We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Facial Composite?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
MyLawQuestions is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At MyLawQuestions, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A facial composite is a sketch or computer generated image used to create a visual representation of a suspect based on the memory and description of eyewitnesses. Composite sketches are frequently used to help track down suspects in a crime in which there is no photographic evidence. Though frequently used in both investigative and prosecutorial areas of law, critics suggest that facial composite sketches and the newer computer-generated versions are extremely prone to misuse and error. If judges and juries rely heavily on facial composites to make decisions, critics say that innocent people are at risk of jail and other consequences as a result of mistaken identity.

There are several methods of creating a facial composite. The most basic involves sketch artists, who are often professionals and have many years of training in both art and the craft of compositing. Sketch artists may speak in detail with eyewitnesses to help them recall details about how a suspect looked. The artist produces sketches that coincide with the description, sometimes asking the witness if the sketch needs to be altered in anyway. Hand sketching was once the primary means of creating a facial composite, but modern computer techniques are becoming much more popular in the 21st century.

Computer software for facial compositing allows the witness to choose images from a database to match his or her memory of each feature on the suspect's face. In addition to narrowing down details like eye color or nose shape, the witness can also position the features on a face model and modify the sizes and relative positions of each feature. Identifying marks, such as scars, tattoos, or piercings may be added from databases or drawn onto the model.

A facial composite may be used in several different stages of criminal investigation and justice procedures. Law enforcement agents may use a composite image to create a “wanted” poster, that warns citizens of a potential criminal in the area and asks for any tips or sightings. Additionally, detectives or investigative personnel may rely on composites when tracking down people connected to a crime or following leads. In cases where a suspect's identity cannot be found or no prior photographs exist, a composite may be the only way to jar a witnesses memory about the suspect. Police may also use composites to compare sketches with databases of known criminals, to see if they can find a likely match.

Some studies have shown that facial composites are extremely prone to error. Unfortunately, in a heated event such as a criminal situation, even the keenest eyewitness may be too overwhelmed by adrenaline or fear to catch many details. Additionally, eyewitnesses may be prone to suggestion, and may become convinced of a detail that did not actually exist. Nevertheless, despite criticisms, facial composite images remain a widely-used tool in investigation and prosecution.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for MyLawQuestions. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
Learn more
MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

MyLawQuestions, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.