The influence of polymer type, print donor and age on the quality of fingerprints developed on plastic substrates using vacuum metal deposition

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2001, 124 (2-3), pp. 167 - 177
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This study investigated fingerprint development on five different polymer substrates using vacuum metal deposition (VMD). The conditions required for optimum development are shown to depend on a number of factors. No one set of conditions will result in good development in all situations. Polymer type has been confirmed as a major factor in determining the types of development that will occur and the optimum VMD conditions required. For more consistently successful VMD development, polymer type should be determined before selecting conditions. While polymer type is a key factor in determining optimum development conditions, there may be variation of the optimum conditions within a polymer type, most likely due to the presence of additives in the plastic. The heaviness of a latent print, i.e. amount of residue that constitutes the print, also affects the VMD conditions required. The donor, manner of deposition, and age of a print affect the heaviness of the deposit. The heavier the print, the higher the gold count necessary for successful VMD development. The occurrence of 'empty prints' (i.e. zinc deposition on the general background but not on or between the print ridges) was found to be related to polymer type and print heaviness. Heavy prints on PVC and PET are the most likely to be 'empty' after VMD treatment. The development of empty prints may be due to the diffusion of print residue into the print valleys. Pre-treatment with cyanoacrylate fuming was also found to affect VMD development. In particular, it was shown that cyanoacrylate pre-treatment was beneficial for print development on PET and PVC. The results of this study were used to formulate guidelines for use as an aid by laboratories using VMD in casework. Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
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