Everybody wants an outdoor cinema, but it’s not always easy to make. One of the biggest issues for homeowners is often finding the right material for their screens. Which one would work best?
Best Materials for Outdoor Projector Screen
Some of the best materials for outdoor projector screens include cheaper ones like paint or blackout cloths, as well as outdoor fabric. There are also some more expensive options like trapeze, spandex, or tarps. Finally, there’s the inflatable screen, which is popular for its simplicity.
Check out my top picks for outdoor home theater projector screens.
When choosing the right material for your outdoor screen, you have to be extra careful to pick the one that works for you. On that note, here are the best materials for outdoor screens reviewed to help you find the perfect one.
Paint is the best option for when you are on a budget, and you want something quick and simple. Of course, you would require a free wall large enough to contain the screen and the right kind of paint. But even so, this is by far the cheapest and easiest solution.
Read my article on the best paint for projector screens.
The surface on which your screen will be needs to be even, or you’ll deal with plenty of awkward blemishes and distracting elements while watching anything on the screen. Make sure that you find an even surface or make it even before painting a screen on it.
You don’t have to paint the entire wall — just the part where your screen will be. It’s best if the rest of the wall is darker so that the movie can come into focus. Of course, this may not be the best solution for everyone, as you’ll have to have an even surface, and not everyone can have that.
Before painting, you need to determine how big the screen should be. Turn on your projector and see where it will normally stand while you watch the movie. See if the picture is clear and whether the quality suits you. Then, mark the area with something straight.
After you’ve marked it, it’s time to paint. You’ll probably need to do it several times to make sure that the screen is completely appropriate for the movie and that it gives a nice watching experience, especially so if the wall used to be a darker color. Be patient and add layers until you are satisfied.
You should use tape to mark which area you want to paint so that you get clear borders. Even if you make a mistake, the tape should cover it. You can also use a primer before painting so that your screen can be more durable and the paint can stick properly.
See which type of paint would be the best for movie screens. If your wall has imperfections, you can mark them and then fix them.
Sand the area where the imperfections are. This should help you remove any blemishes, bumps, holes, etc. Be thorough and then paint over that area again until it matches the rest of the screen. You can also do this before you paint, but it might be easier when the wall is painted already.
If you want to add a special feature, a nice black frame around your new screen should add that extra flair and contrast, making the movie-watching experience even more enjoyable for you and your family.
If you want to go even simpler, paint the entire wall, and then just add a frame to the selected area of the wall where the screen will be.
When it comes to the color you should use, opinions are varied. But, gray color may be the best if you want to capture all of the colors well. Not dark gray, naturally, but it should lean more towards gray than pearly white. Gray absorbs light a lot better than white, and all of the colors should project well.
2. Outdoor Fabric
Outdoor fabric is another material that works well, and that won’t put a dent in your budget. It’s sturdy, will last a long time, and you will get plenty of use out of it. This material isn’t specifically meant for projector screens, but it’s a good option for many reasons.
A type of fabric called Tyvek is another excellent choice since it’s just as durable and cheap while being readily available. Both of these materials are easy to move around, they won’t absorb water — making them perfect for outdoor conditions — and it’s very popular as an option for outdoor movie screens.
There are white materials, but you should steer away from completely white and go for a lightly tinted version to fully enjoy the colors. Outdoor fabric can work well when draped over something since stretching it might make it creasy, thus ruining the quality of the picture.
Your old white bedsheets may not be the best option on this list, but they are the cheapest and simplest when you’re in a pinch and want to create a fun night for everyone. Keep in mind that this will probably not work permanently, but it will work well on the go.
One of the reasons this is not always feasible is that the bedsheets are usually thin and light and will move around as the wind blows. As a bonus, the light from the projector could fly right through them, making the movie-watching experience worse. You may see more of what’s behind the screen than what’s on the screen.
With the obvious flaw of the picture quality in mind, this can still be a nice solution. For example, if you have family or friends coming over and want to do something different, or are you hosting a sleepover.
To improve picture quality, you can simply add something black and sturdy behind the bed sheet screen. You can also fold the sheet or double it up so that it’s a bit less see-through. Iron the sheet well and stretch it tightly while pressing the corners at the bottom with stones, full water bottles, or anything similar.
You can stretch it across the clothing line with clothing pins. Just understand that this is not your best choice, but rather something that will help you in a pinch.
4. Blackout Cloth
Blackout cloth is probably one of the best materials for outdoor screens, although it’s more commonly used for indoor theaters. Still, it strongly resembles the material used in actual cinemas, so it’s a good choice. It’s flat, durable, and it will show the movie nicely.
This type of screen material is also very cheap, which is great for everyone on a tighter budget. The surface itself will be matte white, and there are different sizes to choose from, so determine what you need before you dive in and buy one.
This screen will capture all of the colors well, and the movie will be easy to see from all angles, which is important if you plan on having larger groups of people for movie nights.
The ambient light should be controlled, though, so that the screen can really shine and show the movie properly. You will also need to build or buy a frame to go with this screen so that you can actually use it.
When installing it into the frame, you need to make sure that there are no creases or your movie watching experience will be seriously hampered.
