Taking your own fingerprints

Some jobs, visas, etc, require a criminal record check from the FBI, which requires sending the FBI your fingerprints. Where you live, it may be difficult to find a professional who will take your fingerprints on an FBI-approved fingerprint card. But no problem, it is quite feasible to take your own fingerprints.
Supplies needed:
1. Scrap paper to practice on
2. Printouts of the FBI fingerprint card on standard office paper (5-10 copies, because you will make mistakes)
3. Ink pad from a stamp (with some black or blue ink in it). For most brands of stamps, the internet has instructions on how to slide the ink pad out.
4. Piece of smooth rubber a little larger than a fingertip, e.g. a piece of bicycle inner tube, a piece of unlubricated condom, or a rubber ball about 5 cm in diameter
5. Paper towels or tissues for wiping ink from fingertips
6. Stick of glue for gluing paper
7. Small sharp straight scissors, or a razorblade and a smooth cutting board, for cutting paper
8. Large envelope for mailing the fingerprint card to the FBI without folding it. Postage stamp(s).

The piece of smooth rubber is for painting the ink of the stamp pad onto the ridges of the fingerprints. Just dipping the fingers in ink or touching them to the stamp pad will put ink in the troughs of the fingerprints as well. Too inky fingers will create a uniform splotch on the paper, not the lines and whorls of a fingerprint. Also, if the stamp pad holds the impression of the writing on the stamp, then the fingers will get that writing on them as inkless areas.
The ink should not be quick-drying, e.g. alcohol-based from a marker pen. This will dry on warm fingertips before the finger reaches the paper. The ink must be liquid, not the paste from a ballpoint pen, because the paste sticks to the fingertip in small chunks. These will create uniform dark splotches on the paper, with the adjacent areas blank white. The ink used in stamp pads is good.
With inky fingers, it is easy to get ink stains on the table or anything else within reach, so the paper towels or tissues should be held ready to clean the ink up while it is still wet.
1. Read the FBI’s online instructions for taking legible fingerprints (https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/fingerprints-and-other-biometrics/recording-legible-fingerprints), the Guidelines for Preparation of Fingerprint Cards (https://ucr.fbi.gov/fingerprints_biometrics/guidelines-for-preparation-of-fingerprint-cards-and-association-criminal-history-information) and the Capturing Legible Fingerprints poster (https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/capturing-legible-fingerprints.pdf).
2. Lightly rub the bulging side of the piece of rubber on the stamp pad to coat it with an even thin layer of ink. Then lightly paint the ink on one fingertip, the first priority being to coat all the ridges from the crease of the first joint to the nail and from one side of the nail to the other. The second priority is to avoid coating the troughs of the fingerprint. Some ink in the troughs is unavoidable, but minimising it will make the print clearer.
3. Roll the fingertip on the scrap paper from nail to nail, like the FBI instructions say. Compare the result to the Capturing Legible Fingerprints poster. The goal is to get a roughly rectangular imprint with the ridges and troughs of the fingerprint visible. Empty spots on the fingerprint indicate too little ink, inky splotches indicate too much. Lightly pressing the second joint of the finger down with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand may help, or alternatively holding the tip of the nail down with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Practicing repeatedly with the same finger helps. The ink on the fingertip needs renewing from time to time. If there is too much ink on the fingertip, rolling it on the scrap paper will reduce the amount.
4. Estimate how much ink on the fingertip leaves the best print. If the first roll after inking a finger always creates splotch, estimate how many rolls on the scrap paper are needed (without renewing the ink) to make the fingerprint legible.
5. Once the fingerprints on the scrap paper are looking good, use the same amount of ink and pre-rolls to put the same finger’s print on all the FBI fingerprint cards.
6. Wipe this finger clean of ink.
7. Repeat points 2-6 with each finger. When reaching the thumbs, also put their flat impressions on the fingerprint card (flat thumb impressions require less practice). Doing one finger at a time minimises ink stains on the fingerprint card and the furniture, and gives practice for each finger just before that finger’s print is taken.
8. Ink the four fingers of one hand and practice taking the four-finger flat impression a couple of times. Then put the four-finger impression on all the fingerprint cards. Clean the fingers. Repeat with the other hand.
9. Choose the fingerprint card with the largest number of clear fingerprints. It doesn’t matter how bad the unclear prints on the card are – these will be covered in the next step.
10. For each unclear print on the chosen card, pick the clearest print of the same finger from the remaining cards. Cut out that fingerprint, following the edges of the box it is in. Glue the cutout over the unclear print on the chosen card, making sure all four corners of the cutout are glued down. Hopefully you only need to cut and glue at most 3 prints.
11. Fill out the form at the top of the fingerprint card with black or blue pen, as the instructions say. The required codes for hair and eye colour, etc, can be found in the Guidelines for Preparation of Fingerprint Cards.
12. Without folding the fingerprint card, put it in the envelope together with the printout of the email confirmation of paying the appropriate fee on the FBI website. Address the envelope correctly and mail it. From Australia, sending the A4 envelope to the FBI using regular mail cost under 3 AUD in 2018. In my case, the pdf of the criminal record check was accessible from the FBI’s website less than two weeks after mailing my fingerprint card.

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