3D Printing Layer Height vs. Nozzle Size: How To Choose

If you’re new to 3D printing or trying to customize your printer for the first time, a new nozzle is probably one of the first things you’ll look at.

Extrusion nozzles can start at as little as $5 and can make a massive difference in the quality, speed, and convenience of your print.

In addition, nozzle height interplays with layer height, meaning that if you use a smaller or larger nozzle, you’ll have different options with layer height. 

As a rule of thumb, layer height should be about 80% or less of the nozzle diameter. This means that if you have a 0.4mm nozzle, you can’t print over 0.32mm, or about 0.48mm with a 0.6mm nozzle. However, you can always further thin the layer height, providing you’re not forcing the nozzle too close to the print bed. 

Role Of Nozzle Size And Layer Height In 3D Printing

The nozzle and layer height are very similar measurements but result in very different impacts on your 3D print.

Here, the largest difference is that the nozzle affects detail on a horizontal plane. On the other hand, layer height impacts detail on a vertical and slanted plane, meaning you’ll see it more. 

How does this work? 3D printers use two dimensions to print. That’s an X/Y plane with a Z layer or axis on top. Layer height is the Z axis (up) while the nozzle impacts the X/Y axis. 

Layer height can also be shown as layer thickness and layer resolution in your slicer, depending on which technology you’re using. 

However, one ties to the other. Your nozzle diameter directly impacts layer height when you’re trying to go larger.

Regardless of nozzle size, you can almost always reduce the layer height to 0.2-0.1 mm depending on the precision of the 3D printer. 

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What Is Layer Height? 

Layer height is the thickness of the layers of filament on a vertical plane from the 3D print bed. This directly impacts how many passes the printer has to make horizontally to achieve vertical height and detail.

So, if you have a 3cm model with a layer height of 0.2mm, you’ll have to make 1,500 passes with the nozzle to achieve the height. 

More layers mean more details. This results in finer details, more ability to print fine details, and a better and smoother finish from the side and on slanted plains. 

In addition, a smaller layer height means you’ll see layers less.

With very fine layers, you might not see layers at all in the end print, even before finishing the print. That can save you a lot of time on finishing a model or making it ready to paint. 

However, a thicker layer height is faster to print. Of course, you’ll lose detail. And, you might see the lines more. But, if you’re making a larger model and are planning to finish it after anyway, that might not matter. 

For example, if you want a 10cm high model, you’d need 10,000 passes at 0.1mm. If you reduce the layer height to 0.4, you could reduce that to 2,500 layers. Of course, nozzle size plays an important role as well. 

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In addition, if you’re printing curved sides, you almost always want a lower layer height. Otherwise, you are more likely to see the print lines.

On the other hand, if you have straight sides, you can more easily get away with a higher layer height. 

What Is Nozzle Size? 

Nozzle size directly impacts the layer height size. It also impacts the detail of the print on a horizontal plane.

Here, nozzle size affects how many passes the nozzle has to make to vertically fill a space. This means that it primarily affects the top of the 3D print and the thickness of the walls. 

However, with a very large nozzle, you might also see some print lines. This means that a smaller nozzle will always offer more detail and precision.

That’s especially true if you’re trying to work with very small layer heights, because a smaller nozzle will be more precise. 

In most cases, layer height cannot be more than 80% of the maximum diameter of the nozzle. This means if you want a larger layer height, you need a larger nozzle. 

However, if you want fine top details, you’ll need a smaller nozzle. For example, if you want to print jewelry or fine-detailed text or designs. 

Nozzle size also noticeably affects printing supports. The smaller your nozzle size, the thinner the walls of the supports, meaning the easier the supports come off.

If you have trouble taking the supports off, switching to a smaller nozzle size could save you a lot of trouble. 

Finally, nozzle size dramatically impacts the speed of a print.

In fact, switching from a 0.25mm nozzle to a 0.80 mm nozzle can increase the speed of your print by as much as 6x, without changing other parameters, providing the device has more than one perimeter. 

Impact Of Layer Height And Nozzle Size On Print Quality

Most people are aware that smaller layer heights and nozzle diameters are better for print quality.

However, that’s not always true. Instead, it depends on the perimeters. 

  • Nozzle – Impacts the quality of horizontal planes
  • Layer Height – Impacts the quality of vertical and slanted planes 

What does this mean? If you’re making a pyramid or a triangle, you won’t see the impact of nozzle size at all. You will get a faster print with a larger nozzle.

You’ll also have a thicker wall. However, you won’t see the quality on the outside of the print at all. 

On the other hand, if you’re printing something like a cabochon with print or filigree detailing, most of the details will be on the top. Therefore, you’d mostly see the impact of the nozzle size and not the layer height. 

So, if you have a 0.2mm layer height and a .4 nozzle, you’d want to print things with more vertical detail. On the other hand, if you have a .8 nozzle, layer height could be up to 0.64mm, meaning you’d have low detail on both planes. 

