The Use of Roll’n Glue

Chief Drue A. Powers
Red Oak Police Department
601 North 6th Street
Red Oak, IA 51566
(712) 623-6501

While reading the Journal of Forensic Identification 45(2)1995 Technical Note, the author, Daniel A Feucht outline a method for recovering fingerprints from rough surfaces. Another method which the author touched on, but did not explain in full, was the use of Pentel Roll’n Glue to recover latent prints from these same rough surfaces. This method is, from speaking to others in the field, not widely used. There have even been those who have never heard of the technique. At any rate, I feel it would be a benefit to readers to have its use described in detail.

For the past two years, I have used Pentel Roll’n Glue with satisfactory results. I have recovered a number of fingerprints from surfaces that prior to using this method, would have first been photographed, followed by standard lifting methods. The print would then, in all likelihood, have been somewhat unsatisfactory in appearance using this normal fingerprint recovery technique. I have also attempted documenting the fingerprint using other materials which are primarily designed to be used as forensic casting products, but I have not been overly impressed with the process. One reason for my dissatisfaction with this process is the fact that the finished cast is a reverse of the fingerprint which makes the job of the latent print examiner more difficult.

Pentel Roll’n Glue is a low cost consumer product that has been incorporated into the field of forensic science and thus is readily available in most discount and department stores. While having similar characteristics as rubber cement when dry, the glue has a number of additional characteristics which make it suitable for fingerprint recovery methods. The glue is for all practical purposes, a clear liquid which makes it suitable for use with any color of fingerprint powder. This is important in that the dried print is lifted from a surface and attached to a contrasting backing material. The dried lift is also quite strong when the glue has been applied properly, and can be peeled from the surface with little difficulty.

The technique using Pentel Roll’n Glue is simple with excellent results being realized when used properly. General guidelines are as follows:

  • Develop the latent fingerprint(s) with conventional or magnetic powder.
  • To one side of the fingerprint, slowly pour enough glue onto the surface to liberally cover the print.
  • Spread the glue evenly over the print, using a small artist type paint brush. (Use inexpensive brushes, as the brush will be used once and discarded.
  • After spreading the glue over the print, allow it to dry. Some have suggested the used of a hand held hair drier on a low setting. I have found however that the use of a drier tends to make the glue bond to the surface more than necessary. This then causes its removal to be more difficult, with damage to the print more likely.
  • After drying, the print is then peeled from the surface with this done in one of a few manners. One method is to use transparent lifting tape, and lift the glue and print as you would a normal dusted fingerprint. Another manner is to pick around the edge of the dried glue with an evidence scribe until you are able to carefully peel the glue away from the surface. Both of these methods are even more difficult than they appear. The method I prefer is to anchor lifting tape to one side of the glued print. Pour the glue directly onto the adhesive side of the tape and then spread the glue by “taping” it across the print. After the glue is dried, simply lift the tape and the dried glue will come with the tape from the surface.
  • After the print has been lifted, place the print on a contrasting or transparent backing card.

As is always the case in fingerprint work, photograph the print prior to attempting the glue recovery technique. It is also suggested that any method of fingerprint recovery be practiced in a controlled setting prior to using it in an actual case. While this method sounds difficult, it is no trouble after practicing it a few times. I invite questions or comments on this technique.