Digital Printing Protection

A possible solution to stop people from producing gun parts with the 3D printer. 

The gun violence had already become a serious issue in the U.S., and the fact that 3D printer could be used to produce gun parts makes it even worth. We proposed Digital Printing Protection as a potential solution, which it put the restriction into 3D printer so it could not be used to print gun parts or destructive tools.


Project Type

Group project with Collin Walker


Value Sensitive Design, Video Prototyping, Focus Group




The Problem

3D printing is irrefutably an emerging technology with grand potential. Along with this freedom of creation comes the inevitable side effect of creating destructive tools. In such a world we turn to our policy makers and leaders to create systems and legislation to protect society from this destruction. As one would expect from a U.S. populace that is split on gun regulations, the problem space surrounding 3D printed firearms is riddled with ambiguity and confusion. Compounded with this is the fact that 3d printing is such a new method, which this is what Yale ethicist and scholar Wendell Wallach would describe as an “inflection point”, a point in time when the future of a technology and its consequences on society is still malleable. 

                      An Stakeholder Diagram we created to represent the direct and indirect stakeholders.


The Research

The goal of the design is to find how we could stop people from building a plastic gun using the 3D printer. Since this is a topic that relates to the value of human and the technology, we used Value Sensitive Design as the primary tool to approach the problem. To understand the scope of the problem and possible challenges, we first conducted a stakeholder analysis to define the direct and indirect stakeholders. Afterward, we created two value scenarios to illustrate how the problem could affect people’s daily life. 


In the meantime, through emailing, we further reached out to the 3D printing service providers to understand their attitude toward this problem. To our surprise, although currently there are no relevant laws to restrict people from printing firearms, the service providers have their regulations of what files can and cannot be printed. 
With all the information we collected, we decided that our solution should be able to value both 3D printer and humanity, which we should provide the greatest convenience to users and only tries to stop people that intended to put it to bad use. 


The solution

From our findings, we purposed several options and analyzed them based on feasibility and cost-efficiency. Finally, we introduced Digital Printing Protection or DPP. DPP is a firmware level solution that will be built into the 3D printer. It has three functions:

  1. Automatically compare the model with the database which will deny the printing of the design that looks like a firearm.
  2. If the model is misidentified, the user could submit the model to the manufacturer for review.
  3. The database will be updated automatically, so the printer can identify the latest models and meet the most recent policy.


Prototyping and Focus Group

Based on our proposal, we later created a video prototype. And to understand if the solution meets user's need and expectation, we invited three students at the University of Washington who are familiar with 3D printing for a focus group study to discuss their experience. We also asked the participants to brainstorm some possible solutions and introduced them with our solution. Although participants considered it as a good solution, they questioned it from the administrative and executive aspect.

  • How to implement the algorithm for model comparison?
  • How to deal with the products that are already in the market?
  • How to protect user's privacy or company's proprietary information?
  • How to motivate end users and manufacturers to adapt the solution?

Based on their questions, we had another round of ideation to clearly defined how DPP should be used and how we expect it to solve the problem.

      DPP is designed to increase the nuisance level to prevent people from creating firearms out of curiosity, 

Final Thoughts

The issue of 3D printing firearms is quite complex; it touches both societal and personal values surrounding privacy, safety, responsibility, and creativity.  DPP is one of the possible solutions. However, it requires the support of public authorities, and it could only increase the nuisance level to prevent people from creating firearms out of curiosity, but it could not stop a terrorist who intends to produce a weapon. The purpose of this project is to give a brief understanding of the problem, and hopefully, motivate people to do more research on this topic and propose a better solution.