You could work that out to a generic guide like: 

Layer Height Nozzle Size Vertical Print Quality Horizontal Print QualityHorizontal Strength 
0.10.2Very HighHighLow 
0.20.4High HighMedium
0.30.4High Medium Medium 
0.50.6Medium MediumHigh
0.60.8Low LowHigh
0.70.8Low LowHigh
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Of course, it’s unlikely that your settings will be that straightforward. It’s also very common to work in smaller fractions of mm.

Your actual results will depend on other factors like heat, material, and the precision of your 3D printer. 

Tips To Find The Right Balance Between Nozzle Size And Layer Height

Nozzle size directly impacts your maximum layer height. In addition, your 3D printer normally directly affects your minimum layer height.

Otherwise, you’re pretty much free to make adjustments, play around, and see what you like per model – based on details, finish, and surface quality. 

In addition, layer height and nozzle diameter are just two factors that impact quality. 

First Layer and Squish 

Most people prefer to have some squish in the first layer. However, you can normally achieve this with first layer offset settings in your splicer.

Here, you want about 0.05mm of offset per 2mm of extrusion, giving you up to 25% squish. 

Why do you want this? It improves adhesion to the bed.

It may also enable the first layer to harden faster, so you have fewer problems with the first layer oozing out under the weight of the next. 

Recommendations for Your Printer 

Your 3D printer will always be a major constraint on layer height. Here, your largest issue will be the precision of the printing arm.

Higher-end printers can achieve very narrow layer heights. For example, Prusa and Ender 3 both allow for layer heights as low as 0.1mm. A very high-end printer may allow as small as 0.05mm. 

On the other hand, if you have a budget 3D printer, your printer may not be able to achieve these layer heights with precision. Here, it’s important to check recommendations for your 3D printer.

If the 3D printer manufacturer hasn’t made a recommendation, you might want to try out different layer heights to see what it looks like, provided you’re comfortable wasting the filament.

Using a test print with plenty of horizontal details will be important for testing the precision of the layer height. 

Adjusting per Print 

Different prints have different perimeters. You can often adjust the layer height based on what’s visible and what’s not.

For example, if you’re printing a replica of the Millennium Falcon with most of the detail on the top, you could save a lot in terms of print speed by using a larger layer height.

Because there are fewer details on the sides, you probably wouldn’t lose much in the way of detail by making the layer height larger. 

On the other hand, as stated above, if you’re making a vase or a pyramid, you won’t actually see the nozzle diameter in the print, so you’re better off using a larger nozzle and saving time on the print. 

If you know what you’re printing and where the detail is, you can adjust your slicer for each new print. However, if you do this, it will be important to stay on top of it, so you don’t end up printing something with the quality on the wrong dimensions. 

Desired Print Speed 

The larger the nozzle, the faster the print speed. However, the larger the layer height, the faster the print speed. In most cases, you want to try to balance print quality and print speed.

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How much of a difference can it make? Dropping layer height by half will almost double the time to print. And, you can increase the time to print by about a third for every 0.2mm of nozzle size.

Of course, that’s a rough rule and actual print time will depend on your printer, so it is important to actually experiment and see how your printer works. 

Of course, nozzle size isn’t everything for speed. For example, Volcano and Supervolcano nozzles claim to print significantly faster than regular nozzles. However, they’re also longer, which means you will lose the printing surface.

On the other hand, the Volcano promises to print up to 3 times the speed of a standard V6, which could be ideal if you’re printing a larger number of models – but don’t want to increase the size of the nozzle too much. 

Try Different Settings 

Eventually, so long as you don’t use a layer height larger than your nozzle diameter, you can normally use any settings you want. In fact, it’s often a great idea to use variable layer height.

For example, PrusaSlicer has a variable layer height setting, which is intended to vary the actual layer height between 0.07 and 0.25.

The result is a more random distribution of layer sizes, which looks more natural and therefore smoother to the human eye. 

Of course, whether or not you can do that is almost entirely dependent on which slicer you use and what it can do. 


If you still have questions about setting layer height versus your nozzle size, these answers should help. 

Does layer height affect overhang?

A lower layer height will normally greatly reduce overhang.

This happens because your printer has to take smaller steps, meaning any overhang that is present will be smaller. 

Is lower layer height better?

Lower layer height can allow you to add more vertical detail. It can also enable you to reduce visible lines on curved surfaces. And, if you’re looking for a smoother surface, a lower layer height is always better.

However, layer height only affects the vertical plane. If your 3D print doesn’t have a lot of vertical angles or they are simple and low-detail, reducing the layer height would add to print time without any real benefits. 

Final Thoughts

Nozzle diameter and layer height are important for the quality and detail of a 3D print. However, nozzle diameter affects horizontal detail (top of the model) and layer height affects vertical detail (sides and slants of the model). Your maximum layer height is also directly controlled by the nozzle size, as you can’t have a layer height over about 80% of the nozzle diameter. Therefore, you can normally easily choose the right settings based on where detail is on your 3D print, how lines will show, and your nozzle size.

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