What are the Prospects of 3D Profiling Systems Applied to Firearms and Toolmark Identification?

Document Type

Journal Article


Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI)




Bolton-King, R., Evans, J., Smith, C. L., Painter, J., Allsop, D., & Cranton, W. (2010). What are the Prospects of 3D Profiling Systems Applied to Firearms and Toolmark Identification?. AFTE Journal, 42(1), 23-33. Available here


This paper details a comparative pilot study of 3D (three dimensional) imaging technologies for potential application in forensic firearms and toolmark identification; as such it reviews the most up-to-date profiling systems. In particular, the paper focuses on the application of 3D imaging and recording technology as applied to firearm identification, being a specialised field within the discipline of toolmark identification. Each technology under test employs a different technique or scientific principle to capture topographic data i.e. focus-variation microscopy, confocal microscopy, point laser profilometry and vertical scanning interferometry. To qualitatively establish the capabilities and limitations of each technology investigated, standard reference samples were used and a set of specific operational criteria devised for successful application in this field. The reference standard crucially included and centred on was the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) ‘standard bullet’. This was to ensure that evaluation represented the practical examination of ballistic samples i.e. fired cartridge cases and bullets. It is concluded that focus-variation microscopy has potentially the most promising approach for a forensic laboratory instrument, in terms of functionality and 3D imaging performance, and is worthy of further investigation.