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Fingerprinting Merit Badge Guide

The Fingerprinting Merit Badge is one of the easiest and most popular badges you can earn in scouting. It’s not only fun but also educational, teaching you the basics of how fingerprinting works and why it’s important. To get started, you’ll need a few simple things.

First and foremost, you’ll need a fingerprinting recognition card. This card has special areas where you’ll place your fingerprints. You can ask your parents to order one for you on Amazon; they’re not expensive. Once you have the card, you’ll be ready to dive into the five requirements to earn this badge.

The first requirement is understanding the history and purpose of fingerprinting. Did you know that every person’s fingerprint is unique? That’s why it’s used by law enforcement agencies around the world to identify people. The next steps involve actually taking your fingerprints and identifying the different patterns like loops, whorls, and arches. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds, and you’ll get the hang of it quickly.

By the end of the process, you’ll have a complete set of your own fingerprints and a greater understanding of this fascinating field. So, are you ready to earn your Fingerprinting Merit Badge?

Fingerprinting Merit Badge Requirements

fingerprint merit badge requirements
1. Give a short history of fingerprinting. Tell the difference between civil and criminal identification.
2. Explain the difference between the automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) now used by some law enforcement agencies and the biometric fingerprint systems used to control access to places like buildings, airports, and computer rooms.
3. Do the following:
(a) Name the surfaces of the body where friction or papillary ridges are found.

(b) Name the two basic principles supporting the science of fingerprints and give a brief explanation of each principle.

(c) Explain what it takes to positively identify a person using fingerprints.
4. Take a clear set of prints using ONE of the following methods.
(a) Make both rolled and plain impressions. Make these on an 8-by-8-inch fingerprint identification card, available from your local police department or your counselor.

(b) Using clear adhesive tape, a pencil, and plain paper, record your own fingerprints or those of another person.
5. Show your merit badge counselor you can identify the three basic types of fingerprint patterns and their subcategories. Using your own hand, identify the types of patterns you see.

1. Short History of Fingerprinting

Fingerprinting has been around for a very long time, but it became a formal way to identify people in the 19th century. Even before that, ancient people like the Babylonians used fingerprints for verification.

In 1858, an Englishman named Sir William Herschel in India started using fingerprints to help prevent fraud. Fast forward to 1901, and another Englishman, Sir Edward Henry, came up with a way to sort and classify fingerprints.

In America, a case involving two men who looked alike (Will West and William West) in 1903 showed the need for better identification. By 1905, the U.S. Army and police started using fingerprints. In 1911, U.S. courts said that fingerprints were a good way to tell people apart.

Difference Between Civil and Criminal Identification:

Civil IdentificationTo check if people have a criminal past when they are joining jobs like the police or the army.Fingerprints are stored to double-check someone’s identity later.
Criminal IdentificationTo keep a permanent record of someone who has been arrested.Fingerprints can reveal the real name of someone using a fake name and any past arrests.

Today, the FBI has over 40 million sets of fingerprints. Fingerprinting helps make sure innocent people don’t go to jail and helps catch the real bad guys.

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2. Difference Between AFIS and Biometric Fingerprint Systems

Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) and biometric fingerprint systems serve different purposes and work in different ways. Here’s how they are different:

System TypeWhat It’s Used ForHow Long It TakesWhere It’s Used
Automated (AFIS)Finding an exact match from millions of fingerprintsUsually takes hoursLaw enforcement agencies
BiometricQuickly checking if a fingerprint is allowedUsually takes secondsBuildings, airports, computers

Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS)

AFIS is mainly used by the police and other law agencies. When they need to identify someone, they use AFIS to look through millions of fingerprints to find the one that matches. This process can take a long time, sometimes hours, because the system is very careful to check every detail of each fingerprint.

Biometric Fingerprint Systems

Biometric systems are much faster and are used in places like offices, airports, and even on some laptops. These systems only need to check if the fingerprint scanned matches a fingerprint that’s allowed. It’s a quick yes-or-no check that usually takes only a few seconds.

So, in simple terms, AFIS is like a detective that takes time to solve a big mystery by looking at every clue carefully. On the other hand, biometric systems are like a quick handshake—you either know the person, or you don’t.

I hope this explanation helps you understand the difference between AFIS and biometric fingerprint systems!

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3. (a) Find Friction or Papillary Ridges on Your Body

Friction or papillary ridges can be found on specific surfaces of your body. These are the parts of you that help you grab things or maintain your grip. Here’s where you can find them:

Body PartHas Friction Ridges?Why They’re Useful
PalmsYesHelps you hold onto things like a handle.
SolesYesGives you better grip when you walk.
FingersYesMakes it easier to pick up small things.
ToesYesHelps keep you balanced and stable.

