Cyanocrylate Fuming – Fingerprinting with Superglue



The process of fingerprint fuming is relatively easy. All that’s needed to perform the technique is a fairly airtight tank, some heat, and a few drops of Superglue.

Fingerprints leave behind traces of amino acids, fatty acids, and proteins. Those ingredients, combined with the moisture that’s found naturally in the air, react to the fumes produced when Superglue is heated. That reaction forms a sticky, white material that clings to the ridges of fingerprints, making them visible.

Detectives take photographs of the chemically developed prints for entry into AFIS and for use as evidence in court.


Detectives use the same glues found in retail stores for use in fuming chambers.


CynoSafe Fuming Chamber

Items to be printed are placed inside an air tight fuming chamber, such as Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratory’s CyanoSafe. A few drops of Superglue are placed into a heating tray inside the chamber. The glue is heated which releases its vapors into the air. The CyanoSafe is designed to provide the ideal humidity level for the development of fingerprints.

The machine automatically purges the fume-laden air from inside the chamber after the process is complete. Tabletop models, like the one pictured above can cost anywhere from five-thousand to ten-thousand dollars. There are portable units available that’re made from heavy plastic. These units are collapsable for transporting to a crime scene. The costs for the portable units start at around one-hundred-fifty dollars.

Fingerprint developed using Superglue

In many cases, officers don’t have the necessary resources available to conduct their own print development; therefore, they must send the items they’d like printed to an outside laboratory. As a result, prints are often destroyed or wiped away during the trip to the lab. To reduce the risk of destroying a print, it should be fumed – preserving the print – prior to placing the item in a package for the trip. Without the proper equipment, this is impossible.

* Many police departments do not have the funds to buy expensive fuming equipment; therefore, detectives are sometimes forced to become a bit innovative by making their own crude fuming chambers out of glass aquariums, Rubbermaid bins, and even cardboard boxes lined with aluminum foil. Costs – a few dollars. Results – same. Danger to detectives from toxic fumes and burns – high.

Maybe writers should adopt a needy police department, take up a collection, and purchase them a nice fuming chamber.

FYI – Here’s a link to an interesting article on The Boston Channel. It about stupid crooks cutting off their fingerprints to avoid jail time.

18 replies
  1. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Hi John,

    There’s not much my husband can do any more. All the home repairs and other things around here I handle except mowing the grass which he does on a riding mower. However, he’s home 24/7 and allows me to mine him for any and all information he can provide in my writing, and for that I am very grateful. He’s extremely supportive of my writing, even though when he told me to quit working and start writing, we never expected him to retire as early as he had to.

    He’s one of the good ones. I’ve seen him deal with and defuse some extremely volatile situations when he was working and since he’s retired.

    Over the years he’s taught me everything he can about about firearms, self defense, verbal judo, and many other police related subjects. He has the patience of a saint. (No wise cracks Lee!) He’s his mother’s taxi service, our 2 dogs playmate, and my best friend.

    Peg H

  2. John Howsden
    John Howsden says:

    Hi Peg,

    That’s one of the good arguments for not retiring officers. They can be a wealth of talent and experience for the deparmtment. I can’t imagine what you and your husband went through under those circumstances. It sounds like he took a bad situation and turned it around.

    People talk about how stressful it must be to deal with crooks. Most cops laugh at that because they know the real stress is dealing with these types of issue. It’s the everyday internal conflicts that drive cops up the wall. I suppose it’s that way with most jobs. But when you have a job that you depend on each other to stay alive, the feeling of betrayal is unspeakable.


  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    MtlFG – I’m glad you like the blog. Perhaps it was my book on police procedure and investigation you stumbled across? If not, they’re available…hint, hint.

    Feel free to contact me anytime if you have any questions. We can trade information. I’m working on a screenplay between books (isn’t everyone?).

    Peg – I know exactly what you mean. The pasture comes quickly for injured officers. Those injuries can be either physical or mental. One sign of weakness and out you go.

    By the way, tomorrow’s blog is a visit inside a police department’s fingerprint lab.

  4. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    When the department learned of my husband’s MS, they immediately began to look for reasons to get rid of him, and basically forced him into disability retirement.
    While he worked, he never asked for one bit of slack. He worked twice as hard as the other officers so he wouldn’t be accused of slacking off. There were no offers of desk duty or career change opportunities they just wanted him out of there.

