2022 Update: 3D Imaging Technologies and Virtual Comparison Microscopy for Firearms Examination, A Landscape Study

2022 Update: 3D Imaging Technologies and Virtual Comparison Microscopy for Firearms Examination, A Landscape Study


August 2022


The National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE), led by RTI International, provides resources that promote the use of technologies in the forensic community. This report is an update to a 2016 landscape study meant to inform the forensic community on the emerging technology of optical topography and its potential applications related to firearms identification in the crime laboratory. In the years since the original report, the firearms examiner community has evaluated this technology in the crime laboratory and considered how this advancing technology may be implemented into their workflows. Optical topography, or three-dimensional (3D) imaging technologies, may provide value to numerous applications within the impression and pattern evidence (IPE) community, but this report focuses specifically on the application of 3D toolmark technologies and virtual comparison microscopy (VCM) to cartridge case and bullet examination. Although yet to be fully integrated into many agencies, some state, local, and federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are actively using these instruments in casework. This update is meant to summarize collective thinking around how 3D imaging technologies may be deployed in firearms and toolmarks units, how the technology has developed to meet the needs of the examiners, and gaps that may limit its adoption.


Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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