U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

A Century of Ballistics Comparison Giving Way to Virtual 3D Methods

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2022

This report presents the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Ballistics Toolmark Research Database as a resource that provides researchers data to increase the reliability and reproducibility of firearm ballistic and toolmark comparisons.


For the more than 100 years that forensic ballistics comparisons have been done, investigators have gone to court confident that a “match” in rifling marks on the bullets or firearm toolmarks on cartridge cases was conclusive evidence. That changed in 2009 with a National Academy of Sciences report about forensic analysis that concluded, “sufficient studies have not been done to understand the reliability and reproducibility of the methods.” The forensic science community has responded to the challenges with research. Largely funded by the National Institute of Justice, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the NIST Ballistics Toolmark Research Database in 2016. The open access database allows researchers to download firearms comparison data acquired from NIST and other researchers and upload their own data, steadily increasing the size and value of the database. As the database grows, more information is available for developing and validating algorithms that quantify the similarity between firearm toolmarks.

Date Published: March 1, 2022