    “anger, frustration and heartache”
    Are the least of it, the feeling of betrayal, and the stress in losing a job he loved, was enough to send him into a tailspin.

    He was his department’s Tactical Firearms Officer, and considered one of the best TFOs around.

    Peg H

  5. montrealfilmguy
    montrealfilmguy says:

    Just wanted to mention a big thanks to Lee.

    As a screenwriter,i thrive on blogs like this,i live for blogs like this.


    Found a book 2 weeks ago in the writers section of Chapters,i’ll have to look thought my notes and scribblings to find the title.

    Very interesting book,same type of info that you provide.

    Be back soon.

    From now on you can call me MtlFG if you want.

  6. John Howsden
    John Howsden says:

    Hi Laura,

    Great question. I’m going to answer your question based on my department’s policy. If an officer is injured and can not come back and work “full duty,” he is released on a disability retirement. It’s a long process with several state and private doctores getting invovled along with attorneys. Most of the disability retirements I saw were fraught with anger, frustration and heartache. If a disability injury happens early on in an officers career, he often emotional devastated because he worked his tail off to become a cop and now, through some mishap beyond his control, he suddnely out the door. His dreams of being a cop and doing something he loves is no more. Whenever I talk to a cop who was retired before his time, it the same thing, they get that far off look in their eyes and say how they miss it.

    Once we tried to keep on injured officers but here’s what happens when the department does that. Say there’s an opening for a job inside. By inside I mean he will not hit the street with a gun and do chase bad guys. Most of these inside jobs, at least in our department, were sought out by younger officers because they offered exposure and training and thusly enhanced their career, which opened up promotions. Not to mention these positions were eight to five, weekends off and home for the holidays. Spouces like their significant others to have these jobs as well.

    When you put permantly injured officer in these postions then you take all this away. Plus you have to qualify for these postions. When you put an injured person there, his primary qualification was that he couldn’t work the street. Don’t think that doesn’t frost some folks.

    I could go on, but I don’t know if I’m answering your questions. Please excuse any spelling, but I don’t want to take the time to check my spelling, I’d rather hear from you.


  7. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Laura – I sent Sgt. Howdsen a note to see if he wanted to answer your question since it stemmed from his topic.

    Terry – The magic formula is to use all you need, put the top back in place, and wait for it to dry up just like at home. I’ve always used a new tube each time. There are alternative chemicals available, such as Cyn0-Shot, for use instead of glue. It’s pretty much the same stuff. It can be purchased in packages of 6, 12, 24, and 72. You still wind up using what you need and tossing the rest.

  8. Terry
    Terry says:

    Ok, your post says “a few drops of superglue.” Anytime I’ve used the stuff for anything at all, that’s the end of the container. I haven’t figured out a good way to keep the glue from drying and clogging up the nozzle making the contents useless. Do the cops have the magic secret?

  9. Laura Kramarsky
    Laura Kramarsky says:

    Hey, Lee, when you get a chance, can you talk a little about what happens to an officer who is injured in the line of duty? What kinds of career paths within the department might be open to someone who lost the use of an arm, or lost his hearing, or something similar? After the excellent contribution on body armor, I got to wondering…

    Thanks for all the excellent help you give us!

  10. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Peg – That picture made my hand hurt. Shows you just how dumb some of these guys are, but I don’t have to tell you that. You’ve been around law-enforcement a long time.

  11. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    After looking at the picture in the Boston channel article all I can say is OUCH!!!! Just the thought of cutting or burning my fingertips makes me want to scream in pain. An accidental slice with a sharp knife and a couple of stitches on one finger was bad enough.

    It’s so much easier to lead a crime free life and never have to worry about such a thing.

    You are so good to us, Lee. Very informative!

    Peg H 🙂

  12. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Sorry, Elena, I should have offered a little history with your entree. You’re right, this is a fairly new technique. Cyanocrylate fuming was developed by the Japanese in 1978, but was quickly adopted by the U.S. Army and the ATF. Now, it’s used all over the world, much to the delight of glue companies and police departments. Gee, you guys make me dig out all my old notes!

  13. Elena
    Elena says:

    All my life I’ve been curious about however did someone think of that? This one is new enough that there might be an answer – do you know who thought of this and what get them on track?

    I love the idea it can be homemade – very carefully of course – and I wonder if the lifted print would fool a fingerprint lock?

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