3D Printing Layer Height: Everything You Need to Know

Marcello De Lio

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To 3D printed 3D Benchy models side by side on an Ender 3 V2 build plate. The left print has smaller layer lines than the object on the right

3D printing layer height is a pivotal factor with tradeoffs you must balance between print quality and production time. Often referred to as “layer thickness,” layer height is the vertical resolution of the printed layers and a cornerstone in defining the detail and surface finish of a 3D printed object.

This guide aims to demystify layer height, offering insights into its impact on the printing process and how choosing the optimal layer height can significantly elevate the quality of your 3D printed creations.

3D Printing Layer Height

Thin layer lines on the left printed at 0.1mm and thick layer lines on the right printed at 0.28mm

Layer height is the thickness of each layer that a 3D printer adds to create an object. It’s like stacking paper sheets to form a block—the thinner the layers, the more detailed the print appears.

3D printing layer height is paramount because it impacts your final product’s surface finish, print time, and structural integrity.

Layer height is measured in either microns or millimeters. One micron is equivalent to 0.001mm.

When a printer is set to a layer height of 100 microns, each layer is merely 0.1 mm thick. Depending on the printer and the project, you’ll find standard layer heights ranging from 0.05 mm to 0.4 mm (50 to 400 microns).

High-resolution printers can work wonders at the lower end of the layer height spectrum, easily managing 50 to 100 microns, which is ideal for prints needing finer details and smoother surfaces. On the other hand, low-cost printers like the Ender 3 V2 tend to have a minimum layer height of 0.1 mm—a testament to their more limited resolution capabilities.

If your work demands fine resolutions, consider resin 3D printing.

A resin printer that finished printing a sign that reads 3D PRINTING

Resin 3D printers can print much finer layer heights. They can print at a layer height of 0.01mm with extreme detail and precision.

Impact on Print Resolution

To 3D printed 3D Benchy models with an Ender 3 V2 in the background. The left print has smaller layer lines than the object on the right
The model on the left was printed with a layer height of 0.12mm, while the one on the right has a layer height of 0.28mm. The model on the right is more detailed and has a lower resolution.

Layer height in 3D printing is a critical factor that significantly influences the resolution and overall appearance of the finished print.

Printing at a lower layer height, such as 0.12mm, results in a more detailed finished print. This improvement in detail is due to the decreased visibility of layer lines, especially on parts of the print with shallow angles and curves along the Z-axis.

A lower layer height translates to lower surface roughness, producing a print with a smoother and more refined appearance.

Conversely, printing with larger layer heights sacrifices details in the finished print.

Conversely, a higher layer height (0.16mm or more) compromises the level of detail. Prints produced at these heights exhibit a blockier, less refined appearance akin to the graphics of a retro video game. The lower resolution of bigger layer heights is particularly evident in parts of the print with steep angles or intricate details, where higher 3D printing layer heights result in a stair-step effect.

Printing at a high layer height is fine if you don’t require fine details in your finished prints. There are some benefits to printing with higher layers, such as shorter print times.

Layer Height Affects on Print Speed and Printing Time

To 3D printed 3D Benchy models on a white background. The left print has smaller layer lines than the object on the right
Two 3D Benchy’s printed at different layer heights. The model in front was printed with a layer height of 0.12mm and has a smooth appearance., while the one in the back.

Layer height directly correlates to the amount of print time required for an object.

A higher layer height results in shorter print times because fewer layers are required for the printer to build.

Shorter layer heights have a longer printing time because the printer needs to build more layers for the print.

For example, suppose you want to print a 100mm tall object. If you choose a 3D printing layer height of 0.2mm, the print would have 500 layer lines. Halving the layer height to 0.1mm would give the print 1000 layers.

Although several factors play a role in printing time, you can expect it to take much longer to print at a lower layer height – as much as double the time of printing at twice the layer height.

Screenshot of Ultimaker's Cura settings for printing a 3D Benchy with a layer height of 0.12mm
The image above shows a screenshot of Cura’s slicing software, with slicing settings for printing at a 0.12mm layer height. According to the software, printing this 3D Benchy model will take 3 hours and 23 minutes.
Screenshot of Ultimaker's Cura settings for printing a 3D Benchy with a layer height of 0.28mm
In the photo above, we’ve kept all of the settings the same except for the layer height. After increasing the layer height to 0.28mm, we’ve reduced the total print time to 1 hour and 27 minutes.

