Biometric Fundamentals

Livescan Fingerprinting — Your Questions, Answered


Fingerprinting is one of the easiest and best ways to authenticate someone’s identity through biometrics. Although there are several technological approaches for fingerprint scanning, livescan (live scan) is a robust, easily used, fast technology for scanning, storing and authenticating fingerprints.

Livescan technology features several different types of hardware and software designed to make fingerprint acquisition and identification secure and effortless. As a leading provider of livescan systems, both hardware and software, for over 20 years we’re happy to answer your questions.

What, exactly, is livescan fingerprinting?

Livescan is an industry term that typically references a standard in scanning and storing fingerprints digitally. That standard is the FBI’s Appendix F. It references specific scanners and collection requirements that enable the rapid electronic capture of an individual’s fingerprint – allowing agencies and others to store and compare these fingerprints.

What can livescan fingerprinting be used for?

There are many use cases for livescan fingerprinting including:

  • Authenticating a person’s identity for access to sensitive areas or information
  • Capturing the fingerprints of travelers, migrants and refugees as they cross borders
  • Recording the fingerprints of a police suspect
  • Carrying out criminal history background checks on a job applicant or for special clearances
  • Enrollment applications where assured identity is paramount
  • Regulated industry compliance, such as real estate licensees, DMV licensed professionals, notaries, foster parents, teachers, appraisers, caregivers, stock brokers, contractors, nurses, doctors, surgeons, security guards, volunteers and lawyers

How does livescan fingerprinting work?

It’s simple. Someone trained in using a livescan device works with the individual whose fingerprints are being scanned. They place their fingers onto the livescan fingerprinting hardware and the scanner will automatically capture and image of the fingerprints. These images are processed by the livescan software, creating a record that can be stored, compared or transmit for a variety of identification or verification purposes.

What types of organizations use livescan fingerprinting technology?

The technology is used by a variety of businesses and agencies including:

  • National security
  • Law enforcement
  • Citizen services
  • Migrant assistance
  • Refugee management
  • Military installations
  • Government and state bodies
  • Regulated commercial businesses

What types of scanners are there?

There are several different types of fingerprint scanners, however, livescan readers typically are referencing tenprint and palm print devices.

Can the environment impact the accuracy of scanned fingerprints?

Yes. Certain environments can lead to issues that impact the ability to capture quality print images. A particularly warm environment may cause hands to sweat which can lead to moisture issues.  Conversely, extremely dry environments tend to dehydrate the skin which can lead to challenges with imaging ridge definition. Fortunately, the leading providers of livescan technology use moisture discriminating optics, silicone pads and advanced software to overcome these issues.

What are the advantages of livescan fingerprinting?

There are several advantages of taking fingerprints digitally, over the traditional ink and paper method:

  • No mess — no ink is needed
  • Far less chance for human error — e.g. applying the wrong amount of ink or pressure
  • Reduces mechanical error — e.g. when applying inked fingers to a fingerprinting card
  • Image quality is automatically checked and finger sequencing performed, reducing reject
  • Quicker for capturing fingerprints
  • Enables efficient “lights-out”, fully automated fingerprint matching.

What resolution and accuracy does livescan fingerprinting deliver?

Livescan hardware typically delivers results of between 500 and 1,000 pixels per inch (ppi). This allows for extremely detailed imaging of the fingerprint or palm print minutiae. This superior detail aids in the accurate comparison with stored finger and palm prints.

Are all livescans basically the same?

No. Not all livescan technology is equal. The technology that goes into the collection device and its related software matters. While several vendors pass the basic threshold for Appendix F certification, a user will not have a similar experience using each device. Proprietary hardware and software features make certain livescan systems easier to capture images, have far superior image quality, perform a capture faster, adjust to varied skin conditions, etc.

It is important to consider these points. As in the case of enrollment applications, the collected images and resulting record will be the baseline for all future matching. And when verifying, the higher the image quality the faster and more accurate matching can be achieved.

In part two of this two-part post we will define FAP levels and review livescan certifications, as well as provide an overview of the range of Crossmatch livescan collection devices. Have a question or idea for a future blog, drop us a note below.  We’d love to hear from you.

As marketing lead for Crossmatch, John is actively involved in championing identity management and biometrics technology solutions. His involvement and fascination with leveraging technology to address unique business challenges began earlier in his career, as Product Manager for GE’s Imagination Breakthrough innovation, VeriWise, a satellite-based asset intelligence and tracking solution for the transportation industry. He later went on to run sales and marketing for Vectronix, Inc., a subsidiary of a Switzerland-based producer of electro-optic and north-finding devices for military and law enforcement applications. John currently serves on the Board of the International Biometrics & Identity Association (IBIA).

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