In forensic science, automated firearms identification is an important and yet unsolved problem. On the way to the solution, one of the most important phases is data acquisition. To be able to identify firearms in a reliable way, all the striated and impressed marks on metallic surfaces of cartridge cases should be visible. But two-dimensional images of cartridge cases are very sensitive to the type and direction of the light source(s). Depending on illumination conditions, the images of marks change drastically and sometimes they simply disappear. But, if the three-dimensional (31)) topography of the surface is obtained, the geometry of the marks, which is independent of the illumination, is available. Thus, by providing illumination independent features that can be used for automated matching, 3D data have the potential to make automated matching much reliable. In the literature on data acquisition for automated firearms identification, a few different ways of three-dimensional surface extraction are described, like laser interferometry or laser profilometry. This Study presents a real life application of another method, photometric stereo, for the acquisition of 3D topographic data for cartridge cases, which is the one used in BALISTIKA Ballistics Image Analysis and Recognition System. In order to construct 3D topographic data, first of all, two-dimensional images were acquired using a specially designed set-up. After the images were calibrated radiometrically, photometric stereo method was applied. In order to minimize the low-frequency errors in the final surface, a surface-fitting algorithm was used. The method uses low-cost equipment and image acquisition is not time-consuming. Results were compared to interferometric measurement values for error assessment. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.