The ready availability of full-field velocity measurements in present-day experiments has kindled interest in using such data for force estimation, especially in situations where direct measurements are difficult. Among the methods proposed, a formulation based on impulse is attractive, for both practical and physical reasons. However, evaluation of the impulse requires a complete description of the vorticity field, and this is particularly hard to achieve in the important region close to a body surface. This paper presents a solution to the problem. The incomplete experimental-vorticity field is augmented by a vortex sheet on the body, with strength determined by the no-slip boundary condition. The impulse is then found from the sum of vortex-sheet and experimental contributions. Components of physical interest can straightforwardly be recognised; for example, the classical ‘added mass’ associated with fluid inertia is represented by an explicit term in the formulation for the vortex sheet. The method is implemented in the context of two-dimensional flat-plate flow, and tested on velocity-field data from a translating wing experiment. The results show that the vortex-sheet contribution is significant for the test data set. Furthermore, when it is included, good agreement with force-balance measurements is found. It is thus recommended that any impulse-based force calculation should correct for (likely) data incompleteness in this way.