Cyanoacrylate (Superglue)
Fuming Tips
By Ed German, CLPE, FFS
Updated 1 August 2003

By NOT superglue fuming nonporous evidence before you mail it to the lab, you help the bad guys..... it's about the same as wiping the evidence clean.

Do NOT expect latent finger or palm prints on a pistol, knife, can, bottle, or credit card to survive mailing to the lab if you don't either:

A.  Superglue fume the evidence before mailing.


B.  Package the item in such a way that NOTHING can touch or rub against the smooth surfaces you want processed for latent prints.  If DNA testing of saliva on that beer bottle opening is important, wedge the bottle corner to corner in a sturdy cardboard box.  Next seal the box and place it inside another box with ample shock-aborbing plastic peanuts or other packing to prevent breakage during shipment.

We continue to hear from the field that many offices are lacking superglue fuming equipment. The truth is that no offices are lacking the necessary equipment, only adequate information. You can get the materials together to start superglue fuming within a few minutes after you finish reading this article. You need four components: SUPERGLUE and ALUMINUM FOIL: Go to the nearest grocery store and buy a tube of superglue and a roll of aluminum foil.

HEAT SOURCE: At the nearest department or hardware store, buy a coffee cup warmer. If they don't have one, procure a light fixture assembly, 60-watt bulb, and an electric cord with plug from the base self-help shop (a droplight will work also).

CHAMBER: Get a cardboard box about the size of a bread box, or large enough to hold the largest piece of evidence you need to process in the near future.

FUMING: Set your coffee cup warmer or light bulb assembly in one corner of the box.

Make a small ashtray-like dish from a single layer of aluminum foil and place on top of the coffee cup warmer or light bulb. Some investigators use an aluminum can cut in half and slipped upside down over the light bulb.

Put liquid superglue on the aluminum foil (enough to cover a nickel).

Place a cup of hot water inside the chamber to add humidity to the air. A cup of hot coffee works just fine also, and is normally within reach of most investigators anyway (you will not want to drink the white scum floating on top of the coffee after fuming).

Stand up your evidence or hang it inside the fuming chamber in a manner allowing maximum exposure to fumes. Lean cans in corners, hang baggies by a paper clip, etc.

Make a good test print by first rubbing your finger or thumb on the side of your nose and then pressing it onto a small piece of aluminum foil. (The purpose is to make a control standard that will indicate when you have fumed properly.) Lean the foil up against a wall near the base of your chamber.

Close up your chamber and turn on the heat for ten minutes.

Next, shut off the heat, open the chamber and check your test print. If the test print looks okay, the evidence is properly processed and ready to mail into the lab. If the test print didn't turn at least a little white, add some more superglue, close the chamber and fume for ten more minutes. (Don't overdo it. You don't want the evidence to be covered with a deposit of white, snowy looking contaminate.)

Submit every item you superglue fume to the lab, whether or not you see anything on it. As long as your test print came out okay, the lab has a good chance of enhancing invisible latent prints you have developed on the evidence.



Now available commercially are butane fueled miniature soldering torch fuming kits. These kits use steel wool impregnated with cyanoacrylate (and sometimes dyes). REMEMBER.....

CAUTION NOTE:  This web page is a general guide for superglue fuming procedures before mailing evidence to a laboratory.  It explains the basics of how to superglue fume without expensive equipment such as a humidity chamber or vacuum chamber tailored for cyanoacrylate fuming.  At the U.S. Army Crime Lab we preach this information to investigators we support.  Investigators and Special Agents we serve generally do not hand carry evidence to our lab.

Before you start superglue fuming, be certain you know that the crime lab you submit evidence to desires such processing.  You could get your hand slapped by fingerprint experts at some laboratories because other very effective processing methods are available for processing nonporous evidence.  Many laboratories prefer vacuum metal deposition to superglue fuming, especially among European labs.  Also, some crime scene examination units (SOCO) utilize staining techniques on nonporous evidence in lieu of superglue fuming.

In making the decision to fume or just package to protect prints, you must sometimes decide which type of evidence has the greatest potential value:  finger/palm print identification of the suspect or other evidence such as paint chips, textile fibers, etc.  Recent research has shown that normal cyanoacrylate fuming (not an extreme, snow white over-developed layer) does not prohibit subsequent DNA exams of blood (but may inhibit DNA exam of saliva or semen).

Normal fuming also does not adversely effect most glass or glass fragment Trace Evidence examinations.  BUT, it can interfere with paint chip, textile fiber and other Trace Evidence examinations.  Contact the lab before you cyanoacrylate fume if you think Trace Evidence results might be more valuable than a positive identification of the suspect's finger/palm prints on the evidence.

