Frequently Asked Questions
about Fingerprints

Updated 6 August 2023

The FAQs on this page have resulted from the most common questions the Webmaster has received during the past two decades.

Please search this Forum if you don't find answers you seek below.

The answers on this page come from several sources, including Certified Latent Print Examiners from the International Association for Identification and fingerprint expert Fellows and Members of The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (formerly The Fingerprint Society)

Insofar as possible, content conforms with guidelines of the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the Office of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) . Officially though, these answers do not purport to represent anything other than Ed German's general topic answers about fingerprints. 

Comments and suggestions about this page are welcome.




    The two basic ideas scientists believe about fingerprints are: 
    • Fingerprints never change.  Small ridges form on a baby's hands and feet before they are born.  The ridges grow larger as the person grows, but the overall shapes and location on the fingers do not change for as long as the person lives. 
    • No two fingerprints are alike.  The ridges on the hands and feet of all persons have three basic characteristics (ridge endings, bifurcations and dots) which appear in combinations that are never repeated on the hands or feet of any two persons. A ridge ending is simply the end of a ridge (also known as an ending ridge).  A bifurcation is the Y-shaped split of one ridge into two ridges.  A dot is a very short ridge which looks like a "dot."
     John Q. Public's Answer        Police Officer's Answer
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Universal Latent Workstation graphic The Universal Latent Workstation is the first in a new generation of interoperable latent workstations. Several state and local agencies, the FBI, NIST, and the AFIS vendors have been working together on standards to improve interoperability and sharing of latent identification services. The ULW is part of that program. It helps agencies and AFIS vendors understand and develop the concept of encode once and search anywhere. With the ULW you can create a native feature set for Printrak, Cogent, Morpho, NEC and IAFIS. Ultimately, standards-based workstations, such as the ULW, will provide you with the ability to search local, state, neighboring and the FBI NGI system, all with a single encoding workstation.

Information regarding ULW

















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Postings on this page and elsewhere at do NOT purport to represent the position or opinion of the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, any component of the US Government or any organization with which the Webmaster is or has been associated.

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