U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Analysis of Automotive Paint Smears Using Attenuated Total Reflection Infrared Microscopy

NCJ Number
Applied Spectroscopy Dated: 2022
Date Published

This article reports on the development of an impact tester that creates smears to simulate paint transfer between vehicles during a collision.


Paint smears represent a type of automotive paint sample found at a crime scene that is problematic for forensic automotive paint examiners to analyze as there are no reference materials present in automotive paint databases to generate hit-lists of potential suspect vehicles and realistic paint smears are difficult to create in a laboratory and have also proven challenging to analyze because of the mixing of the various automotive paint layers. Data collected from 24 original equipment manufacturer (OEM) paints in simulated collisions using an impact tester with a steel (inert) substrate to simulate vehicle to vehicle collisions shows that attenuated total reflection infrared microscopy can isolate individual paint layers. For each OEM paint sample, the corresponding smear obtained was dependent upon the conditions used. By varying these conditions, the number of distinct layers obtained could be tuned for each of the OEM paints investigated. Furthermore, the IR spectrum of each layer extracted from the paint smear using alternating least squares was found to compare favorably to an in-house OEM paint infrared spectral library for each layer as the correct match (make and model of the vehicle from which the smear originated) was always found as a top five hit in the hit-list. The results of this study indicate that paint smears developed using an impactor can serve as the basis of realistic proficiency tests for forensic laboratories. (Publisher abstract provided)


Date Published: January 1, 2022