First completely 3D-printed gun shown

May 3, 2013: 12:56 PM ET

Texas-based Defense Distributed released images it claims shows the world's first entirely 3D-printed firearm.

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Update: On May 6, a video was posted on Youtube showing the Liberator device being fired.

FORTUNE -- The many promises of 3D-printing include intricate product prototypes, one-of-a-kind jewelry, even human tissue. Now, a group has revealed a proof-of-concept of another sort: a gun.

Texas-based Defense Distributed, founded by 25-year-old University of Texas law student Cody Wilson, has given Forbes.com images it says show the first 3D-printed handgun. The group, which is aiming for nonprofit status, claims the weapon can fire standard handgun rounds. The majority of the device, called the "Liberator," is fabricated entirely out of plastic, save for a nail used as a firing pin as well as a six-ounce piece of steel, intended to allow the gun to be detected by metal detectors.

Wilson generated headlines last year when he announced his plans to produce a 3D-printed gun. It took the group about eight months to design the Liberator.

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a method of making a three-dimensional solid objects from a computerized model. Commonly, 3D printers lay down successive layers of plastic material to create objects of virtually any shape. The printers can also create interlocking mechanical parts, such as gears and cogs. The process is distinct from traditional machining, in which objects are whittled or sculpted down from larger blocks of material.

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Boston-based Luxe Research estimates that the $777 million 3D printing market will grow to a whopping $8.4 billion by 2025. Most of that growth will be driven by industrial applications, particularly in medical, automotive and aerospace industries.

But devices aimed at consumers are increasingly popular. Late last month, New York-based Shapeways raised a $30 million investment round lead by Andreessen Horowitz. The company has some 10,000 "shop owners," or individuals who have designed products, from shoes to cellphone cases, that they print out and sell through Shapeways' website.

On Friday, office supply giant Staples (SPLS) announced that it is the first major American retailer to sell 3D printers. The retailer will sell the Cube 3D Printer from 3D Systems on Staples.com for $1299.99. The device will be available in a limited number of Staples stores by the end of June.

According to Forbes, the Liberator is capable of connecting to different barrels, allowing for various calibers of ammunition. The device's creator plans to eventually publish the files necessary to print it at home as well as details on its operation.

That will surely raise another round of concerns, particularly in the wake of recent gun violence around the country. Stratasys, a company that makes 3D printers, confiscated their machine from Defense Distributed last year after the company discovered the printer was being used for gun development.

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