Evaluation of the Forensic Utility of Scanning Electron Microscopy-Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy and Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry for Printing Ink Examinations

J Forensic Sci. 2016 May;61(3):725-34. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13110. Epub 2016 Apr 18.


Improvements in printing technology have exacerbated the problem of document counterfeiting, prompting the need for analytical techniques that better characterize inks for forensic analysis and comparisons. In this study, 319 printing inks (toner, inkjet, offset, and Intaglio) were analyzed directly on the paper substrate using scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS). As anticipated, the high sensitivity of LA-ICP-MS pairwise comparisons resulted in excellent discrimination (average of ~ 99.6%) between different ink samples from each of the four ink types and almost 100% correct associations between ink samples known to originate from the same source. SEM-EDS analysis also resulted in very good discrimination for different toner and intaglio inks (>97%) and 100% correct association for samples from the same source. SEM-EDS provided complementary information to LA-ICP-MS for certain ink types but showed limited utility for the discrimination of inkjet and offset inks.

Keywords: forensic science; inkjet; intaglio; mass spectrometry; offset; printing inks; questioned document examination; scanning electron microscopy; toner.