If not fumed before shipment to the lab, the evidence must be packaged to preclude the rubbing off of prints.  One method is to wedge the evidence corner-to-corner in a rigid container so that little or no contact with smooth surfaces can occur. Do not fill open gaps with plastic peanuts or other packing. Such packing rubbing against smooth surfaces that have not been superglue fumed will rub off latent prints.

Contact the lab if you have any questions.

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Lessons Learned

Life mimics TV art

Nearly burnt down the lab

Make your clothing smoke

Almost killed while fuming



Life mimics TV art

The worst scenario is seen on TV daily world wide, and repeated by police often:

The detective at the crime scene picks up the pistol beside the body.  Photos have already been taken, and before the pistol is collected he just wants a closer look.  Keeping in mind the importance of latent prints, he is not depositing his own prints by wearing gloves... or he has his handkerchief wrapped around his hand... or he is sticking a pencil down the barrel.

Latent prints sit on top of metal, plastic, enamel paint and other nonporous surfaces. The slightest abrasion can render them forever illegible.

Wear gloves at a crime scene to keep your hands clean, but do NOT think for a moment that gloves will protect any latent prints on a nonporous evidence surface.  Carefully touching only the roughest parts of the evidence (knurled handle grips, for example) can be done until it is superglue fumed.  Assume that you are destroying identifiable latent prints anywhere you touch the evidence.

Oh, and that pencil, you don't want to hear the words the crime laboratory Firearms Examiners will utter because the metal surrounding the eraser has put additional scratches inside the barrel.

Remember:  any touching, even with a hanky/gloves, will destroy fragile latent prints on smooth surfaces of plastic or metal before superglue fuming.


Nearly burnt down the lab

In the early days of superglue fuming at the Army Crime Lab, we routinely used electric cooking hot plates to quickly create a large cloud of fumes, especially for large items.

The FINAL occasion we did this (in about 1983-'84) was an interesting learning experience.  A full size automobile was to be superglue fumed (after visual and luminescence exams).  We assembled our portable PVC pipe frame around the vehicle inside our vehicle processing area (VPA).  The VPA is a specially constructed garage connected to the Latent Print Division... large enough to hold one Army tank or four full size cars.  It is equipped with a 100 foot laser fiber optic from our 20 watt laser, a vehicle lift similar to auto repair shops, and a pit to climb under vehicles too heavy for the lift (such as armored personnel carriers).

Inside the plastic tent erected over the car to be fumed, we placed a hot plate on the center of the rooftop.  On the hot plate was an approximately eight inch diameter aluminum cooking pan containing a layer of superglue about 1-mm deep.

We fired up the hot plate as we had done dozens of times before.  About five minutes into the process we had a nice looking cloud... and then a fireball erupted that burned a three foot diameter hole in the plastic sheeting above the aluminum pan as it rose to the ceiling.  We quickly grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher to snuff out the burning plastic.

Thus, we learned to NEVER, EVER use a red hot heat source to accelerate superglue fuming.  To do so invites disaster because you may repeat our unlucky balance of cyanoacrylate fumes, oxygen and heat.

Remember:  coffee cup warmer acceleration for superglue fuming good - electric hot plate with red hot coils BAD, very BAD.


Make your clothing smoke
A young Latent Print Examiner student working under me in the mid-1980's had an unfortunate accident with a one quart plastic bottle of cyanoacrylate.  The lid had become tightly glued on after the previous day's usage,  and he was using a pair of pliers to break the lid loose.

When it finally did give way, his tight grip on the flexible bottle caused the liquid superglue to squirt into the air and soak his shirt sleeve.  The exothermic reaction between his cotton shirt  and the liquid cyanoacrylate instantly created enough heat to make his sleeve smoke and burn his arm (first degree burns).

It could have been worse, the cyanoacrylate could have squirted into his eyes or mouth.

Remember:  buy small containers of one ounce or less - fighting glued-on lids is dangerous and you won't feel guilty throwing away small containers.


Almost killed while fuming
A Latent Print Examiner in the midwest was being careful to avoid red hot coil exposure to superglue fumes by heating up slabs of aluminum on an electric hot plate outside the fuming chamber.  He would then place the hot metal on asbestos pads in the bottom of a fish aquarium to accelerate fuming.

The evidence he was processing one day included live ammunition cartridges which he placed on the heated aluminum slab inside the chamber adjacent to the small aluminum container with liquid superglue in it.  Soon after placing the lid on the chamber, one of the rounds "cooked off", shattering the glass walls of the chamber.  The examiner was fortunate to escape injury.

