The layer height of your 3D printed objects are one of the most important factors that is responsible for quality, speed, and even strength in your prints. It is a good idea to figure out which layer height is best for your prints.
As a quick answer, the best layer height for 3D printing in a standard 0.4 mm nozzle, sits between 0.2 mm and 0.3 mm. This is a layer height that provides a balance of speed, resolution, and a great print success.
Your layer height should be between 25% and 75% of your nozzle diameter, otherwise you may run into issues with your print.
While this is the basic answer to your question, there are other contributing factors you want to look at when you are working on figuring out the best layer height for you and your prints.
So don’t hop off this article just yet. Let us let you about what else you should consider.
What is layer height, thickness, and resolution?
Before we venture deep into the question of what layer height is the best one, we should all be 100% sure we understand what layer height is.
In short, the layer height is the measurement, which is often given in mm, that your nozzle extrudes for each layer of print. It is also known as thickness or resolution of the layer, due to it being what makes a 3D print into a better quality.
If you look at a detailed object, consider if it were to have a large layer height, this would mean that the detail would be restricted. It is similar to trying to build something detailed with Lego, or bricks.
The blocks are too big for details to really shine, and even with detail, the build has to be massive for any detail to show.
In this case, the smaller the height of the layer, the better the quality and detail you will get. However, it will also result in a greater need for more layers to be extruded to complete the print.
So, now that we understand what this is, and why it is important, we can move on to answering that big question,’what is the best layer height?’
Which layer height is best for 3D printing?
There is no simple way to answer this question, simply because there is no other answer than your personal one, you see, it is all down to personal preference.
If you are printing something on the simpler side, and you need your prints to be done at lightening speed, then you should pick a bigger layer height.
However, if you want something artistic, detailed, and with unequaled precision, then you should pick a smaller layer height, but expect this to take significantly longer to produce than something with a bigger layer height.
Once you have determined your balance between speed and quality then you can happily pick whichever layer height would be best for your 3D printing needs.
For a situation such as printing 3D printed PPE face masks, your main goal would be to get them printed as fast as possible, so you would use a bigger nozzle and up the layer height, up to the point where it is 100% functional.
However, if you were printing a detailed and artistic sculpture, your goal will be quality. This would point you toward choosing a smaller nozzle diameter and also a smaller layer height in order to get that sought after detailing in such a project.
To best determine which is the best, and to also see the significance of the difference, you should try printing some 3D objects such as a calibration cube, at different layer heights and look over the results for detail and quality.
Should you do this, it is wise to keep these reference models, so you can look at them as a refresher on the difference in quality when you're using these varying nozzle diameters and layer height settings.
A layer height that is too low for your nozzle diameter would also cause plastic to be pushed back into the nozzle, and this may then cause it to develop issues in pushing any filament out at all.
A layer height that is too high for your nozzle diameter will make it harder for your layers to stick to one another. This will happen because the nozzle will not be able to extrude with good accuracy and precision.
There is a well-known guideline that is set in 3D printers, and that is known throughout the 3D printing community, about how high you should have your layer height set to as a percentage of your nozzle diameter.
You may even start to get warnings if you put a layer height that is above 80% of your nozzle diameter.
Consider if you were to have a nozzle diameter of 0.4 mm which is around the standard size of a nozzle. You would get a warning is you were to set a layer height of anywhere from 0.32 mm and above, in this case.
A layer height should be between 25%- 35% of your nozzle diameter. So for a standard 0.4 mm nozzle this gives you a layer height range between 0.1 mm to 0.3 mm.
For a larger nozzle at 1 mm, it is a little easier to calculate, with a layer range being between 0.25 mm to 75 mm, as you would expect.
If you are just starting off, or if you aren’t sure whether you should aim for the higher 25% or lower 25% mark of your range, you could start at 50% as a happy medium, and then you will be able to tell whether you need to go up or down, for a faster printing time, or a better quality. You can adjust accordingly from there.
How does layer height affect print speed and print time?
As we have previously discussed, we know that layer height will affect the speed and general printing time of your object. But the big question is, ‘too what extent?’ Unlike our previous question, this one is a bit easier to answer.
The layer height will affect your printing time because your print head has to print each layer one by one. A smaller layer height will mean your object has more layers in total. You could relate this to a painting.
Say you have an A4 canvas, if you were to print everything with a large and wide brush, you would finish it must faster than if you were to use a small detailing brush, you would also gain more detail with the small brush than with the large brush.
But time taken to finish would be extended with the small brush. It is the same premise, the whole decision of layer heights is a battle between time and detail.
If you were to have a layer height of 0.1 mm (or 100 microns), then you adjust the layer height to 0.2 mm (or 200 microns), then you will have basically halved the amount of layers in your print, for this reason your print would only take half the time it would originally have taken.
As an example, lets say you have an object that is 100 mm high, then it would have 1,000 layers if you were to print at a layer height of 0.1 mm, or it would have 500 layers at a layer height of 0.2 mm.
Should you change nothing about the print, doubling or halving the layer height, would mean that your time taken to print and layers required to print would also double or half.
Let’s consider if you were to print a Benchy, often used as a good test object, being printed at 0.3 mm, 0.2 mm, 0.1 mm.
- At 0.3 mm the Benchy will take 1 hour, 7 minutes to print, with 160 layers.
- At 0.2 mm the Benchy will take 1 hour, 35 minutes to print, with 240 layers.
- At 0.1 mm the Benchy will take 2 hours, 56 minutes to print, with 480 layers.
