Thumbprint Self-Portrait

Here’s a great idea I found on Pin­ter­est.… You can see lots of inspir­ing exam­ples here and here.  I tried this les­son with my mid­dle school stu­dents and they really had fun with it!  
For more detailed instruc­tions with pho­tos, tips, writ­ing prompts, a stu­dent gallery, and fas­ci­nat­ing fin­ger­print facts, check out my pdf on Teach­ers Pay Teachers!

  • Black stamp pad
  • Copy paper 
  • Black (F) and (UF) Sharpies
  • Col­ored pencils
  • Exam­ples of the 3 types of fin­ger­prints: loop, whorl, and arch.
  • Pho­to­copier for enlarg­ing fin­ger­prints (or take pic­tures with your phone and enlarge on your computer)


1. Col­lect a thumbprint from each stu­dent.  Iden­tify the 3 dif­fer­ent types: loop, whorl, and arch.
This was more chal­leng­ing than I expected!  You need thumbprints that are clean and crisp… if they’re blurry at all, they only get worse when you enlarge them.  You’ll find that some thumbs just print more clearly than oth­ers, but keep try­ing and even­tu­ally you’ll get a thumb print from every­one that’s good enough to work with!
(Another option for col­lect­ing fin­ger­prints is to rub a soft pen­cil on some paper, rub your fin­ger onto the pen­cil, and then press a piece of clear tape onto your fin­ger.  Lift the tape off care­fully and stick it onto a piece of white paper.  This works amaz­ingly well!  See more detailed direc­tions here.)

2. Next, you need to enlarge your thumbprints.  
First, cut them out and write stu­dents’ names in pen­cil, then enlarge them one at a time.  Make the first enlarge­ment at 400%, then enlarge that one 250%, and you should end up with the desired result… a thumbprint roughly the size of your face! (Or you can save time by using your phone to take a photo of each thumbprint, upload to your com­puter, and enlarge the image that way.)

3. You’ll notice that your thumbprint enlarge­ments will be very pix­e­lated.  So, take a (F) Sharpie and trace over the lines of your thumbprint to smooth the pix­e­lated lines as much as possible.  
Don’t worry if some lines start and stop, or run into each other.  Just do your best to darken them and smooth them out.

4. Next, cen­ter a clean sheet of light­weight paper over the top of your thumbprint.  
You may want to tape the two papers together to keep them from slid­ing around.  (Tip: Before tap­ing any­thing that you’ll want to remove later, first stick the tape onto your pants, then when you lift it off, the tiny fibers that are stuck to the tape will cause it to be less tacky and less likely to tear your paper when you remove it!)  If you have trou­ble see­ing through your paper to trace your thumbprint, tap­ing the paper to a win­dow or light box (if you have one!) will be a huge help.

5. Now, use your (UF) Sharpie and start writ­ing along your thumbprint lines!  
Begin at the top and use the lines of your thumbprint as guide lines for your writ­ing.  You don’t need to retrace the lines onto your paper — you want your writ­ing to cre­ate the ‘illu­sion’ of lines in your draw­ing.  And don’t worry about fol­low­ing every line exactly — this won’t be used for I.D., you just want to get the gen­eral idea of the thumbprint!  So, start writ­ing a nar­ra­tive about your­self… how old you are, things you like and don’t like, your hopes and dreams for the future.… that kind of stuff!  If you feel more con­fi­dent writ­ing in pen­cil first, you can do that, but you’ll need to care­fully erase any pen­cil left show­ing after you trace with Sharpie!

6. Optional… use col­ored pen­cils to lightly add some designs in the back­ground before trac­ing over your writ­ing with Sharpie.  This will per­son­al­ize your self-portrait even more!

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30 Responses to Thumbprint Self-Portrait

  1. Christie January 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    I can see how mid­dle school kids would LOVE this oppor­tu­nity to share their thoughts!!

  2. Michelle January 24, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    I’m try­ing this with my 5th graders this week.

  3. Mrs. P, Art Explorer January 24, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    what a won­der­fully cre­ative self-portrait! this is espe­cially nice for those stu­dents who get hung up (frus­trated) on their self-portraits not look­ing like them­selves! Great idea–thank you for shar­ing it. (mrs. p @

  4. Natalie January 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I have always wanted to try this! What a fab­u­lous les­son! I love these! Thanks for the lesson!

  5. Megan January 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    I saw those on Pin­ter­est too and thought about try­ing them! Glad you said your mid­dle school stu­dents enjoyed it — I really need to find stuff that would be a good thing to work on between assign­ments and this could be some­thing they con­tinue to add to… must try it!! Thanks!

  6. TeachKidsArt January 24, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    Yes, Megan, this would be a good project to pull out when fin­ished with other work, since the sup­plies are so min­i­mal. And you’re right, Mrs. P., this is the first self-portrait we’ve ever done where no one got hung up on not hav­ing an exact like­ness! Once I fig­ured out how to teach it, the kids had no trou­ble “catch­ing the vision”. I hope you can all try this one… it’s a winner!!

  7. Gia DeSelm February 9, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I was hav­ing trou­ble get­ting a clear fin­ger­print so I Googled and found this:

    It uses tape and I was able to get a really clear print.