Remember:  use common sense in merging superglue fuming heat sources with dangerous evidence such as ammunition or flammable liquid containers.



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BACKGROUND INFORMATION: These guidelines are prepared for American military investigators stationed around the world, who send latent fingerprint evidence by registered mail to USACIL (the United States Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory) near Atlanta, Georgia.  Fragile latent fingerprints on non-porous surfaces often cannot survive the freeze/thaw temperature changes in military aircraft cargo holds, not to mention the drop-kick handling that some of the packages seem to undergo (from both government mail and commercial express shipment companies).

Super Glue is a trademark name for one specific product, but the term "superglue" or "super glue" is commonly used in law enforcement fingerprint development work to mean any of a great number of cyanoacrylate products. Some published articles have addressed cyanoacrylate ethyl ester glue versus methyl ester. The author believes only high humidity (i.e., approximately 70% relative humidity) is necessary for most evidence processing applications.

This web page is a general information document describing neither the scientific detail nor supporting arguments for high humidity versus vacuum chamber superglue fuming.

Ed German, a Latent Print Examiner with USACIL, writes this page. Discovery of cyanoacrylate fuming as a development tool for latent fingerprints apparently occurred almost simultaneously in the UK, Japan and Canada. The author of this web page was one of the two Americans involved in transporting this method from Japan to America.  To the best of his knowledge, he and his boss, Paul Norkus2, "stole" the technology of superglue fuming from the Japanese National Police Agency.  Ed German has nothing but respect for the Japanese National Police Agency and he acknowledges that all the research data would certainly have been eventually forthcoming from the Japanese... but Norkus and he were happy to "appropriate" it expeditiously anyway.  And, even early on it helped put away bad guys who would have gone on committing crimes if not apprehended because their prints were developed with superglue fumes.

Photo of Masato Soba The first Japanese latent print examiner to use cyanoacrylate fuming to intentionally develop fingerprints was Masato Soba at the Saga Prefectural Crime Laboratory of the National Police Agency of Japan.  Mr. Soba learned of the development of superglue fingerprints from co-worker Fuseo Matsumura... a hair and fiber expert who discovered his own fingerprints developing on microscope slides while mounting hairs with cyanoacrylate. The hairs were from a case involving a murdered taxi cab driver. Photo of Fuseo Matsumura

In September 1979, Paul Norkus and Ed German were the two U.S. Army Crime Lab fingerprint experts assigned to work American military cases for the region from Moscow to California and they were based in the western suburbs of Tokyo in Kanagawa-ken. During a U.S. Air Force murder trial, their lab was asked about the use of static electric dust impression lifting of a footwear impression from the murder victim's uniform. Because experts from the National Police Agency of Japan had performed the electrostatic lifting (all police in Japan are part of NPA), Norkus and German visited the Identification Division Research Office of the NPA near Kasumigaseki in Tokyo.

That day, Norkus and German witnessed demonstrations of electro-static lifting devices for footwear impressions, a chemical spray (potassium thiocyanate) for developing iron deposits in footwear impressions deposited in dust, and a fuming method (cyanoacrylate) for developing latent fingerprints on nonporous surfaces.  The words "potassium thiocyanate" and "cyanoacrylate" are placed in parentheses because the Japanese hosts would not share the name of the chemicals with Norkus and German at the time.

Both a commercial, battery operated electro-static lifting device; and plastic sheets with wool cloth were demonstrated for lifting footwear (or tire, etc.) dust impressions.  The Japanese hosts were hesitant to explain much about the two chemical procedures... and, the cyanoacrylate fuming method was obviously the most impressive display of the day.

Unknown to the Japanese hosts, German had the ability to read the Katakana writing on the bottle they used during the demonstration. The characters spelled out the Japanese words (phonetically) aron-arufa and German made a note of these words before departing the NPA laboratory.  During that first Aronarufa bottle the next week German and Norkus searched for "aron-arufa" and Norkus was successful in finding a bottle (that actual first bottle is shown on the right side of this page courtesy of Paul Norkus) at an "Eye-World Department Store" in Sagamihara City near Tokyo.  One sniff of the "aron-arufa" revealed it to be liquid superglue. Norkus and German experimented with developing latent fingerprints on a small scale... usually inside petri dishes as had been demonstrated to them.  It worked well on strips of black plastic electrical tape.

In the spring of 1980, Norkus and German rotated from their assignments in Japan back to the main Army laboratory in Georgia... along with the information about their early trials of superglue fuming.  In 1980, the Army had the only crime lab laser in Georgia and Frank Kendall of the ATF Laboratory in Atlanta routinely examined evidence via laser at the Army lab. At the time Kendall first witnessed cyanoacrylate fuming at the Army Crime Lab, it was still being performed without heat or other acceleration and the largest items examined were things such as rolls of developed 8 mm movie film... sometimes taking days or weeks to process in a fish aquarium type chamber.

