What is layer height?
The layer height is the actual amount of melted plastic coming out of the 3D printer's extruder and nozzle. Since a 3D printer can print on a vertical and horizontal place, you can consider the layer height as the vertical resolution to an object. Layer height tells the printer how many individuals, small layers of plastic to melt and extrude for the purpose of building in one area of the item.
Think of layer height as deciding how big of a brush you want to use to paint. If you are trying to paint a wall with just a color or two, you can use a big layer height. The bigger layer height will result in fewer individual movements out of the printhead, and the 3D print will move along faster. The result will also be a less detailed print because the printhead is letting out larger amounts of plastic at the same time, and the movements of the printhead won't allow for much detail.
Should your plan be to make a detailed print, like a figurine or miniature of something with detail, you'll probably use a smaller layer height. The smaller layer height results in less plastic being used at a time, but many more small movements out of the printhead. This will take longer, but offer more detail in the areas you requested. Lower area heights will also make a print more smooth to the eye and the touch.
How is layer height measured?
Usually in very small measurements, down to the micron or millimeter. The actual height ability depends on your printer, but can range from 16 microns with Material Jetting settings all the way up to 400 microns with FDM – though smaller settings are usually used.
Since many people don't use a microns measurement on a regular basis, we'll give you a reference: The height of a sheet of paper is about 100 microns, so some printers can print as small as 1/10 of the height of a sheet of paper – while others, probably making larger and less detailed items, can print as deep at 4 papers.
Why some people think layer height isn't important
Some 3D printers are a bit dismissive about layer height in an object. While it is perfectly fine to measure the quality of a 3D print using different measurements, they are probably not considering the fine detail that smaller layer heights can provide. Some will just let the slicer software choose which height works best or use the default. Once you start to see the difference in layer heights, you might experiment a bit more – though you probably don't have to adjust it every time you print.
How do you make a smaller or bigger layer height?
The nozzle size plays an important role in this. You'll want a small, precise nozzle for doing smaller layer heights or a larger, less precise nozzle for doing larger layer heights. The nozzle size is often 25% to 75% larger than the desired layer height for your printing purposes.
Can I make a smaller layer height go faster?
Not really. A smaller layer height will result in plastic melting a little more slowly, and the printhead making smaller, more precise movements. While this can take twice as long as a larger layer height, the detail provided is totally worth it to 3D printers who are looking for a detailed, clean looking print that can't be achieved at a faster setting.
3D printing consistently asks you to balance quality and speed, which isn't much different from an ink printer.
Does a smaller layer height used more filament?
Not necessarily. The larger difference is time and detail. A printer can melt about the same amount of filament using more details – though it does depend on what you are printing. If your level of detail involves more gaps than you might actually use less. If you are printing smaller ridges or letters, or something like that, you may end up using a bit more.
Does layer height impact the strength of a model or print?
Not really. The strength of a model or print is more impacted by the filament used. You can use stronger filaments like polycarbonate to achieve a bendable and nearly indestructible model, or an easier to use filament like PVC for a still strong but potentially easier to use plastic.
What is standard layer height?
Most 3D printers, their slicing software, and their nozzles are set for a .2 millimeter layer height. This is good for basic printing and only really needs to be changed in the event you want more or less detail from a print.