Sea floor and shallow seismic data sets of terminal submarine fan lobes can provide excellent planform timeslices of distributive deep-water systems but commonly only limited information on cross-sectional architecture. Extensive outcrops in the Tanqua depocentre, south-west Karoo Basin, provide these three-dimensional constraints on lithofacies distributions, stacking patterns, depositional geometries and the stratigraphic evolution of submarine lobe deposits at a scale comparable with modern lobe systems. Detailed study (bed-scale) of a single-lobe complex (Fan 3) over a 15 km by 8 km area has helped to define a four-fold hierarchy of depositional elements from bed through to lobe element, lobe and lobe complex. The Fan 3 lobe complex comprises six distinct fine-grained sandstone packages, interpreted as lobes, which display compensational stacking patterns on a 5 km scale. Between successive lobes are thin-bedded, very fine-grained sandstones and siltstones that do not change lithofacies over several kilometres and therefore are identified as a different architectural element. Each lobe is built by many lobe elements, which also display compensational stacking patterns over a kilometre scale. Thickness variations of lobe elements can be extremely abrupt without erosion, particularly in distal areas where isopach maps reveal a finger-like distal fringe to lobes. Lobe deposits, therefore, are not simple radial sheet-dominated systems as commonly envisaged.