Kendall picked up the ball and ran with the superglue information... making important discoveries in accelerating the development procedure and also publishing the first widely circulated English technical notes about superglue fuming in "Identification News."


Discovery Timeline - Here is a rough timeline of details surrounding the discovery of cyanoacrylate fuming for developing latent prints:

MAY 1977 - Trace Evidence Examiner Fuseo Matsumura at the Saga Prefectural Crime Laboratory of the National Police Agency of Japan notices his own fingerprints developing on microscope slides while mounting hairs from a taxi driver murder case and relates the information to co-worker Masato Soba, a Latent Print Examiner. Soba commences preliminary research.

12 MAY 1977 - Mr. Masato Soba, Technical Official/Latent Print Examiner of Saga Prefectural Police Headquarters Laboratory reports by telephone to Mr. Nobuyuki Otsubo, Technical Official of the Identification Division, National Police Agency of Japan the following results of his experiments: "Latent fingerprints can be developed by cyanoacrylate glue fumes. It is especially effective for fingerprint development on the adhesive surface of tape."

8 JUN 1977 - Mr. Masato Soba formally announces his experiment results at the Kyushu District Identification Science Research Meeting held in Kagoshima Prefecture.

15 NOV 1978 - Masato Soba presents his research at the National Fingerprint Identification Study Meeting of the National Police Agency of Japan in Tokyo.

Early May 1979 - L.W. Wood, MFS notices his own fingerprints developing on a film tank he repairs with superglue at Police Headquarters, Northampton, U.K. He commences preliminary research and notifies Detective Inspector Edmunds, Scenes of Crime Department.

8 MAY 1979 - A report detailing the superglue fuming discovery is forwarded from the Northampton Police Headquarters Chief Constable to the Home Office.

17 MAY 1979 - Detective Inspector Edmunds demonstrates superglue fuming at the Midland Region Photographic and Fingerprint Officers Conference at West Mercia Police Headquarters.

6 JUN 1979 - The Home Office responds by letter to Northampton acknowledging receipt of the superglue fuming information.

18 JUN 1979 - The Home Office notifies Northampton the "new technique" will be further investigated.

SEP 1979 - Senior Fingerprint Researcher Nobuyuki Otsubo of the National Police Agency of Japan demonstrates superglue fuming to U.S. Army Crime Laboratory Latent Print Examiners Paul Norkus and Ed German at Kasumigaseki, Tokyo. Norkus and German commence research using the technique "borrowed" from the Japanese.

APR 1980 - Paul Norkus and Ed German complete their three-year overseas assignments and return to the U.S. Army Crime Laboratory in Georgia where they relate their early research.

June 1980 - The Aldermasten Central Research Department of the U.K. notifies Northampton that the new technique is sufficiently viable to warrant further investigation.

15 JUL 1980 - Louis P. Bourdon of Ontario, Canada files for Canadian Patent on an "Apparatus and Method for Obtaining Fingerprints" which uses two chambers and a pump system.

Mid-1980 - Elwood "Woody" Fogelman and other U.S. Army Latent Print Examiners research the development of 8 mm movie film and other surfaces with cyanoacrylate fuming. ATF Laboratory Latent Print Examiner Frank Kendall learns the technique from Army Examiners and commences his research into acceleration of development using chemicals and heat.

12 SEP 1980 - Louis P. Bourdon of Ontario, Canada applies for a U.S. patent on his system.

27 OCT 1981 - U.S. Patent 4,297,383 awarded to Bourdon for his system. Click here to see the patent.

December 1982 - Attorneys representing interests in Bourdon's patented system order the U.S. Army, the ATF Laboratory and other law enforcement agencies to cease and desist from infringing on Bourdon's patent.

May 1983 - Attorney's John H. Raubitschek and Arthur Spechler with the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army successfully rebut patent infringement claims (at least enough to stop a law suit) with documents from the National Police Agency of Japan... and the world is free to develop fingerprints with superglue fumes to its heart's content.

And.... there must be other interesting details from the UK and Canada about the individual discoveries of this valuable technique. Send Ed German an e-mail message if you would like your version of this bit of history posted on the web.

1 Mock, James P., Cyanoacrylates and Heat - A Word of Caution, Identification News, Sep 85 
2 Paul Mark Norkus retired from the Army in the early 1980s and worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a Latent Print Examiner and Crime Scene Technician for over twenty years.  Paul Norkus passed-away in January 2003.  


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