An evaluation of inkjet printed amino acid fingerprint test targets for ninhydrin process monitoring − and some observations

Ruth Croxton*, Terry Kent, Anthony Littlewood, Millicent Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

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3 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Ninhydrin was implemented as the primary police method of developing latent fingermarks on paper, cardboard and some other porous surfaces from the late 1960s. Some researchers have used individual amino acids, or mixtures of amino acids, as a method of testing the effectiveness of reagent formulations. It was not however known whether simple mixtures of amino acids could effectively emulate latent fingermarks in reactions with reagents such as ninhydrin. The first part of this study compared the effects of ninhydrin fingermark treatments used internationally in various police laboratories on test targets created by inkjet printing graduated concentrations of a representative mixture of amino acids in a series of blocks on paper. Variations in intensity of development were observed between laboratories which used various formulations and heat and humidity post treatment protocols. In a further trial in 2015 several participants in the International Fingerprint Research Group (IFRG) meeting processed test targets in their own laboratories and submitted them for measurement. Again, variation in developed intensity was observed. The depletion of the activity of ninhydrin solutions during use was also investigated in early evaluations of the test targets. An established fingerprint laboratory then processed a number of samples from a batch of targets to examine batch consistency. This was followed by designing a new test target which enabled comparisons between the developed intensity of printed test target blocks alongside depletion series of split, natural donor fingermarks. A panel of 20 donors provided depletion fingermarks and four ninhydrin formulations and treatment protocols were used. The developed test target blocks were scanned, intensity of development measured, and the results compared with the fingermark development which was evaluated by three assessors using two types of scale. Good correlation between the intensity of the developed test targets and latent fingermark quality and intensity scores was observed with the four ninhydrin treatment protocols, including some which used deliberately downgraded ninhydrin concentrations. This type of evaluation was carried out a second time to investigate modified heat and humidity protocols. The use of such test targets for routine reagent quality control and process verification would appear to be far more accurate and reliable than the use of small numbers of donor fingermarks. It is not clear why the different ninhydrin formulations investigated in the latter part of the work have very different optimum post treatment heating regimes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110741
Number of pages10
JournalForensic Science International
Early online date8 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


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