U.S. flag

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

Analysis of Writing Inks on Paper Using Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry

NCJ Number
Forensic Science International Volume: 231 Issue: 1-3 Dated: 2013 Pages: 73-81
Date Published
9 pages

Since ink analysis is central to questioned document examination, the current study applied direct analysis in real time mass spectrometry (DART MS) to ballpoint, gel, and fluid writing ink analysis.


DART MS acquires the mass spectrum of an ink while it is still on a document without altering the appearance of the document. Spectra were acquired from ink on a variety of papers, and the spectrum of the blank paper could be subtracted out to produce a cleanly isolated ink spectrum in most cases. Only certain heavy or heavily processed papers interfered. The time since an ink is written on paper has a large effect on its spectrum. DART spectra change radically during the first few months after an ink is written as the more volatile components evaporate, but the spectra stabilize after that. A library-search study involving 166 well-aged inks assessed the ability to identify inks from their DART spectra. The aggregate success rate was 92 percent. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2013