New software judges quality of scanned fingerprints

October 27, 2004

An improved suite of automated fingerprint analysis tools, including a new software program that judges the quality of a scanned fingerprint, is now available to U.S. law enforcement agencies, manufacturers and biometrics researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Compiled on a CD-ROM,* the software can be used to help ensure that images collected with digital fingerprint scanners from criminal suspects, employees, visa applicants or others will be high enough quality to produce good matches with fingerprints already on file. Ideally, a fingerprint image will have clear and distinct ridges and valleys. But problems, including dry skin, the size of the person's fingers, or equipment issues such as dirty or damaged sensor plates, can result in poor images that could produce inaccurate matches.

The NIST software assigns a scanned fingerprint with a quality level ranging from 1 for a high-quality print to 5 for an unusable print. Poor quality images then can be rescanned if necessary. Although most commercial fingerprint systems already include proprietary image quality software, the availability of the NIST software will for the first time allow users to directly compare the fingerprint image quality produced by scanners made by different manufacturers.

The CD also includes improved software for matching fingerprints, pattern classification, minutiae detection, fingerprint encoding and decoding, and segmenting four-finger "slaps" into individual prints. Funding for the project was provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.

For more information on NIST's fingerprint matching research program, see
*To obtain a free copy of the CD, "NIST Fingerprint Image Software -- Version 2," law enforcement agencies, biometrics researchers or manufacturers of fingerprint scanning equipment should contact Craig Watson at The CD is subject to export controls.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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