DIY fingerprint collection

We’re often asked about forensic science education with regards to home education.  The focus on STEM within education (Science, technology, english and maths for those not already in the loop) has been increasing over the last few years and with the interest in CSI thanks to the various programmes, educators are focussing on forensic science as one way to achieve their science goals.

When it comes to home education, it’s very difficult to organise big science projects, which is where we often come in.  Is it possible to provide some sort of forensic science project within the home without expensive equipment purchases or paying for a professional group to come in?

The answer is yes.  It’s not all that hard to include some forensic science within the home education.  Mainly because everything you would study in forensic science is from bodies – which you have!  And no, I’m not meaning dead ones!  Living breathing children, can provide all the base materials for some forensic education, and after that, you have the option to either buy some analysis stuff or do it all DIY.

Our Complete Crime Scene Kit is a great addition to any CSI workshops at home as it comes with information on how the police investigate a crime scene, as well as a fingerprint kit – which uses true type fingerprint ink so that you can analyze your fingerprints.  But if you educate at home, you will be penny counting… so we’ve come up with a list of basics you could use to investigate fingerprints at home.

Fingerprint Analysis

This is easier to do than you might think at home.  Most of the skill comes from knowing what surfaces will enable good fingerprint collection, and ensuring you create a good print.

There are four ways to explore fingerprints at home.

Option 1

Use stickytape.  Unroll a length of tape and simply ask the children to place their pads of their fingers on the roll of tape.  You’ll get a good print pattern in the tape, and you can analyse this with a magnifying glass.

Option 2

Use bluetack or plastercine.  As above, simply press your fingers into the medium and remove.  You’ll get a good fingerprint to study.

Option 3

Use boot polish.  dab your fingers into boot polish and then roll your prints across the paper in one direction, slowly and not too firmly, to create a fingerprint.

Option 4

This involves collecting prints.  It’s harder to do, but will give them a CSI experience.

Firstly – you need a sweaty/greasy fingers.  Fingerprints are left by sweat/skin grease.  Cold hands, or people who don’t sweat a lot don’t leave good prints.  The easiest way to get a good fingerprint is to rub your fingers somewhere on your body where you sweat a lot e.g. under your arms.; or where you have natural grease, e.g. on your scalp.  It sounds a bit gross, but you’ll get a better natural print if your hands are covered in natural sweat / grease.

Secondly – you need a clean smooth surface.  Plastic or glass generally works best.  But look at the surface you plan to use.  Don’t use a porus surface e.g. paper.  While proper fingerprint dust will be able to get a good print from a variety of medium, this home-grown fingerprint dust won’t, so you need to stack the deck in your favour and get a really nice clean, smooth surface.

Thirdly – you need equipment to collect your print.  We suggest blusher and a good quality blusher brush.  If you want to then lift the print – you need sticky tape too.

How to do it.

Make your print – press your greasy finger firmly onto the chosen surface and release.  Don’t “screw it into the surface” a firm dab is all that’s needed.  If you move the surface into the right light, you should be able to see the fingerprint on the surface as the grease will reflect.

Now load your blusher brush with blusher and tap or flick it over the surface where you know your print is until you have a good even coating.

Blow the excess gently away, and if need be, using the brush really lightly, brush the excess off the surface.  (Whether you need to blow, or brush will depend on the surface, some surfaces have a static cling so you’ll need to brush lightly to remove the excess).

If you’ve done this right, you should be left with a fingerprint.  To lift this print, simply use the sticky side of the sticky tape.  Roll it over the print and the print will lift to allow analysis.  if the print is hard to see, stick the tape to a black card.

Analyzing the print

There are several different aspects to fingerprint analysis and features you can look for within prints to help you identify who left what.  These features are covered quickly in the booklet which comes with our fingerprint kit.

But in short, using the techniques above, children should be able to identify three key patterns within prints obtained.

1) A Whorl – which is where the fingerprint ridges circle a dot or line.

2) A Loop – which is where the fingerprint ridges create a loop pattern coming in and leaving on the same side of the print. (this is the most common type of print)

3) An Arch – which is best described as a “bridge” in appearance.  The ridges coming in from one side of the print and leaving on the other side, but with an arch, like a bridge, in between.



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We contacted Red-Herring-Games for a party for a special occasion. Why going to restaurants to eat is the preferred activity to mark milestones is beyond me and my friends.   The choice of mystery was obvious, looking at the options from New Zealand on the web Red Herring stuck out from the international options.  A quick look at the site and games showed subtlety as well a range of choices.  The numbers you could have for each evening was important,  Red Herring had scaling options a good range of scenarios but most importantly were Jo and team being flexible, responsive and helpful.

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Thank you Red Herring Games for the marvellous 'Murder!  Cargo Connections?' event that you organised for us as part of Museums at Night at the Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby. The whole evening went so well and was brilliant fun.  I know from all the feedback that our visitors had a fantastic time. It was really good working with you and I have no doubt that we will do again in the not too distant future.  

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I would like to thank you and your colleague for helping contribute towards our successful conference last month.  Everyone really seemed to enjoy the evening and it was rewarding that so many delegates were able to participate in addition to the main "Actors".  Our conference evaluation froms included the following comments:
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Sarah Spencer (Cleethorpes Chronicle)

I had no idea what to expect before purchasing a ticket for Old, New, Borrowed, Blue, which was being staged at a nearby hotel, and feared it might involve taking part in some way. However thankfully for me no acting was necessary, just some amateur sleuthing. "Wedding guests" of which I was one, were called upon to move from room to room in the hotel in groups, questioning a number of possible murderers with the aim of solving the mystery of the dead bridegroom. The interviewees were really fun characters and gave us all some good laughs. Of course they all had motives and it was a case of identifying the shiftiest. The wedding theme was particularly good, as it fitted well with the venue, the buffet that was part of the evening (with a wedding cake in the middle) and the fact that everyone had been able to dress up to fit in without going to the trouble of fancy dress. I didn't think I had enough "evidence" to actually accuse anyone but later regretted not even writing down my first guess as it wouldn't have been too far off the mark. The evening was great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy it and take part. I would definitely recommend Old, New, Borrowed, Blue as good for getting even reluctant or first-time mystery party-goers involved.  

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