If you want to be specific in the difference in time then you can look at the variation in relation to the 0.3 mm time.
- The printing time difference between 0.3 mm and 0.2 mm is 41%/ 28 minutes.
- The printing time difference between 0.2 mm and 0.1 mm is 85%/ 81 minutes.
- The printing time difference between 0.3 mm and 0.1 mm is 162%/ 109 minutes.
Despite the significance of the changes, they become even more so when you look at larger objects. A 3D print model that covers a large portion of your print bed, that is both wide and high will have even more dramatic differences in print times.
Let’s imagine that we are printing the same Benchy at a scale increase of 300%, pretty much filling the print bed.
For a 300% printed Benchy;
- At 0.3 mm, this Benchy will print in 13 hours, 40 minutes.
- At 0.2 mm, this Benchy will print in 20 hours, 17 minutes.
- At 0.1 mm, this Benchy will print in 1 day, 16 hours, 8 minutes.
It has an even more dramatic difference between times at this size;
- Time difference between 0.3 mm and 0.2 mm is 48%/ 397 minutes.
- Time difference between 0.2 mm and 0.1 mm is 97%/ 1,191 minutes.
- Time difference between 0.3 mm and 0.1 mm is 194%/ 1,588 minutes.
This is a great way to understand that printing large objects means that your layer height will count even more towards the printing time, even though the quality may remain the same.
The trade-off for layer height and print time makes it occasionally beneficial to opt-in for a greater layer height when designing big objects. Although, this could have effects on the quality, couldn’t it?
How does layer height affect quality?
Depending on how you view things, you may not entirely be able to tell the difference between a print with a 0.3 mm height and a 0.2 mm height, even though this is a 50% increase.
In reality these layers are still minimal, and when looking at these objects from a distance you would not notice any differences. However, in good lighting and looking up close you will start to realize the quality differences.
Try out printing something, like a Benchy, yourself, at all three layer heights and see if you can notice the difference.
When you inspect something like this up close at these three different measurements you will notice subtle differences. For example on a Benchy, the biggest giveaway is the ‘steps’ which will have more prominence in the bigger layer heights.
In a 0.1 mm height you will be able to see smoothness across the print, and while it may not make a difference from a distance, some prints and models may have issues or unsuccessful prints with larger layer heights. Smaller layer heights will be able to deal with things such as overhangs a lot better.
How does layer height affect strength?
When you are looking at having the best strength in your models you may consider that smaller or larger layer heights may have the best optimal strength properties.
However, to assume this would be wrong. The true answer to the strength of a print via its layer height, is somewhere in-between small and large layer heights.
For example if you were to run a test with your minimal layer height being 0.05 mm, and your maximum height being 0.4 mm. The best height layer for strength would likely actually be somewhere between 0.1 mm and 0.15 mm.
However, do not forget that it does depend on the size of your nozzle, and also what you are printing, so some experimentation with this never hurt.
Ender 3 Magic Number: Layer Heights
You may have heard the term ‘Magic Number’ when referring to the layer height of a specific 3D printer. This is because of the Z-axis stepper motor travels in ‘steps’ of 0.04 mm, which pushes the hot-end that distance.
It works for the Ender 3, CR-10 and others with the same-lead screw. It is possible to move between it with microstepping, but these angles are not equal.
Using the natural rotation of the stepping motor is done by moving the hot-end in increments of 0.04 mm.
This means that if you want the best quality prints for these printers, then instead of using a 0.1 mm height you will want to use a layer height between 0.08 mm or 0.12 mm.
Using these magic numbers has an effect of averaging out variations in layer heights from unequal microstep angles, resulting in consistent layer height throughout the process.
To put it simply, a stepper does not give you feedback, so your printer will have to follow the command and be in position as good as possible.
Steppers will usually move in full steps or half steps, but when moving between that there may be several variables that will determine the step distances for these.
Magic number avoid that hopeful game for precision movement and will use half and full steps for complete accuracy. The level of error between the commanded steps and actual steps will get balanced out with each step.
Other than 0.04 mm, there is another value of 0.0025 mm which is the 1.16th microstep value. If you are using adaptive layers then you should use values that are divisible by 0.0025 or limit them to a half step resolution of 0.02 mm.
The Optimal Layer Height Calculator
There is an online calculator available that will help you figure out the optimal layer height for your printer and settings. You can find it here.
This calculator has a great reputation amongst 3D printer users, so if you feel a little stuck it can be a great point of reference.
What are the downfalls of using a small layer height?
While having a small layer height can be beneficial, it means that print time will increase, and with this it also means there is more time for something to go wrong with the print, not to sound pessimistic.
Thinner layers do not always result in the best prints, they can hinder your prints in the long-term. An interesting tidbit to know when it comes to small layered objects is that you will often find more imperfections in your prints.
There is no reason to go chasing a small layer height just to get some extremely high quality objects, simply because you make end up having to spend extensive amounts of time on a print that may not even end up looking all that good.
You should focus on finding the right balance between these factors first. Balance is a good goal to helping you pick the overall best layer height for yourself and for your prints.
For tackling print problems, and getting the perfect finish, you can always invest in a 3D printer toolkit.
You can get loads of these, but our favorite is the AMX3d Pro Grade Printer Kit. This kind of kit comes with a variety of tools that will give you all you need to clean and finish your prints.
So, even if your print does go a bit wrong because you used a layer height too small, this kit, or one like it could just be your saving grace.