Forensic Document Examination, a regular comment by clients to a forensic document examiner (FHE) is “I need the signature/handwriting on this document to be analysed. That looks like my handwriting or signature, but I know I didn’t sign or write on that document or My father would never sign such a document.  I don’t know how my signature/writing got there.’

So the original request is for the handwriting/signature in a questioned document to be forensically examined.

However, the forensic document examiner cannot just examine and compare signatures or handwriting to see if there are similarities and/or differences when documents are presented for examination.

If the focus of the examiner is purely on the handwriting formations, a great deal of evidence, which may reveal a very telling story, may be overlooked and most certainly, an incorrect conclusion will be drawn.

No Original

It is also as a result of the above scenario, that the FHE should request to examine the original documents.  Not surprisingly, the response to this request is often that the original document is lost or not accessible. And the copy produced, is often a very poor scan of the questioned document.   To the alert FHE, this would be a red flag as it might suggest a composite or fabricated document. But it is not up to the FHE to draw any conclusions at this stage.

What to examine closely

Is all lost if the so-called original document does not surface?  No, there may still be evidence to be gleaned from copies, by a close examination of the inconsistencies including the noise density,


Pixilation as a result of printing

font size (10,12,14 etc), and type (Arial, TNR, Garamond etc), misalignment  

Spacing anomalies

Misaligned lines

because of insertion and change of font style or size, print technologies (laser, inkjet, thermal, dot matrix, etc), 

Noise pixelation

Noise pixelation

and other trace evidence such as the presence of adhesive materials or trash marks in the document

Adhesive substance

Evidence of adhesive substance 

Trash marks

Trash marks

The Forensic Document Examiner, above all else, should have above average powers of observation, theoretical knowledge, practical experience and know what to look for.  With the help of good measuring and magnifying equipment, knowledge of print technology, handwriting dynamics, the Forensic Document Examiner is able to identify discrepancies on non-original documents even though much evidence may have been lost in a scanned or photocopy.

List of Sources

Kelly J.S. & Lindblom B.S. (ed), 2006, Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents, Boca Raton, Taylor & Francis

Matley M., 1990, Photocopies in Document Examination, San Franscisco, Handwriting Services of California

Morris, R.N., Is it Fabricated?, Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists, Apr 2002

Oliver, J & Chen, J., Use of ‘Signature’ Analysis to Discriminate Digital Printing Technologies,  IS&T’s NIP18: 2002 International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies

Ordway, H., Proof of an Unaltered Document, Journal of Criminal Law and Crimonology, 1959, vol 49, issue 6

Puri, K.S.,  Forgery by Physical Transfer, Journal of Criminal Law and Crimonology, 1968, vol 59, issue 1

Shang S, Memon, N.,  & Kong, S.,  Detecting Documents Forged by Printing and Copying, Journal of Advances in Signal Processing, 2014, 1, 40

Saroa, J.S. 7 Saini K., Physical Examination of Photocopied Documents, Institute of Forensic Research, Problem of Forensic Sciences, 2013, vol 94, p 485 – 501