What Is the Optimal Layer Height for PLA Filament? (Solved!)

Layer height, one of the more uncomplicated parameters, unlike many others in the 3D printing world, is the parameter that determines the height of, and hence, the amount of plastic extruded for every single layer on a 3D printed model.

On the other hand, since layer height is a sensitive parameter where even a millimeter of change can cause significant differences, accurately configuring it depending on factors like nozzle size and filament type is vital to the health of the printing process.

Today, we will be focusing our efforts on finding the optimal layer height value while printing with PLA filament, a parameter that can show a decent amount of variance between different filament types and cause issues for the printing process if it’s not correctly configured.

So, what is the optimal layer height for 3D printing with PLA filament?

Considering that you’re printing with a 0.4 mm nozzle, which is the most standard size available, we recommend using a layer height value of 0.24 millimeters for PLA filament since it provides a solid level of detail without increasing the amount of time the print takes way too much.

Next up, we will further examine the optimal layer height and first layer height values for printing with PLA filament and discuss the effects of distinct layer height and first layer height values on the 3D printing process.

What Is the Optimal Layer Height for PLA Filament?

Even though it’s not a point of discussion as often as settings like bed and nozzle temperature, layer height is actually one of the most vital parameters that can easily make or break the printing process.

We have found the optimal layer height for printing with PLA filament to be 0.24 millimeters, considering that you’re using a 0.4 mm nozzle, which will allow your prints to have adequate surface quality within a reasonable amount of time spent on the printing process.

To find this value, the first thing we did was to calculate the possible layer height value candidates based on the nozzle size and the magic numbers of the printer with the formula below:

  1. Calculate the value of nozzle size * 0.25 for the lower bound of layer height values.
  2. Calculate the value of nozzle size * 0.75 for the higher bound of layer height values.
  3. Calculate the magic numbers that fall between the range of numbers you have found in the first and second steps, which will be your layer height candidates.

In our case, the formula gave us five distinct values of 0.12 mm, 0.16 mm, 0.2 mm, 0.24 mm, and 0.28 mm for a stock Ender 3 printer with a 0.4 mm nozzle size, which we used to conduct a series of test prints.

We started with the highest layer height value (as it offers the lowest print times and the most consistency) and worked our way down until the print times became too much and inconsistencies started appearing on the print, which made us land on the figure of 0.24 mm.

On the other hand, please note that it’s definitely possible to go for lower layer height values such as 0.2 mm or 0.16 mm if you can afford to wait a prolonged time for your prints to increase surface quality.

To find the magic numbers for your printer, you can either search for them online or use this calculator, provided that you have the information required for the calculations.

What Is the Optimal First (Initial) Layer Height for PLA?

While initial layer height is essentially a sub-parameter of layer height, the fact that the first layer of the print comes into contact with the build plate gives the initial layer height value a different set of responsibilities.

Our recommendation for an optimal first layer height for printing PLA filament is 0.28 millimeters, considering that you’re using the typical nozzle size of 0.4 millimeters, which should provide a thick-enough first layer that will allow you to avoid bed adhesion issues.

On the other hand, if you aren’t using a 0.4 mm nozzle, you can use the formula of nozzle size * 0.75, rounded down to the closest multiple of the distance of a complete step of the stepper motor, to find the optimal initial layer height value.

This formula makes it easier for your printer to print the layer as the layer’s height will be aligned with the distance the stepper motor takes with each step and provide an initial layer that will act as a solid foundation for your model.

What Are the Effects of Layer Height Value on Printing with PLA?

Understanding how the layer height value affects the printing process is highly significant as it allows you to fine-tune the parameter in a way that will let you obtain the most optimal results.

The layer height value affects two factors for the process of printing with PLA filament: the surface quality of the model and the amount of time the print takes.

While the surface quality increases by decreasing the layer height value, so does the print time, making it a point of optimization depending on your use case where models with aesthetic purposes are more likely to benefit from lower layer height values.

It’s also worth mentioning that smaller layer heights are more challenging for the printer hardware to handle and print cleanly, meaning that going too low with the layer height value can cause issues such as tearing on your models.

What Are the Effects of First (Initial) Layer Height Value on Printing with PLA?

The effects of the first layer height value are noteworthy in their own right, especially considering that a successful first layer is one of the pillars of a productive printing process.

In a nutshell, the larger the first layer height value is, the better the plastic will adhere to the build plate, as increasing the amount of plastic that goes into the first layer will allow it to have more time to bond with the surface before cooling down and solidifying.

Even though PLA isn’t a filament type known for commonly creating issues with bed adhesion, the fact that the thickness of the first layer plays a significant role in adhesion strength makes a vital point of consideration for a successful printing process.

Wrapping Up

While configuring the layer height and initial layer height parameters as optimally as possible for printing with PLA is not a challenging task, keeping in mind that different filament types require different layer height values is paramount.

To quickly recap, using a layer of height value of 0.24 millimeters and an initial layer height value of 0.28 millimeters for printing PLA provided the best results with our Ender 3 printer, allowing us to obtain aesthetically pleasing prints without taking too much time.

On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning again that layer height is a customizable value that you should change depending on the purpose of your prints and the capabilities of your 3D printer, and the values we recommend are not set in stone by any means.

Happy printing!