So, these special skin patterns are found on your palms, the soles of your feet, your fingers, and your toes. Each pattern is unique to you. They help you in different ways like holding things, walking, or keeping your balance.

3. (b) The Two Basic Principles Behind Fingerprint Science

Fingerprints are super useful for telling people apart or figuring out who someone is. There are two main reasons why fingerprints work so well for this:

PrincipleSimple Explanation
IndividualityNo two people have the same fingerprints, not even twins!
PermanenceYour fingerprints stay the same your whole life.
  1. Individuality: This means every person’s fingerprints are different, even if they are twins! So, it’s a great way to know for sure who someone is. The chance that two people will have the same fingerprints is really, really low.
  2. Permanence: This means your fingerprints won’t change as you get older. The special patterns you’re born with stay the same throughout your life. Even as you grow, those patterns just get a bit bigger but don’t actually change.

These two principles make fingerprints a reliable way to identify people.

3. (c) How Experts Use Fingerprints to Positively Identify Someone

Figuring out if a fingerprint matches another one is actually a pretty tricky job. This is because our skin is stretchy and flexible, which means even two prints from the same finger might look a bit different. But, there are experts who are trained to tell if two prints are from the same person.

Here’s a breakdown of how they do it:

StepSimple Explanation
ExpertiseTrained professionals look at the fingerprints.
FlexibilityThey understand our skin is flexible and can make prints look different.
MatchingThey look at special patterns, called “ridge shapes,” in the prints.
ExplanationThey can tell why two prints might look different but still be from the same person.
ConclusionIf even one detail can’t be explained, they’ll say the prints are from different people.
  1. Expertise: First, experts who know a lot about fingerprints look at the prints.
  2. Flexibility: They know our skin stretches and moves, so they’re not fooled if two prints from the same person look a little different.
  3. Matching: The experts focus on specific parts of the fingerprint, called “ridge shapes,” to see if they match.
  4. Explanation: If they find any differences between the prints, they try to figure out why. Sometimes skin stretching or another reason might explain the difference.
  5. Conclusion: If there’s even one tiny part of the prints that can’t be explained, the expert will say they are not from the same person.

This is how experts can be really sure if a fingerprint matches another one, even when it’s not super obvious.

4. (a) How to Take Clear Fingerprints Using Rolled and Plain Impressions

Taking fingerprints isn’t too tough if you know the right steps. There are two types of prints you can make: “rolled” and “plain.” You can do both on an 8-by-8-inch card you can get from the police or maybe your counselor.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

StepSimple Explanation
Get SuppliesMake sure you have the 8-by-8-inch card and some ink.
Prepare AreaClean your hands and the area where you’ll take the prints.
Plain ImpressionsPress your finger straight down on the ink pad and then straight down on the card.
Rolled ImpressionsRoll your inked finger from one side to the other on the card to capture all the ridges.
Clean UpWipe your fingers clean after you’re done.
  1. Get Supplies: First, make sure you have an 8-by-8-inch fingerprint card and some fingerprint ink. If you don’t have these, your local police department or counselor should have them.
  2. Prepare Area: Clean your hands well. You don’t want dirt messing up your prints. Also clean the surface where you’ll set the card.
  3. Plain Impressions: For plain impressions, you just press your finger straight down onto the ink pad and then straight down onto the card. No rolling or twisting.
  4. Rolled Impressions: For rolled impressions, you put your finger on the ink pad and then roll it from one side to the other on the card. This captures the whole fingerprint, not just part of it.
  5. Clean Up: After you’re done, make sure to clean your fingers so you don’t get ink everywhere.

And there you have it! You’ve taken clear fingerprints using both rolled and plain impressions.

4. (b) How to Record Fingerprints Using Tape, Pencil, and Paper

For this task, you’ll need to get a fingerprint card, which you can obtain either from your merit badge counselor or your local police station. After you’ve completed this, I suggest purchasing a larger pack of fingerprint cards on Amazon, so you can demonstrate this badge technique to younger scouts.

Materials Needed:

  • Clear adhesive tape
  • Pencil
  • Plain paper


  1. Prepare the Paper: Take a plain piece of paper and draw a square on it using the pencil. Make sure the square is just a bit larger than your finger.
  2. Fill in the Square: Shade in the square you drew, making sure it’s completely filled in with pencil lead.
  3. Prepare Your Finger: Rub your finger back and forth over the shaded square. Make sure to cover all sides and the tip of your finger with the pencil lead.
  4. Cut the Tape: Take a small piece of clear adhesive tape, sticky side up.
  5. Apply to Finger: Press your finger, now covered in pencil lead, onto the sticky side of the tape. Make sure to press down firmly.
  6. Transfer Print: Carefully peel the tape off your finger and stick it onto another clean piece of paper.
  7. Review: Now you have successfully captured a fingerprint! You may want to repeat the process a few times to have multiple prints for comparison or for different fingers.


