With projectors growing in popularity, many people are looking for cheaper, DIY alternatives to expensive screens. Although projectors perform best with specialized screens, you can get good results using less costly alternatives.
The good news is, there are plenty of makeshift methods that you can use instead of a projector screen. Many of these alternatives require very little equipment and can be made using items that you already have in your home.
In this detailed guide, I’ll provide you with several reliable projector screen alternatives that cost very little and don’t take long to set up. All they require is some pre-planning and using your imagination!
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The simplest DIY alternative to projector screens is a plain wall. This method costs nothing, and although its image quality doesn’t quite compare to an actual projector screen, it comes pretty close.
Unfortunately, you can’t just use any wall with a projector. It needs to be bare, and completely void of any color contrasts, patterns, wallpaper, or decorations. Any of these will hinder the viewing experience significantly.
Another advantage of using a plain wall with a projector is that there’s no danger of the image being compromised due to size or shape. You can simply set the dimensions on the projector to suit the surface area of the wall.
To get the optimal possible image quality, using a wall that is white, or lightly colored is best. Darker colored walls will work to an extent, but the contrast and brightness of the images will be negatively affected.
Walls that have picture frames, printed words, patterns, or contrasting colors are unlikely to be suitable for being used as a projector screen. One option, if you have a crowded wall, is to minimize the screen size setting on the projector to fit a blank space.
It’s also worth noting that the texture of the wall will affect the performance of the projector. For example, if the wall is textured, the image might become distorted and less clear.
If you intend to use the wall specifically for your projector long term, you could consider tailoring it to make it best suited for this purpose. This might involve sanding it down to make it smooth, and removing any distractions.
Projectors are very convenient because you can take them anywhere and simply find a suitable space on the wall to pair them with. Provided your wall meets the requirements I’ve outlined, this can be a great, cost-free alternative to a projector screen.
Using a bed sheet is another effective alternative to a projector screen. Granted, it won’t compare to the quality of a specially designed screen, but it is inexpensive and very easy to set up.
Using a sheet is convenient, because the chances are you probably already have one that you can use, and it can be taken anywhere that you wish to use your projector. However, not all sheets work well for this purpose.
The first thing you need to consider is size. How large do you want your screen to be projected? If you’re using a single bed sheet, you’re going to be limited to a relatively small screen.
If, on the other hand, you use a super-king sized bed sheet or a large table cover, this will allow you to use the maximum dimensions that your projector is capable of producing.
Sheets also offer the advantage of being able to be placed over any wall surface. It won’t make much difference to the quality if there are colors, patterns, or textures on the wall once you position the sheet over it.
They’re also very convenient if you’re traveling, as they can be rolled up easily and packed away. They require little setting up, and securing them to a wall is simple and not invasive.
The sheet can be attached to a wall using pins, adhesive tape, or any other stick-on tool that is strong enough to bear its weight. It’s important to make sure it’s pulled tightly so that there are no creases.
If the sheet is not pulled tightly, this will cause the image to be compromised, both in terms of quality, and dimensions. Therefore, ensuring that it is secured well is of the utmost importance.
One of the factors that will impact how well sheet functions as a cheap alternative to projector screens is its thread count. The fewer threads it contains, the thinner the sheet is, which allows more light to pass through it and diminish the image quality.
A sheet with a high thread count will prevent the light from filtering through, and consequently present the images in a more solid, high-quality manner. Placing the sheet over a darkly-colored background will also improve the quality.
Another important consideration is the color of the sheet. It needs to be plain, free of patterns of color changes, as this will distort the images and make them less clearly visible to the viewer.
Window shades are another decent alternative to projector screens. If you already have suitable shades in your living space, this method is both convenient and won’t cost you any money.
The best type of shades for use with a projector is the roll-down variety because they generally stay flat with no creases, and they also block out light which makes the projected image more visible.
Using blinds or shades is likely to get you good picture quality. Granted, it won’t be super high resolution, but as far as cheap alternatives go, it’s an option worthy of consideration.
One thing that you will need to consider if you choose to use window blinds or shades as an alternative to a projector screen is the color. White shades work best, and light grey will also do the job.
Darker colored shades or those that have textures or patterns embedded on them will not be suitable for projecting images onto, simply because they will mess with the colors and cause graininess.
