Layer thickness in 3D printing: an additive manufacturing basic

Layer thickness is a measure of the height of each successive addition of material in the additive manufacturing or 3D printing process in which layers are stacked.

It is one of the essential technical characteristics of every 3D printer; the layer thickness is essentially the resolution of the z-axis, which is the vertical axis.


Close up of a 3D print displaying layer thicknesses from Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing technology

Layer thickness examples

In general, not all 3D printers are technically equal, as there are technological differences that generate different layer thicknesses . Generally, 3D printers' layer thicknesses are between 16 µm and 150 µm. You are able to change this setting on all 3D printers before beginning the 3D printing process. The printing time required is also greatly determined by layer thickness. Here is a summary table of the different layer thicknesses for the various 3D printers and technologies:

Printer / Technology

Layer Thickness

Professional fused deposition modelling for production (Stratasys, etc.)

0.17 mm to 0.33 mm (0.007" to 0.013")

Office or fablab fused deposition modelling (Makerbot, Ultimaker, etc.)

0.10 mm to 0.33 mm (0.004" to 0.013")

Selective laser sintering (SLS) - (EOS, 3D System)

0.060mm to 0.150 mm

Resin deposit (Stratasys Polyjet)

0.016mm to 0.028 mm

Material binding (3D Systems ZPrinter)

0.1 mm

Stereolithography, DLP, resin hardening by light or laser

0.05 mm to 0.15 mm

Wax deposition by piezoelectric head (Solidscape)

0.005 mm to 0.10 mm

Differences between layer thickness, printing resolution, and size of the smallest detail possible

The layer thickness should not be confused with printing resolution or with the size of the smallest detail possible.

The print resolution is the size of the printed voxel. In laser sintering technology, it is related to the size of the laser beam, which is typically around 120µm to 150µm.

As for the size of the smallest detail possible, it is based on the strength of the materials. Therefore, even though in theory the print resolution may allow construction of a 125µm detail on a surface, in reality it isn't strong enough to withstand the cleaning and finishing stage if it has a diameter of 0.5mm to 0.8mm, according to its size.

Relation between layer thickness and 3D printing direction

The impact of a 3D printer's layer thicknesson the print result also depends on the orientation chosen for fabrication.

In particular, a flat surface with a weak rising angle relative to the z-axis will be greatly impacted, as a staircase effect will appear no matter what technology is chosen.

The Batch Control tools, available for orders of more than 20 copies, let you specify the orientation and thus optimise the choices of quality vs. price.

Layer thickness, 3D printing speed and the cost of objects

The number of layers required to create an object determines the manufacturing time required. The thinner the layers, the longer it takes to make an object of a given height.

Therefore, an object 1cm high requires 100 layers at 100µm (like on our material, for example White Plastic) or 167 layers at 60µm. This explains the higher cost of 3D printing using the same technology with thinner layers.

Comparisons of the results of different layer thicknesses

For more information, you can find examples of layer thickness comparisons.