tape instead of lifting tape.
- Spread the fine-grain floor over the paper and press with a little pressure.
- Air blows the extra powder or brushes them out and the remaining powder is eliminated by lifting using cello-tape.
Method 3: Using Artistic Erasures
A special type of artistic eraser called kneaded eraser can be used to remove the prints from paper. They are in the form of a molding gel that removes the fats, oils, and lipids from fingermarks without damaging the paper’s surface.
However, if the prints are too soaked in the paper, it is nearly impossible to remove them using this method (or nearly any).
- Wear gloves to avoid adding oil or sweat to kneaded erasers.
- Make a dough and apply it to prints, gently pressing and rubbing them over the suspected fingermark.
- Avoid rubbing them more than a few times, as this causes removal of fiber too.
When to use?
- Prints on glossy sheets or photographic papers
- Prints are recently registered
- Possible multiple finger marks or palm prints.
Method 4: Using White Vinegar and Absorbing Powder
The best way to remove prints from glossy cardboard, magazine covers, paper bags, etc., is by using a combination of cleaning solutions with absorption powder such as corn or arrowroot flour.
Some authors recommend using a mineral oil solution and wood polishing. Though they may be helpful for cleaning marks on wood but not a great option for the paper substrate.
Because paper soaks everything. Thus, cause more harm than cleaning. So, the best approach would be to eliminate them (oil-based solutions).
- Make a solution of vinegar 1 part and 2 part water/ethanol.
- Dampen cloth is used to make the fingerprint area slightly wet.
- Dump a good amount of cornflour grains over the prints to soak the wetted part.
- Using slight airflow, remove the flour grains and apply cornflour again for better results.
- Lastly, clean them using gentle wipes of the brush.
Method 5: Using Blotting Paper
Blotter sheet is commonly used to remove the excess liquid from the surface of writing paper. By using blotting paper and organic solvents such as ethyl alcohol, acetone, or nail polish remover, the visible part of the marks can be disappeared.
Note: Don’t use heating material with blotting paper, as it makes the finger marks become more prominent because heating can fix the fats, and amino acids of fingermarks rather than removing them.
- Damp blotting paper with organic solvent on finger marks.
- Squeeze a fresh piece of blotting paper slightly over the paper to dissolve any visible fingermarks.
- Push a fresh piece of blotter sheet against the prints until they are dry and invisible.
How to Remove Greasy Fingerprints from Paper?
Fingerprints can potentially stain the paper and with grease, you have to improvise more to get rid of the visible part of prints.
The first step would be to remove the extra oil and grease from the paper. For that, you can sprinkle cornmeal first, let it sit, and then brush it off with a soft drafting brush and then repeat the process with talcum powder or rice starch.
If there are dirty finger marks, you can try a white Magic Rub white vinyl eraser for artists.
How to Remove Fingerprints from Glossy Paper?
There are basically three types of fingerprints on glossy paper and whether they can be removed or not depends upon the time since registration.
Recently registered latent prints can be easily removed by immediately applying an organic solution and wiping them out.
Fingerprints made from dirt and grease are a little bit harder to remove, in that case, you have to use an adsorbent to remove these fingerprints (method 4).
In case you are in a hurry and accidentally put your finger on recently printed glossy paper. That would be a problem. And sorry! You can’t remove them because as they dry it gets permanent. It acts like a patent fingerprint, made by the color of the printed ink.
Things to Avoid While Removing Fingerprints from Paper
- Avoid using water or water-based solution on normal paper to remove fingermarks. It bubbles up the paper and leaves permanent wrinkled marks.
- Use white cotton gloves during removing process. As you don’t want to add new prints to paper.
- Avoid using organic solvents on prints with writing backgrounds, as they might remove writing ink.
- Don’t use wood staining solution or any sort of oil-based cleaner. It changes the surface texture and often makes them smooth.
- Avoid using any colored cleaning agent— easily absorbed by the paper.
- If the surface has too much grease or dirt, you can use Webril wipes or smooth-fibered cotton to lightly buff it.
- Before switching to another method, dry the paper first, otherwise, fibers may be destroyed and would result in paper thinning.
How to Identify Whether the Fingerprints are Removed from Paper?
Following are the common features that help forensic examiners of paper to identify the possibility of removing prints from the surface.
- Prints that are older can be easily developed using chemical methods even if they are made invisible. Because they can’t remove soaked prints. Know More: Destructive and Nondestructive Techniques of Developing Fingerprint on Paper.
- Marks of application of water (bubbled-up). But, organic solvents such as ethanol, acetone give fewer drying marks than water.
- If physical erasures are used for removing fingerprints, they can easily be detected by scanning electron microscopy.
- Fingerprints under blotted ink or permanent marker can be seen through infrared (or sometimes UV) illumination.
- Microscopy applications can also trace down the powder to the surface.
Can indented fingermarks remove from paper?
No, it can’t. Indentation is a physical process while soaking fingermarks make it a part of the paper surface. Indentation can only make the surface uneven but can’t remove fingerprints. Even using ESDA, recently registered fingermarks can be developed along with indented writing.
Can rubbing alcohol remove fingerprints from paper?
No, an absorbed fingerprint can’t be fully removed from paper using alcohol. However, if the fingerprints are fresh (few minutes) and on glossy paper, they may be removed with rubbing alcohol.
Is it legal to remove fingerprints from a questioned document?
Tampering with evidence is an offense, regardless of whether your prints were on questioned documents. If you deliberately alter them, there is a good chance you will find yourself in the crosshairs of legal authorities. That will not be good!
Which Type of Fingerprint can be removed from paper?
Fingerprints that have recently been registered, marks on glossy and semi-glossy sheets, and fingermarks with minimal sweat traces can be removed from the paper. Other than that, in most cases, they can’t be removed.
- 14 Myths of Fingerprints And Questioned Documents: A Forensic Study
- Can a Watermark on Paper be Forged? Prevention and Detection
- Forensic Examination of Genuine Watermarks on Questioned Documents
- Legal Obligation of Person’s Fingerprints Over Questioned Documents
FR Author Group at ForensicReader is a team of Forensic experts and scholars having B.Sc, M.Sc, or Doctorate( Ph.D.) degrees in Forensic Science. We published on topics on fingerprints, questioned documents, forensic medicine, toxicology, physical evidence, and related case studies. Know More.