Ares Armament Report on 3D Printing Gun Technology

Components (barrel and slide assemblies) of a Solid Concepts 1911 DMLS pistol, produced using DMLS

Ares Armament have produced an excellent report, published by the Small Arms Survey, on 3D Printed Gun Technology. The report is extensively researched and a very balanced report. It correctly points out that while 3D Printers can do amazing things today, and are rapidly improving, criminals have been able to make improvised weapons since the dawn of firearms, and non-state armed groups are going to continue buying guns cheaply on the blackmarket. Here are some extracts from the full report …

Understandably, the advent of a new technology in the arms manufacturing industry has caused various stakeholders some consternation. Law enforcement agencies, policy-makers, manufacturers, and users each have their own concerns regarding the implications of the technology. Some of the advantages of 3D-printing processes may also pose concerns for the development and application of national legislation and international instruments. Governments may seek to examine their national legislation in light of the advent of 3D-printed weapons, components, and accessories, and will require a thorough understanding of the technical and legal issues at hand in order to do so.

The open source community has been quick to adopt the design and manufacture of polymer 3D-printed firearms and components, as polymers are significantly cheaper and more readily accessible to hobbyists, craft producers, and small businesses. Computer-aided design (CAD) files for various firearms and components have been available since the early 2000s. As expiring patents and technological developments are leading to more affordable 3D printers, amateur-built 3D-printed firearms are increasingly common.

The first viable firearm produced using a 3D printer appeared in early 2013. The ‘Liberator’ handgun is entirely plastic—except for a metal firing pin, typically a nail (see Image 2). It is a turn-off barrel, single-action, single-shot .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) calibre handgun designed by ‘HaveBlue’ of the DefCAD forums (DefCAD, n.d.) and named after a conceptually similar progenitor dating from the Second World War.

Rapid advances in 3D-printing technology and its increased application to the manufacture of firearms and firearms components raise a number of legal, normative, and law-enforcement questions. Although many national governments have highlighted the issue, as have regional and international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), very few reports on the matter have been compiled or made publicly available. In general, national and international controls apply to 3D-printed firearms in the same way as they do to traditionally manufactured firearms, but the new technology will pose new challenges in the area of enforcement.

[W]hen the costs of purchasing or producing 3D-printed firearms are considered together with their operational limitations, traditional firearms purchased on the black market are likely to remain far more appealing to individuals and non-state armed groups for the foreseeable future.


Criminals and armed groups around the world produce a range of improvised firearms from various materials using traditional or ‘backyard’ methods. Some improvised firearms are quite advanced, and fully automatic weapons of this kind are frequently captured from non-state armed groups. Most importantly, the capabilities of the vast majority of these weapons outstrip those of any 3D-printed firearm that can currently be manufactured at the consumer level. More technological expertise is required to print and assemble a 3D-printed firearm than to produce many other ‘backyard’ expedient firearms with more significant capabilities.

The entire report can be downloaded here.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Mystick

    Personally, I think that for many applications 3D printing is great for prototyping, but it will never overtake injection-molding as a means of mass-production. It takes minutes(or even hours) to make a single unit, where injection molding can make several units in seconds. Then then the unit often needs to be machined in some way to meet the design tolerances.

    Sure, there are some geometries and structural layouts that are impossible with injection molding that 3D printing is well-suited for, but you have to design your product in such a way that the manufacturing process is efficient and inexpensive – neither of which 3D printing achieves at this point.

    Of course, for the home tinkerer, 3D printing is a boon, considering the initial investment required by the injection-molding process(there are cheap ways to go about it, but there are also the RIGHT ways to go about it)…

    • DonDrapersAcidTrip

      I don’t think printing will take off period. You seen this dot matrix stuff? Crap picture quality! A novelty if anything. Also, I’m unable to imagine more than two seconds into the future.

      • Mystick

        “…AT THIS POINT.”

        Don’t be that guy.

        • DonDrapersAcidTrip

          “it will never”

    • Nicks87

      You could 3D print your own molds then melt down scrap metal, pour, finish and hand fit the parts… but then you would need some intelligence to do that so yeah probably not something that will take off.

  • Southpaw89

    Ah the infamous 3d printed guns, they may be short lived and firing one may cost you a hand, but they’re super ultra scary because anyone can make one without a factory or fancy equipment or anything. Its a good thing the media never caught onto the blackpipe shotguns or the Luty SMGs, would need a background check and a five day waiting period to fix your plumbing.

  • Isaac Newton

    They mention TFB multiple times in that report. Keep up the good work!

  • John Davis

    IIRC, haveblue was an arfcommer who made the first widely known 3d printed ar lower. The liberator came later from cody wilson of defense distributed.

    • iksnilol

      Yeah, but a 3d printed lower isn’t really a firearm.

      You can’t just take a lower, load a cartridge into it and fire.

      • MR

        For an AR, the lower is the registered part, the part you have to go to an FFL to buy. The rest of the stuff can be delivered directly to your house, no paperwork required.

        • iksnilol

          In the US it is like that. In most of the world outside the US the lower is just a piece of metal. Most countries control the barrels and bolts.

          So for me, the lower isn’t a firearm. The Liberator in all its uselessness is.

      • John Davis

        I think you miss my point. haveblue did not design the liberator and was not part of defense distributed, and defcad didnt even exist at that point.

        • iksnilol

          Ok, so the guy made the first 3d printed AR-lower. Still not a firearm by international standards.

          Also, I am a bit tired and groggy so can you please explain your point.

          • RocketScientist

            Jesus man. Reading comprehension, does you has it? The article above states

            “The ‘Liberator’ handgun … is a turn-off barrel, single-action, single-shot .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) calibre handgun designed by ‘HaveBlue’ of the DefCAD forums…”

            I’m pretty sure the point John Davis is trying to make is that the article is in error, factually. That the person the author states invented the Liberator, did not invent the Liberator. He’s pointing out an error in the article, and correcting it. I’m not sure how much more simply it can be explained.

          • iksnilol

            I see it now, didn’t read thoroughly through the thing.

            I am just really tired.

            I guess I misread the first post.

  • gregyh

    The 3d printing report was very good but the modular weapons report was badly researched and not accurate.