If you do decide to use shades, they must hang over the window by a few inches, otherwise, the light will permeate the surface and interfere with the quality of the projected images.
If you don’t own suitable window shades, you can pick them up for a cheaper price than you would pay for a genuine projector screen. The good thing is, they will be of use as they stop any light from getting into the room.
Another good alternative to projector screens is blackout fabric or cloth. This material is purposefully designed to block out any light, which makes for highly visible viewing and a good contrast balance.
Blackout fabric is fairly robust and thick. This makes it capable of handling being manipulated into the right position for projecting onto. There’s very little danger of it tearing while you are getting it into place.
Similar to bed sheets or window shades, to work effectively as a projector screen alternative, blackout fabric needs to be pulled tight so that there are no creases. This is easy enough to achieve due to the robust nature of the material.
Another positive aspect of blackout cloth is that it has two contrasting surfaces on the front and back. The front is made from smooth fabric that is thick enough to prevent light from passing through, while the back is usually made from dense foam, which completely blocks out any light.
This double-layered design will ensure that no light filters through the threads of the fabric, as is likely to be the case with a bedsheet, for example.
You could choose to combine a blackout fabric with a white sheet, placing the fabric behind the sheet to stop light from passing through it. This method is likely to work better than using either a sheet or a blackout fabric alone.
Specialized Projector Paint
Another brilliant alternative to a projector screen would be using a specially-formulated projector paint. This method is fairly expensive, but it does produce pretty outstanding results when done properly.
Specialized projector paint can be applied to a variety of materials, including a wall, wood, cardboard, or plastic. It is designed especially for projecting images, and the results are very close in terms of quality to using an actual projector screen.
There is a multitude of projector paints available, such as this one, and some work better than others. Some considerations that should be taken into account when choosing the best pain are color and finish.
In terms of color, the paint you choose will need to be compatible with your projector, and with the lighting in your room. Different projectors are capable of producing varying brightness levels, so you should check this initially.
Generally speaking, if your room is particularly bright, you will need a projector that can produce around 2000-2500 lumens. For dimly lit rooms, 1200-1500 lumens will suffice. White projector paint works best in most rooms, but you can get away with using gray if there is less light in the room.
Two varieties of projector paint perform the best. These are matte, and flat paints. A gloss-finished projector pain would reflect the light too much, and cause the image’s visibility to be compromised.
Matte projector paints are less reflective and therefore allow the image to be more clearly visible. The projector displays an image using light, so having paint that has a shiny finish will not be compatible.
If you’ve got some excess wrapping paper in your home from Christmas or a recent birthday, you can use it as an easy and quick alternative to a projector screen.
The best type of wrapping paper for projecting images is the thick, robust variety. If the paper is too thin, it will allow light to pass through and compromise the quality, and if it is too weak or flimsy it will simply tear when you are putting it into the desired position.
The back of the wrapping paper ideally needs to have a white, glossy finish. This will help to prevent the light from passing through it.
Using wrapping paper is relatively easy. All that you need to do, is first start by taping it with your wall, or to an external surface like a wooden board or a sheet of cardboard.
Then you need to make sure that it is pulled tightly with no creases showing. This is the tricky part as wrapping paper tends to tear quite easily. If you’ve got someone who can help by holding one side of the paper, this will simplify the process.
The problem with using wrapping paper is that it is generally unsuitable for outside use. Any sudden wind or rain will likely cause the paper to rip. It is a decent method for indoor use if you’re looking for a quick solution though.
The final option that you have when looking for a cheap and easy alternative to projector screens is to simply use a large sheet of cardboard, and paint it either white or light grey depending on the lighting in your room.
Indeed, this method isn’t going to provide you with the pristine image quality of a genuine projector screen. But if you’re looking for a quick fix to watch the game with your friends, this is a good option.
It’s advised to choose cardboard that is as smooth as possible. The paint that you use should ideally have a matte finish, as this will allow the light to be projected onto the surface without reflecting off and tarnishing the image quality.
The size of the cardboard sheet you use needs to be large enough so that the projector’s dimensions can comfortably fill it. You can test this before you cut the cardboard to size.
Sometimes, the best way to learn if a method will work is to dive in and give it a go. All of the alternatives listed in this post are relatively inexpensive, so you can do some experiments to determine which one works the best!