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Paints and Coatings

The Case of the Careening


A motorcyclist is charged with drunk driving

(motorcycling?) and with damaging a police
car. He claimed that he was driving his
motorcycle on Woodward Ave. in Detroit and
was sideswiped by a white police car which
caused him to hit another white police car that
was parked on the street
There was another police car in the area but
the driver claimed that his car was not
involved in the incident.

Careening Motorcycle (2)

White paint smears and chips were

found embedded in parts of the blue
motorcycle and some flecks of blue
paint were found in the white paint of
the parked motorcycle.
No visible damage was found on the
other police car.

Careening Motorcycle (3)

Of what value would paint analysis be in

this case? Could it determine who is
telling the truth? Is there any other
physical evidence that could determine
ground truth in this case?

Chemistry of paint very complex
Forensic role is to compare paint
evidence from scene to known
Individual evidence only in cases
where large enough paint samples
exist to physically match


PAINT: A suspension of pigment in a film

former (also called vehicle)
Usually not a solution. Pigment is suspended
in film former
Pigment is usually mixture of inorganic metal
salts. Purpose is to impart color
Film former is usually organic polymer(s).
Purposes are to protect surface and hold

What are some of the uses for paint?

Art works
Decoration (residential paints)
Protection of a surface (rust inhibiting
auto paints)
Warnings (reflective paint, fluorescent

Paint Cross Section

Other Coatings

Varnish: A film former, commonly

polyurethane, dissolved in a solvent, which
normally doesnt contain a stain. Purpose is
to protect wood
Stain: A mixture of organic dyes dissolved in
solvent. Made to penetrate wood and stain in.
Does not protect
Enamel: originally a glossy, thermosetting
paint. Now any paint which dries glossy

How does paint dry?

When paint dries, a thin polymer film is formed that

adheres to the surface and suspends the pigments.
Paint dries by a number of different mechanisms:
Solvent evaporation
Rust proof paints

Heating (thermosetting)

Drying oils, artistic paints
Linseed oil

Paint As Evidence

Paint chips: Pieces of paint which

have come off surface. They usually
contain all of the layers of the paint
Paint smears: The top layer of paint
which has loosened owing to being wet
or air oxidation. Smears onto another
surface after brushing contact. Layer
structure is not present

Analysis of Paint

Color layer analysis

Requires cross section of paint chip
Cannot be done on paint smears
Same number and order of layers
Relative thickness must be same
Is a class test (but see case at end of

Paint Cross Section

Analysis of Paint

Use solvents such as acetone,
dichloromethane, pyridine. Acrylic
lacquers are soluble in acetone

Pyrolysis GC
Analysis of film formers
Bulk technique, all layers analysed together

Pyrolyzing Unit

Analysis of Paint

Pyrolysis GC

Analysis of Paint

Will determine type of film former
Does not show pigments unless they
are organic
Is a bulk method: if more than one layer
is present, IR will be a composite

FTIR of Automobile Paint

Analysis of Paint

Electron microscopy
Inorganic pigments
Excellent for single, top layer analysis and
paint smears

UV-visible spectrophotometry
Must be able to separate pigment from film
former and dissolve it

The Case of the 11 Layer Paint Chip

Hit and run case

Paint chips left at crime scene on victim
Chips had 11 distinct layers of various
Samples taken from suspect auto
showed 11 layers with matching colorlayer sequencing

The Case of the 11 Layer Paint Chip

Paint examiner testified that paint found

CAR (individualized chip to car)
Defense attorney asked examiner the
following hypothetical question: What
would your conclusion have been if
there had been only 10 matching

The Case of the 11 Layer Paint Chip

Where is the defense attorney going

with this line of questioning?
Why does this question present a
problem for the examiner?
How would you answer defense
attorneys question?

The Case of the 11 Layer Paint Chip

One possible answer to question: I

cannot give you a definitive answer. I
take each case on an individual basis
and reach a conclusion based on the
evidence in that case. It would not be
possible to generalize about an optimal
number of layers of paint that are