  8. Núria Almansa February 9, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Hello, I’m an ethics teacher from Barcelona. At the moment my 16– year-old stu­dents and I are work­ing on how we build our iden­tity. As I love art I usu­ally fol­low your blog and when I came across the dig­i­tal fin­ger­print idea I thought it would be great to com­bine with what we’re doing in class. I really wanted to thank you for shar­ing your cre­ativ­ity. If you want to see either the process or the final result of our work, please visit our school blog:
    Thank you so much!

  9. TeachKidsArt February 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    Gia, THANK YOU for that amaz­ing tip for col­lect­ing fin­ger­prints with tape! I tried it out and it totally WORKS! I’ll be doing it this way from now on… thanks for shar­ing your discovery!!

    And Nuria, thank you for writ­ing and shar­ing your slide show of your process and results! So glad you and your stu­dents enjoyed this project!!

  10. Anonymous February 21, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    We are study­ing the Human Body in sci­ence and this is a great way to com­bine sci­ence and writ­ing. I take fin­ger­prints with pen­cil and tape when we get to the study of skin, so this will be a super fit. Thanks for the excel­lent idea!

  11. Carolyn September 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    I would add the small dec­o­ra­tive ele­ments, designs first and then write my nar­ra­tive over the top.…..cute idea, can’t wait to try with my grandsons.

    • Cheryl Trowbridge September 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

      Now that you men­tion it, Car­olyn, I think that IS the order we did it in… write nar­ra­tive in pen­cil, add col­ored pen­cil designs, then Sharpie over the top of the nar­ra­tive. I’ll change it on my direc­tions… thanks!

  12. JenEgg October 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    I’m going to do this with my daugh­ter for a 4H project! Thanks!

  13. Amelia Moore October 11, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    GREAT IDEA!! What size paper is this? 8.5x11?

  14. Lina December 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Hi, I’m so glad I stum­bled onto your web­site! as a home­schooler this is ideal for the unit we are learn­ing! Thank you so much!

  15. SraHawk June 4, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    I did this with my sec­ond level Span­ish class a cul­mi­nat­ing writ­ing project using all cat­e­gories of vocab­u­lary into one auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal essay. The kids actu­ally com­pleted it early becaus ethey were so excited to see the final print. Thank you so much!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge June 4, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      That’s awe­some! It’s always fun to see the kids so excited about their work!!

  16. Tami Landis July 24, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Hi Cheryl,

    I love this les­son and want to use it as an intro into my Art I course, but I am hav­ing trou­ble with the copier and even have the tech guy stumped. When I start to enlarge the fin­ger­print, it doesn’t cen­ter prop­erly, result­ing in the image get­ting cropped off the edge of the paper.

    You have great step by step of the process, but I was won­der­ing if you have any addi­tional advice.

    Thank you!


    • Cheryl Trowbridge July 24, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      Tami, I’m sorry you’re hav­ing a prob­lem get­ting the fin­ger­print enlarged! I think you just need to find the “sweet spot” where you need to place the image on your spe­cific copier with each enlarge­ment. I’ve done this project with three dif­fer­ent copiers, and with each of those, that spot was in the right front cor­ner, but it could be dif­fer­ent on dif­fer­ent machines. Good luck!

  17. Lundon July 15, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Did you do this with all classes? Do you have peri­ods in your mid­dle school. I’m just think­ing I have 130 kids that’s a lot of copy­ing to enlarge their print. They can do every­thing else on their own, but the copy­ing is awfully time con­sum­ing. How did you do it as effi­ciently as possible?

    • Cheryl Trowbridge July 15, 2015 at 9:41 am #

      Mak­ing the enlarge­ments for this les­son is def­i­nitely a labor of love, even with fewer stu­dents like I had! It’s a per­fect oppor­tu­nity to involve par­ent vol­un­teers or an older, respon­si­ble stu­dent. You can also col­lect fin­ger­prints ahead of time and do a few each day if you have to. While it’s more prep than most lessons require, all I can say is it’s worth it! The kids LOVE doing this and the end result is a spe­cial keep­sake for each family!

  18. Malena July 15, 2015 at 7:25 pm #

    I LOVE this idea and really want to try it this year. How long does it take to make all the copies for each student?

    • Cheryl Trowbridge July 15, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

      How long it takes to make the copies really depends on the copier you have… some are a lot faster than oth­ers! But once you get your rou­tine down, there aren’t a lot of deci­sions to make. It’s really not that bad… unless you’re doing hun­dreds, I suppose!

  19. Susie August 16, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    Hi! Thanks for the great idea. After about 15 min­utes of frus­tra­tion with using the copier.… I decided to take out my iPhone and snap a pic­ture of each fin­ger­print. It was WAY eas­ier to just upload them to my com­puter and enlarge the image that way. Saved me lots of time and the pic­tures are very clear. Thanks again for the won­der­ful idea and I hope that this saves peo­ple some time!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge August 16, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

      Wow — great idea, Susie! That would be a huge time­saver! I’ll update my post to include that. I know a lot of peo­ple will find it eas­ier to use their phone than deal with a copier. Thanks so much for shar­ing that!!

  20. julie September 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    Thank you. I’m try­ing it with my stu­dents this week.

  21. Shelby October 1, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    I’m a facil­i­ta­tor for griev­ing chil­dren and this will be a won­der­ful project to make in mem­ory of their loved one! Thank you!


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