Projectors have become a popular way to watch movies without a television. The awesome thing about these devices is you can set them up virtually anywhere, as long as you have a screen.
Projector screens can be made using homemade materials. Some examples of what you can use for your display include a blank wall, a bedsheet, wrapping paper, and projector paint. Most DIY projects can be used inside or outdoors and are relatively cheap and quick to make and assemble.
Check out my top picks for home theater projector screens.
Today, we are going to look at seven cheap projector screen alternatives so you can still watch movies without investing a ton of money into an expensive projector screen. We will also discuss each options’ pros and cons so you can have a clear understanding of which option is the best choice for your needs.
What is a Projector Screen?
A projector is a device that projects images from the machine onto a surface. These devices have been around for years, but they are only recently used for everyday personal use.
A projector needs an appropriate background, or screen to display your images correctly. For the best results, your background needs to be a smooth, flat surface. You will want to be sure the surface is plain, without any type of decorations.
Lighter colored items will work than dark colors. White works best, but you can use a colored material if it is not too dark. Pick something pale but bright, so the images are not washed out.
DIY Projector Screens
Check out my list of the best DIY projector screen options.
Many people prefer to do DIY projector screens rather than spend a bunch of money on one that is pre-manufactured. Most DIY projects are easy to do and do not cost much money.
Some screens can be made with items you already have lying around your house. We have multiple suggestions for homemade projector screens using everyday household items.
Projector screens can be set up indoors, or you can assemble them outside for a movie under the stars. Depending on your design, setup can be as quick as positioning your projector, or it may take some time.
Some people prefer to set their projector screen upon a mount. When they are ready to use it, they can simply position the screen where they want, and they are ready to go. This option works great if you are using a bedsheet or wrapping paper.
But there are also options for permanent screens, such as painting your wall with specific paint designed for screens. Or you can apply this paint to a solid surface that can store away when you are not using it.
Cheap Projector Screen Alternatives
Here are some cheap alternatives to projector screens. Choose the one that suits your requirement and budget.
1. Blank Wall
One of the easiest DIY options you can use for a projector screen is a bare wall. This option is the most cost-effective solution possible, and it’s incredibly versatile.
You can set your projector up anywhere you go, and it won’t cost a penny. And an even more impressive feature of using a blank wall as your screen is that you don’t have to worry about your image being cut off due to size.
Your image can be as large as you want, within the boundaries of your projector, that is. When you use a real projector screen, you will have limits to the size of your images. And let’s face it, we’d all prefer a giant screen over a small one.
However, if you decide you want to use a bare wall for your screen, there are some factors to consider. For the best image quality, you’d do best with a solid white or light-colored wall.
While a blank wall works excellent as an impromptu projector screen anywhere you go, it isn’t going to give you the best picture quality.
Many people find that using a blank wall results in a dark picture that might be difficult to view certain scenes. And the quality will lack what you would get out of a real projector.
You also want to be sure there isn’t any type of decorations, such as pictures or words on the wall. It needs to be completely blank.
Otherwise, your images will be competing with what’s already there. What this equals will be parts of your movie won’t display over the background.
Another issue that can affect the quality of your images is texture. For the best results, you want to use an entirely smooth wall. Textured walls can cause your image to appear grainy or distorted.
If you want to use your wall as a permanent projector screen, you may consider sanding it down to remove all texture.
However, this is a permanent solution that requires a lot of labor-intensive work, so it won’t be a solution for everyone.
A simple bed sheet is an effective and cheap solution to use as a projector screen. Read my article to know about the advantages and disadvantages of this.
The great thing about using a sheet as your screen, besides the fact that you probably already have it at home, is that it can be used anywhere.
When you use a sheet for your background, you may notice that your images aren’t as bright as they would be with other experiences. If you want a vivid picture, you may want to consider other alternatives.
You will need to consider some factors if you are going to be using a sheet as your projector screen.
Chances are, you already have a spare sheet lying around your home. And if you don’t, you can buy one for a low price so you won’t spend as much as you would if you purchased a real screen.
To create your screen using a sheet, you can hang it up anywhere you want to watch your movie. You can place your sheet over a bare wall or build a frame that can work as a stand.
Sheets work great as a travel screen because you can fold or roll them up for easy transporting. And the setup doesn’t take long, so you can be ready to watch a flick in just a few minutes.
