The 3D printing layer height plays a vital role in your print’s quality, speed, strength, and cosmetic appearance.
You might have come to this article looking for the best 3D printing layer height.
Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all approach to determining the best layer height. Often, the best layer height depends on the object you are printing and its purpose.
Rather than providing a blanket statement about layer height, this article will help you determine the best layer height to suit your needs. And help you strike the perfect balance between print speed, quality, and strength.
Let’s dive in.
What is Layer Height?
Layer height is the height of each layer of plastic extruded by your 3D printer. 3D printing layer height is best described as the thickness of each layer.
3D printers create objects by “printing” one layer at a time.
A filament 3D printer extrudes molten plastic while following a travel path. And a resin printer solidifies one layer of resin at a time.
Each layer (slice or cross-section) builds upon the previous layers to build an object.
Layer height is measured in either microns or millimeters. One micron is equivalent to 0.001mm.
Different printers can produce different layer heights. Typical layer heights typically range between 0.05mm to 0.24mm (50 to 240 microns).
Most budget-friendly filament printers, such as the Ender 3, have a minimum layer height of 0.12mm. Even higher-end 3D printers like the Prusa i3 MK3S+ don’t advise printing at a layer height below 0.1mm.
If you need to print at a lower layer height, you’ll want to consider purchasing a resin 3D printer.
Resin printers are able to print much finer layer heights. They’re able to print at a layer height of 0.5mm with extreme detail and precision.
The height of each layer is determined in your slicing settings and plays an essential role in print quality, printing speed, smoothness, and resolution.
Higher print layers have faster print speeds but sacrifice strength, detail, and resolution. Finer layer heights produce more detailed prints but take far longer to complete printing.
Ultimately, the best layer height is the one that balances speed, detail, and strength for the finished print.
How Layer Height Impacts Print Quality
Printing at a lower layer height creates a more detailed finished print. With lower layer height, prints have a more smoothed appearance as the layers are less obvious.
This is because the lower slice high will have a lower surface roughness, and the layer lines will be less visible on shallow angles and curves in the Z axis.
Since the surface roughness decreases with a finer layer height, we recommend printing cosmetic items with smaller layer heights.
Even if you plan to post-process your 3D print, printing at a smaller layer height may be a good idea. The lower surface roughness caused by layer lines makes sanding, sealing, and painting your models easier.
On the other side, printing with larger layer heights sacrifices details in the finished print.
At a higher layer height (0.16mm or higher), your 3D printer simply can’t produce the same level of detail. When comparing the same object printed at different layer heights, the one printed at a higher layer height has a lower resolution appearance.
The lines aren’t straight but blocky. Similar to a retro video game.
In the image above, the model on the left was printed with a layer height of 0.12mm, while the one on the left has a layer height of 0.28mm. The model on the right looks like it is printed at a lower resolution.
The difference isn’t too noticeable for most of the print. However, near the front of the boat, where the print is angled, the model on the right has a stair-like appearance. Compared to the print on the right, which has a lower layer height and smoothed angle.
If you don’t require fine details in your finished prints, it may be perfectly fine to print at a high layer height. There are some benefits to printing with higher layers, as we’ll soon cover.
Printing with finer layer lines sounds like a better option at first. Better print quality and finished prints require less post-processing.
But printing at a low layer height has one major drawback – printing with lower layer lines increases the required printing time.
How Layer Height Affects Print Speed and Printing Time
Layer height has a direct correlation to the amount of print time required for an object.
A higher layer height results in shorter print times and faster print speed because fewer layers are required for the printer to build.
Shorter layer heights have a longer printing time because the smaller the layer height, the more layers have to be printed.
For example, suppose you want to print a 100mm tall object. If you choose a 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.
The image above shows a screenshot of the slicing software Cura, 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.
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.
By increasing the layer height, we are able to print the same object in less than half the time.
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.
We recommend printing with a higher layer height for larger 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 stick with printing at a lower layer height and accept the longer printing time.
Does Layer Height Affect Strength?
Smaller layer heights produce stronger objects. 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.
Nozzle Diameter and Layer Heights
When determining what 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 Size||Minimum Layer Height||Maximum Layer Height|
You can increase or decrease the nozzle size if you want to print outside of this range.
Printing with a larger nozzle diameter allows you to print at a larger layer height.
A larger nozzle diameter dramatically increases the maximum layer height, meaning you can shave off a lot of printing time and create faster prints.
Larger nozzles also require fewer perimeters needed on the print wall.
What is the Best Layer Height?
Generally, the best layer height for 3D printing is 0.2mm. This layer height strikes a good balance between print speed and print quality.
A layer height of 0.2mm works well for both small and large prints.
Of course, printing with a 0.2mm layer thickness is a general recommendation.
Depending on your needs, you may want to increase or decrease the layer height. Thicker layers are generally better for large prints and functional objects. Smaller layers are better for small prints and display pieces.
The Importance of Layer Height in Object Design
The layer height of your printer plays a significant role in the geometric accuracy of your part. If you are designing your parts, it is best to incorporate your desired layer height into the part in the design phase.
You might be wondering why.
For example’s sake, let’s say you are printing with an Ender 3, which can print at 0.12mm, 0.16mm, 0.2mm, and 0.28mm layer heights. Let’s also assume you are designing a part with a critical dimension of 28.6mm in the Z direction.
We know 0.2mm is the optimal layer height because the print’s total height of 28.6mm is evenly divisible by 0.2mm, creating an even layer height.
- 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
If we chose the 0.28mm layer height instead, this critical feature’s total z height would be 28.84mm (103 layers x 0.28mm).
A difference of 0.04mm isn’t a cause for concern for most 3D prints. But if you’re designing functional parts where geometric and dimensional accuracy is critical, it is essential to consider 3D printing layer height in the design phase.
You don’t need to factor the layer height into the design of most 3D prints. And cosmetic models and display items don’t need to worry about it.
What is the Best Layer Height for Speed?
Printing speed and layer thickness are inversely proportional. The best layer height for speed using a standard nozzle is 0.32mm.
If you want to print faster, you can increase printing speed by upgrading to a nozzle with a larger nozzle diameter and printing thick layers at a higher layer height.
What is the Best Layer Height for Prototyping?
When you are printing prototype objects, speed is most important. We recommend printing with a large nozzle diameter, tall layer height, and minimal infill to rapidly print prototypes.
What is the Best Layer Height for Detail?
The best layer height for detail with a standard nozzle diameter is 0.12mm. Thin layers produce more detailed prints. If you want even more detailed prints, you can switch to a resin printer and print at a 0.05mm layer height.
What is the Best Layer Height for Your Z-Axis?
You can use Prusa’s Optimal Layer height calculator to find the best layer height for your Z axis.
The calculator helps you select a layer height where your Z axis only moves in full-step increments, which helps reduce errors in your 3D printing. The calculator is best for 3D printers with imperial leadscrews and printing with unusual layer heights with metric leadscrews.
There’s no one size fits all approach to choosing the best 3D printing layer height. You’ll need to consider the application of your 3D print and determine the balance of speed, quality, and strength.
For most applications, a layer height of 0.2mm is the sweet spot for quality and speed.
Detailed prints should be printed with thinner layers, and you can increase print speed by using a larger layer height.