Fingerprints have been used to accurately identify people since the nineteenth century. However, as more and more persons included into the repository, the size of database grows explosively. Storing the high-quality fingerprint images in low bit-rate thus becomes necessary. In this paper, a novel DCT-based coder is developed for fingerprint compression by using the specific energy distributions of fingerprint patterns. An adaptive scheme, which utilizes spatial-oriented tree (SOT) construction on the transformed image blocks, is proposed to improve the compression process. Consequently, the proposed coding scheme yields the enhancement of 0.5 to 2.5 dB over WSQ, SPIHT and JPEG2000 for fingerprint patterns at the same compression ratio. The computation complexity of this method is O(n).