When looking at the two photos above, we can print the same object in less than half the time with a higher layer height.

Printing with thicker layers is a great trick to increase print speeds and reduce total printing times. However, printing at a higher layer height sacrifices detail and print resolution.

Bigger layer heights are best for large prints and non-cosmetic objects. If your print doesn’t require fine details, you can safely print at a taller layer height without worrying about the finished appearance.

If you require finer details, you’ll want to print at a lower 3d print layer height and accept the longer printing time.

Does Layer Height Affect Strength?

A spiral vase 3D printed in light green filament

When you delve into the nuances of 3D printing, understanding how 3D printing layer height influences the strength of your parts is crucial. One study found that printing with a larger nozzle and lower layer height made the strongest 3d prints.

According to the study, a larger nozzle diameter provides a wider contact surface for each layer, promoting better layer adhesion and a stronger bond.

Small layers produce prints with more layer lines, which help disperse the concentrated load (across other layer lines) and create a more robust 3D print. 

As a rule of thumb, you can increase the strength of a 3D-printed object by orienting your model in a position where mechanical loads will be acting in the transverse direction rather than parallel.

If this is not practical or feasible, you can brace the model by printing with thicker walls, adding more contours, using a denser infill, or using a stronger infill pattern to disperse mechanical loads.

For a more in-depth analysis, check out the video below from CNC Kitchen.

Which LAYER HEIGHT gives you the STRONGEST 3D prints?

Editor’s Note

Layer height is important in determining part strength. However, laterial choice, printing temperature, perimeter count, and infill settings play more substantial roles in ensuring your creations can withstand the test of strength.

Nozzle Diameter and Layer Heights

Close up of the extruder nozzle on an Ender 3 V2 Pro after bed leveling

The relationship between layer height and nozzle diameter is crucial, as your nozzle diameter limits the maximum and minimum layer height. When determining what 3D printing layer height to print with, you should use a layer height between 25% to 80% of your nozzle diameter.

If your 3D printer has a standard nozzle diameter of 0.4mm, you can print with a maximum layer height of 0.32mm and a minimum layer height of 0.1mm.

Below is a table with the minimum and maximum layer heights for every nozzle diameter:

Nozzle SizeMinimum Layer HeightMaximum Layer Height
0.20mm0.050.16
0.25mm0.060.20
0.30mm0.080.24
0.40mm0.100.32
0.50mm0.130.40
0.60mm0.150.48
0.80mm0.200.64
1.00mm0.250.80

Consider setting your layer height around 50% of your nozzle diameter for the best quality-to-speed ratio. This tried-and-true guideline often yields a balance between print time and detail. For instance, with a 0.4 mm nozzle, a 0.2 mm layer height is your go-to standard.

A 0.2mm 3D printing layer height strikes a good balance between print quality and print speed.

It’s also important to note that while you can set your extrusion width – or line width – between 60-200% of the nozzle diameter, sticking to the 100-120% range often results in the best print quality.

The Importance of Layer Height in Object Design

Z seam on an Benchy 3D print sitting on an Ender 3 V2

The layer height of your printer plays a significant role in the geometric accuracy of your part. When designing your parts, it’s important to factor in the desired layer height.

You might be wondering why.

For example’s sake, let’s say you are printing with an Ender 3, and you’re designing a part with a critical dimension of 28.6mm in the z-axis. The Ender 3 can print at 0.12mm, 0.16mm, 0.2mm, and 0.28mm layer heights. 

Assuming you have a calibrated 3D printer with a level print bed, the only 3D printing layer height you should consider using for your print is 0.2mm because 28.6mm is evenly divisible by 0.2mm.

  • 28.6mm / 0.12mm = 238.3 Layers
  • 28.6mm / 0.16mm =178.75 Layers
  • 28.6mm / 0.2mm = 143 Layers 
  • 28.6mm / 0.28mm = 102.143 Layers

Using a different layer height, like 0.28mm, would result in a slightly different total height of 28.84mm, which isn’t ideal for parts where exact geometric and dimensional accuracy is crucial.

Article by

Marcello De Lio

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