In any 3D printing, the print is made up of layers of material printed on top of previous layers. Layer height is the thickness of these layers. It is also sometimes known as the resolution of the print or printer. Changing the layer height has two primary effects: the speed and resolution of the print.
3D printers all need to trace each layer’s shape for every layer in a print. For each layer, the printer needs to make a single pass, so if you can reduce the number of layers, you can reduce the number of passes needed, drastically reducing the print time.
Doubling the layer height will pretty much halve the print time. However, this isn’t exact due to differences in the amount of movement required per layer. This sounds pretty great, as 3D printing can be painfully slow. However, there’s a caveat.
Note: This doesn’t actually apply to MSLA printers as their layer time is consistent because the entire layer is cured at once with a masking system rather than a progressive system.
Many prints include fine details. This can be things such as fingers on a model’s hand, hair on a head, or engraved or embossed textures on a surface, just like with a computer screen that can only reproduce fine details down to the size of a pixel. 3D printers can only produce fine details down to the size of a layer. By increasing the layer height, you also decrease the ability to reproduce fine details in the print.
This is especially noticeable on very tiny details, angled edges, and curved edges. You won’t be able to reproduce tiny details as accurately with a larger layer height. When you use a low layer height, the steps between each layer will be smaller and smoother. With angled surfaces and curves, however, the finish of the surface will deteriorate.
With a large layer height, the steps between layers will become more pronounced. This can be especially noticeable on more horizontal surfaces, such as the top of a dome.
You can most easily see the effect of layer height on print quality in the detailed difference between resin prints and FDM prints. The layer height of an FDM printer is significantly higher than the layer height of an SLA or MSLA printer. As such, resin prints can have much finer details and much smoother surfaces.
Configuring layer height is a balancing game between speed and desired quality of the print. This is, of course, down to personal preference, or tolerances, for functional parts.
It can also vary between prints; while you may not need much fine detail on a traditional square dice and can deal with larger layers, you may want the extra detail on a figurine. What models have you made where you’ve sacrificed speed for quality? Let us know down below.