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Unveiling Clues: The Science of Fingerprint Development with Cyanoacrylate Ester Fumes

by Kourosh Nikoui | Mar 17, 2023 | Cyanoacrylate Ester Fuming | Fingerprint Development
02 Unveiling Clues

In the intricate world of forensic science, one method stands out as a powerful tool for uncovering hidden evidence: the development of fingerprints using cyanoacrylate ester fumes. This ingenious technique has been instrumental in revealing latent fingerprints, aiding investigators in solving countless crimes and mysteries. Join us as we delve into the fascinating science behind cyanoacrylate ester fumes and their role in fingerprint development.

The Origins of Cyanoacrylate Ester Fumes

The story of cyanoacrylate ester fumes in fingerprint development begins in the mid-20th century when Dr. Harry Coover, an American chemist, discovered the adhesive properties of cyanoacrylate compounds while working at Eastman Kodak Company in 1942. Initially dismissed as a failed experiment, cyanoacrylate adhesives found success years later as fast-acting superglues. Their application in forensic science emerged in the 1970s when it was discovered that cyanoacrylate fumes could react with the moisture and oils present in latent fingerprints, making them visible.

The Science Behind Cyanoacrylate Ester Fumes

Cyanoacrylate ester fumes work by polymerizing and adhering to the fatty acids, amino acids, and other organic components present in fingerprint residues. This reaction creates a white, semi-translucent polymer film that outlines the ridges and furrows of the fingerprint, rendering it visible against the background surface.

The Development Process

The process of developing fingerprints using cyanoacrylate ester fumes typically involves placing the item containing the latent prints inside a sealed chamber along with a small quantity of cyanoacrylate adhesive. The fumes emitted by the adhesive permeate the surface, reacting with the latent fingerprint residues and forming a visible impression. Heat and humidity can be adjusted to accelerate the development process and enhance the quality of the developed prints.

Applications in Forensic Science

Cyanoacrylate fuming has become a widely used technique in forensic laboratories worldwide, employed in the examination of evidence collected from crime scenes, burglary scenes, and other forensic investigations. Its versatility and effectiveness make it particularly valuable for processing a wide range of porous and non-porous surfaces, including paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal.

Challenges and Limitations

While cyanoacrylate fuming is highly effective for developing fingerprints on a variety of surfaces, its application may be limited by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. In addition, the development process can sometimes result in background staining or interference, particularly on highly porous materials.

Future Innovations

Ongoing research in the field of fingerprint development aims to improve the sensitivity, efficiency, and versatility of cyanoacrylate fuming techniques. Innovations such as modified cyanoacrylate formulations and alternative fuming methods continue to expand the capabilities of this valuable forensic tool.


The development of fingerprints using cyanoacrylate ester fumes represents a remarkable fusion of chemistry and forensic science, unlocking hidden clues and revealing the identities of individuals who leave their mark at the scene of a crime. As technology continues to advance, cyanoacrylate fuming remains an indispensable tool in the arsenal of forensic investigators, ensuring that no fingerprint goes unnoticed and no mystery goes unsolved.


“Forensic Practitioner and Specialist Kourosh Nikoui, Principal Consultant and CEO of Nikoui & Associates, Forensic Identification Services & Consulting, Inc., has over 38 years of full-time experience in forensic science and criminal justice with various law enforcement agencies, government, and private entities. Mr. Nikoui, a court-qualified expert, is a Certified Latent Print Examiner, Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst, and Certified Forensic Photographer by the International Association for Identification. He has testified as an expert witness over 150 times in California Superior and U.S. Federal Courts, processed evidence in over 30,000 criminal and civilian cases, and served as a consultant to numerous law enforcement agencies. Mr. Nikoui holds a BFA degree from USD and is an active member of multiple forensic science organizations. He can be reached directly by calling (888) 485-0832 or by email at [email protected].”
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