Time to read: 4 min
One of the most important considerations when designing parts for 3D printing in 2022 is the 3D printing wall thickness, sometimes referred to as the wall thickness. While 3D printing makes prototyping easier than ever—not only in terms of cost and speed, but also in regards to DFM (design for manufacturing), you can’t disregard DFM completely.
A design might be (barely) producible by 3D printing, but what happens when you move to the next iteration or the next stage in manufacturing? Ensuring that you have at least the minimum wall thickness for 3D printing is a good first step and a key 3D printing design rule. Finding the best thickness for 3d printing is an excellent skill to have for cost reduction purposes and structural integrity of your 3d printed parts.
Fictiv, your ultimate 3D printing manufacturing ecosystem partner, is here to help all our customers be successful in their 3D printing endeavors. To that end, here are our best 3D printing wall thickness design guidelines to ensure your print is printable and structurally sound, so you can design prototypes that can be produced in quantities of 1 and then ultimately 100, or 10,000+.
3D Printing Wall Thickness Recommendations
There’s a limit to the minimum 3D print thickness a part feature can be designed for 3D printing.
Below is a table of our recommended minimum 3D print thickness for each material, as well as the absolute minimum thickness, for those of you who like to live dangerously.
NOTE: At Fictiv, we have had success printing parts as thin as our absolute minimum, but we can only guarantee a successful print at or above our recommended minimum. Under our recommended minimum, the thinner the part, the higher the chance something goes wrong in printing. Anything below our absolute minimum is unprintable in practice.
Why There are Limitations
There are a variety of limiting factors to consider, both during and after printing.
Limitations During 3D Printing
3D printers build parts in a single layer at a time. As a result, if a feature is too thin, there’s a risk of the resin deforming or detaching as it is extruded or cools, which means there isn’t sufficient material contact to connect it with the remaining body.
Additionally, you need a strong base to build a stable structure. If a part is being printed and the wall is too thin, that feature would likely bend before the resin can dry or cure. As a result, the thin wall would buckle, causing warping in the part.
Limitations Post Printing
Even if a thin-walled part prints successfully, the fragile part still has to survive cleaning and removal of support material. In addition, a thin-walled part may be damaged during removal
Cleaning methods include water jet, sanding, chemical support material removal, and picking away the residue. These cleaning techniques may cause thin walls to inadvertently break.
Additionally, in order to print such a thin wall, you often need extra support material or support walls. With the support material gone after cleaning, the component is even more fragile.
Minimum Wall Thickness vs Resolution
We often see some confusion around the difference between minimum wall thickness and resolution. Sometimes we’re asked, “If the resolution of a material is so high, why can’t the wall be that thin?”
Resolution comes into play in how detailed and precise a design can be, so long as there is enough thickness to provide structural support. Think of resolution as a factor of how well the details or surface finish of the part turns out to be.
Think of resolution as how accurate the part can be designed for printing, very similar to dimensional tolerance. Take a hollow sphere, for example. Minimum wall thickness determines how thin the shell can be so it’s printable and doesn’t collapse under its own weight.
Resolution determines how smooth the curvature is: low resolution will show visible “stepping” and roughness, while high resolution will hide these aspects.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule! Some parts can be printed with features below our recommended minimum wall thickness. Ribbing, cross supports, flat and supported components (as opposed to curved features) sometimes allow parts to be thinner.
While we aim to provide guidelines and recommendations around what we are 100% certain is printable, there are so many variables and design factors that make one thin part printable and the next one not. Because of this, we can only fully guarantee successful prints of designs above our recommended minimum wall thickness.
Though you might want to push the limits of your design, we don’t recommend going thinner than our suggested thicknesses. Even if your print is successful, that design choice will likely run you into complications around manufacturability down the road.
How will your thin walled 3D printed part be produced during the next phase, perhaps via RTV or Fictiv’s world class Injection Molding? Those thin walls will likely make your part impossible to manufacture at scale with 3D printing alone.
So, pay attention to the wall thickness of your parts, and if you choose to design a part thinner than our recommendations, be sure to carefully consider whether or not it will be manufacturable later on.
- For a start on determining a good wall thickness for 3D printing, visit our table “MATERIAL 3D PRINTING THICKNESS RECOMMENDATIONS” above.
- A good minimum wall thickness for 3D printing PLA is 1.5 mm.
- At Fictiv, the absolute minimum wall thickness a 3D printer can print is 0.6 mm. We cannot guarantee quality at this thickness though and it is not recommended.