A fingerprint is an impression left by the friction ridges of a human finger. The recovery of partial fingerprints from a crime scene is an important method of forensic science. Moisture and grease on a finger result in fingerprints on surfaces such as glass or metal. Deliberate impressions of entire fingerprints can be obtained by ink or other substances transferred from the peaks of friction ridges on the skin to a smooth surface such as paper. Fingerprint records normally contain impressions from the pad on the last joint of fingers and thumbs, though fingerprint cards also typically record portions of lower joint areas of the fingers.
Human fingerprints are detailed, nearly unique, difficult to alter, and durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as long-term markers of human identity. They may be employed by police or other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased and thus unable to identify themselves, as in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
An intentional recording of friction ridges is usually made with black printer's ink rolled across a contrasting white background, typically a white card. Friction ridges can also be recorded digitally, usually on a glass plate, using a technique called Live Scan. A "latent print" is the chance recording of friction ridges deposited on the surface of an object or a wall. Latent prints are invisible to the naked eye, whereas "patent prints" or "plastic prints" are viewable with the unaided eye. Latent prints are often fragmentary and require the use of chemical methods, powder, or alternative light sources in order to be made clear. Sometimes an ordinary bright flashlight will make a latent print visible.
Many police departments still use DNA evidence the way they have used fingerprints and tire tracks: to determine whether a suspect committed the crime.
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Fingerprint image acquisition is considered to be the most critical step in an automated fingerprint authentication system, as it determines the final fingerprint image quality, which has a drastic effect on the overall system performance. There are different types of fingerprint readers on the market, but the basic idea behind each is to measure the physical difference between ridges and valleys.
A fingerprint sensor is an electronic device used to capture a digital image of the fingerprint pattern. The captured image is called a live scan. This live scan is digitally processed to create a biometric template (a collection of extracted features) which is stored and used for matching. Many technologies have been used including optical, capacitive, RF, thermal, piezoresistive, ultrasonic, piezoelectric, and MEMS.