U.S. flag

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

The Next Generation of Crime Tools and Challenges: 3D Printing

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2017
34 pages
Publication Series

After a review of the technology of 3D printing, this article discusses the 3D applications of 3D printing, illicit applications of 3D printing, the forensic investigation of crimes that involve 3D printing, and areas of this technology that need more research.


The three general steps in creating an object by 3D printing are 1) creation of a 3D model (blueprint) of the object to be printed, using a computer-aided design (CAD) software; 2) translation of the model into thin two-dimensional, cross-sectional layers (slices) of the object; and 3) printing the object by depositing layers of a material, or materials, in two-dimensional slices until the object is fully formed in 3D. Criminal justice practitioners can use this technology to print replicas of evidence and crime scenes for courtroom demonstrations and for a more efficient facial reconstruction process. The primary criminal application of 3D printing is its ability to manufacture contraband that is difficult to detect. Criminals can download and use design files and blueprints for weapons or bomb parts, regardless of the intent. Criminal investigations that involve 3D printing are likely to include collection and analysis of digital media, such as CAD files and physical evidence, including printed objects, printers, and printing materials. Computer forensics can have a pivotal role in the investigation of crimes that involve 3D printers. Forensic capabilities are currently lagging, because there has been limited exposure to crimes that involve 3D printers. Little research has been done on how to associate the materials and objects with a specific 3D printer or class of printers. 5 exhibits and 19 notes

Date Published: December 1, 2017