  • This method works well for all age groups and is less messy than using ink.
  • Always handle the tape carefully to avoid smudging the fingerprint.

By following these simple steps, you can easily record your own fingerprints or those of another person.

5. Identifying Basic Types of Fingerprint Patterns and Their Subcategories

Types of fingerprint patterns

Edward Henry was instrumental in identifying that fingerprints can be categorized into three primary patterns: arches, loops, and whorls. These basic forms were later divided into eight specific categories, a system that the FBI still employs.


Arch patterns are the least common, appearing in only about 5% of all fingerprints. In an arch, the skin ridges flow from one side of the finger to the other without making any backward turns.

Unlike loops and whorls, arch patterns usually don’t have what is called a ‘delta’—a triangular area formed by diverging ridges. If there is a delta, no ridge makes a turn between two significant points known as the core and the delta.


Loop patterns are the most prevalent, showing up in roughly 60 to 70% of fingerprints. In a loop, the skin ridges make a backward turn but do not twist around. The direction of the loop is identified based on how it appears on the hand, not how it appears when printed on a card. Essentially, when you look at the imprint of a loop, it’s like looking at your reflection in a mirror—reversed but recognizable. Loop patterns always contain just one delta.


Whorl patterns are encountered in about 25 to 35% of fingerprints. In a whorl, some ridges make a complete circle. Whorls are unique in that they contain two or more deltas, making them easily distinguishable from loops and arches.

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Subcategories of these patterns

Understanding fingerprint patterns goes beyond the basic arches, loops, and whorls. Let’s delve into more specialized types of each pattern.

Types of fingerprint subcategory patterns

Plain Arch

The Plain Arch is the simplest form of fingerprint pattern. It features ridges that flow smoothly from one side of the finger to the other, resembling a gentle wave in the ocean. There are no interruptions or significant twists in the ridges, making it straightforward to identify.

Tented Arch

Similar to the Plain Arch, the Tented Arch also flows from one side of the finger to the other. However, it’s distinguished by a “tent-like” spike in the ridges at the center, disrupting the continuous flow. These ridges rise in the middle, akin to the peaks of tents, making it distinct from the Plain Arch.

Radial Loop

The Radial Loop is named after the radius bone in the forearm. The ridges flow towards the thumb, flowing in the direction of the radius bone. This type of loop is rare and most often appears on index fingers.

Ulnar Loop

The Ulnar Loop is named for the ulna, another bone in the forearm. Unlike the Radial Loop, the flow of ridges in an Ulnar Loop runs from the thumb to the little finger. This makes it opposite in orientation compared to the Radial Loop.

Double Loop

A Double Loop consists of two separate loop formations within the same fingerprint. It’s identified by two different centers (or cores), two deltas, and at least one ridge that makes a full circle. An imaginary line drawn between the two loops will intersect with at least one re-curving ridge.

Plain Whorl

Plain Whorls are characterized by ridges that make a full circular or spiral turn. They contain two deltas, making them a more straightforward type of whorl pattern.

Central Pocket Loop Whorl

This pattern has one re-curving ridge or an obstruction at right angles to the direction of flow, and two deltas. The ridges make a full circuit, but if an imaginary line is drawn between the deltas, no re-curving ridges within the pattern are touched or cut.

Accidental Whorl

Accidental Whorls are complex and are composed of two or more different types of patterns with at least two deltas. They don’t fit neatly into any other categories and are thus called ‘accidental’.


To identify the fingerprint patterns on your own hand, you would first need to take clear prints using one of the methods described before (like using tape, pencil, and paper). Once you have the prints, closely examine them and compare with the basic patterns and their subcategories.

For example, if you see that the majority of your fingerprints loop around and exit on the same side, you can identify them as ‘Loop’ patterns. If they’re circular around a central point, then they fall under ‘Whorl’.

By comparing your own fingerprints to these basic categories, you can identify what types of fingerprint patterns you have on your hand. Show this to your merit badge counselor for verification.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What materials do I need for the badge?

You’ll need basic supplies like clear adhesive tape, a pencil, and plain paper for capturing fingerprints. Some people also use a fingerprinting card available at local police stations.

Do I need to submit my own fingerprints to earn the badge?

Yes, part of the requirements includes capturing your own fingerprints or those of another person for study and identification.

Can I use digital methods to capture fingerprints?

The traditional method using ink or pencil and paper is usually recommended for this badge, but check with your merit badge counselor for their specific requirements.

What careers are related to fingerprinting?

Careers in forensic science, law enforcement, and even some areas of cybersecurity make use of fingerprinting skills.

Do fingerprints change over time?

The basic patterns of your fingerprints are formed before you’re born and stay the same throughout your life. However, superficial changes like cuts or scars can temporarily alter them.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!