5. Inflatable Screen
Inflatable screens (like this one on Amazon) are popular for a reason — they give you all you need in a home theatre quickly and are not that expensive, depending on the brand and size. The inflatable screens come in all shapes and sizes, so you will easily find the one that will work for you.
They usually work on both sides, which gives you variety as well. For bigger backyards and more people, an ideal option would be to get a big inflatable screen. The best thing about them is that they can be ready quickly and don’t have to DIY anything — you just blow it up and watch the movie.
You will have to fix it to the ground, though, and have a pump that will blow it up quickly. They are extremely portable, so you can take it anywhere you want — camping trips, vacations, picnics, etc.
Most of these screens are resistant to dirt or some light rain, but they won’t be completely water-resistant, so you don’t want to make it a permanent fixture in your backyard.
You can find many different options on Amazon, and most of them are really good, as long as you know what you need when it comes to the size and shape of the screen. The blower noise is something to consider, but most modern options are not that loud, and you’ll get a nice experience from them.
If you are looking for something more expensive and classy, trapeze is your best bet. This fancy material is the perfect one for outdoor movie theatres, but it does come at a higher price. It’s also high quality, though, and you will have a hard time finding something that can be just as good.
The picture quality on the trapeze is excellent, and you will get a premium watching experience regardless of other conditions. It’s durable, strong, and it will look amazing in any backyard.
Spandex is another fancier option, but it has a lot of potential. The material itself would be an interesting choice, although a good one. This stretchy material can be easily attached and detached, making it a portable option. It’s also very easy to use, durable, and with minimum chances of the picture suffering because of a crease or something similar.
You will need frames, though, and strong ones since spandex is elastic, and something sturdy is needed to hold it in place. You might also need assistance to set it up. But it’s a good choice, nevertheless.
Tarps are often used for billboards, but they are also an excellent movie screen material that can provide a good viewing experience. The material itself is vinyl, but you shouldn’t worry about the shine factor as it will not reflect a lot. It works well for large backyards.
Tarps are generally cheap, and you can find them in different sizes that will fit your backyard. A similar option is a tarpaulin, which is a cloth material and cheaper than a tarp. It’s thick and works in some cases, but the problem is that it’s quite uneven and won’t provide the best viewing experience.
How to Select the Right Material for Outdoor Projector Screens
All of these materials can seem fantastic, but the fact is that you are probably unsure of what you need in your outdoor screen material. So, let’s take a look at some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a good outdoor projector screen.
The Type of the Screen
There are several types of the screen, and you need to look at what each of them means to determine which one will work best for you.
Stretchy screens are easy to adjust to a frame, and you will have fewer problems when it comes to creases, as you can just stretch them out. If you want to make them portable, you can just attach them to a clothing line and then stretch them down and press them properly. You can also stretch them across a wall.
Firm screens will work well if you want something that can be rolled up and down or simply attach them to a wall. They don’t work well with frames because you can’t reduce blemishes and creases that easily. But, they are quite great because of the quality of the picture that they provide.
Of course, there’s an inflatable screen that is quite simple to set up, and you can easily use it.
When looking at the type of the screen, you should be aware of how you intend to use it. Some people want to attach their screen to a sturdy frame, in which case the best way to go would be stretchy. Some people want a roll-down screen that would work best with sturdier materials.
Screens can also be attached to walls and all sorts of places, so you have to focus on finding something that suits your intended use. Once you know that, it will be a lot easier to pick something.
The Color of the Screen
As mentioned, there’s a debate over the colors of the screen that you can choose. These are usually gray and white, and you’ll have to take your pick. The color mostly depends on your conditions, though.
If you can afford to watch a movie in a dark space with controlled light, you will probably enjoy white more, as it will capture the light nicely and provide excellent contrast. However, if you can’t control the light in your environment and you have some ambient light like twinkle lights or street lights, for example, you should go for a grayish screen.
Many people have very specific needs when it comes to their screens. For example, if you want to keep your loudspeakers behind the screen for that ultimate movie-watching experience, you should consider getting a perforated screen that can hide this equipment and not hamper the movie’s sound.
If you want your screen to release minimal light through the material, you can consider something with a rear projection, meaning that there’s a screen behind a screen, usually in some other color like gray.
You might want something that can withstand impact, so you should consider getting something that has that feature.
Screen size is one of the most important factors when choosing the best screen for your home outdoor theatre. But, you have to look at your ideal aspect ratio first. The best one would be 16:9 with a good resolution. This is just enough for home use, and it will give you the best results.
When you determine the size of the screen where you can get that aspect ratio, you should mark it and then look for that size of the screen. In the end, it will depend on how much space you have and the audience you have. If it’s just you and a small circle of friends, a larger screen will probably overwhelm everyone, and a smaller screen will work well.
Outdoor movie nights largely depend on the quality of the screen, so you should focus on finding the type of screen that works for you, and that will give you the ultimate movie-watching experience. Your choice will probably depend on your budget and the size of the screen and what you want.
The safest bet is an inflatable screen as it’s easy to set up, and it’s quick, best for people who don’t want to bother with constructing anything new in their backyard or deal with DIY. Of course, if you want the best option, it’s trapeze, but it comes at a higher price. Whatever you choose, make sure that it reflects your needs properly.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.