The thread count of your sheet will play a significant factor in how well your images will display. The lower the count, the thinner the layer, which means more light will filter through, disrupting the displayed images.
You also want your sheet to be of thicker material. If your cloth is thin as a single layer, you can make up for that by folding it double.
Or you can also choose to paint the background behind the sheet a dark color so light can’t bleed through the fabric. But most people want to use a darker colored fabric to place behind the layer. You could also use a piece of cardboard.
When using a sheet for your projector screen, you want to be as picky about the color as you would if it was going on your bed. Look for a plain sheet without any patterns or decorations, as this would be too much noise for your images.
A white sheet gives you the brightest images, but you will lose out on the darker parts of the picture. What this means is you won’t see the entire movie without missing some parts. If your projector is bright, you may not have a good picture.
Gray screens allow for better dark tones, but it also keeps the rest of your picture darker. Your projector must display bright images.
One of the biggest problems you can face with using a sheet as your projector screen is wrinkles. If your cloth is not entirely flat and smooth, it can affect the way your images are shown.
For the best results, iron your sheet before hanging it up. When you’re storing your sheet screen, roll it up instead of folding it, so you have fewer creases.
You also want to be sure you hang your sheet up stiff and tight, so there’s no movement. Bungee cords work great for stability. Wind or any type of disruption can distort your images.
3. Wrapping Paper
Wrapping paper is another product that you frequently have just lying around your house. If you don’t, you can certainly pick some up for a low price at any store.
You want to be sure you pick a thick, sturdy wrapping paper with a glossy white bottom. Do not use wrapping paper if it is thin and tears easily, or if the white side is dull or unshiny.
To use wrapping paper as your screen, tape appropriately sized pieces to a wooden frame or onto a piece of cardboard. The issue with using wrapping paper as a projector screen is that it is incredibly flimsy so it can tear easily.
A slight wind will cause rips or tears in the paper, distorting your final picture. Any damage to the paper, even just a wrinkle, will show up on your screen.
And you absolutely cannot get this type of screen wet, as water will damage the material, which makes it limited to use outdoors or around areas where there’s water.
Window shades can also be used as a makeshift projector screen. Roll down shades are a great option because they can pull double duty and keep your room dark while displaying your movie.
Using window shades, you will get a decent picture quality, but don’t expect it to stand up to the high quality you would get using a real screen. You’ll need either white or pale gray shades.
This option is more pricey than some of the others at around $25 to $50. But the final costs will still be lower than what you would spend on an actual screen. For the best results, you need to ensure your shades overlap your windows by at least 6″ so no light bleeds through the sides.
And since most people prefer to have window treatments, that money is well spent. When you’re not watching a movie, your shades will still be functional by providing you privacy.
Blackout shades are a mix of shades and blackout cloth. These shades will keep all the light out of your room when closed, keeping your room cooler and helping you sleep better. And because they’re blacked out, they also work best as a projector screen.
5. Blackout Cloth
Blackout cloth is an excellent material to use for a DIY projector screen. This material is specifically designed to block out light, making it an attractive backdrop for movies.
This material is thick and sturdy, so you don’t have to worry that it will rip or tear if there’s a lot of movement. Once you’ve pulled the material tight against the frame, it holds tight, so there’s no wrinkles or creases.
The front of the blackout cloth is smooth while the backside is made of thick foam. This foam is what prevents light from bleeding through the fabric and interfering with your images. Some of these materials are heavy, so you may need assistance during assembly.
Some people use blackout cloth as a second layer behind their white sheet screen. We’ve mentioned that light can often filter through the threads of your sheets when you use a sheet, interfering with your image.
6. Picture Backdrop
Another great option to use as a projector screen is a photo backdrop. These backgrounds are typically white, with finished edges and a non-reflective surface.
Light cannot shine through a photographer backdrop, making it ideal to use for a projector screen. This material is sturdy enough to be moved around without being damaged, so it’s great for watching movies on the go. You can take it camping or set it up in your backyard.
And it usually comes rolled up, so it’s easy to transport. Set up is pretty simple, depending on which product you buy. Some are already mounted, so all you have to do is unroll it. Others may require you to set up your frame.
7. Projector Screen Paint
Projector screen paint (read my article) is one of the best options for creating a projector screen. But it is also the most expensive option on this list. You can apply this paint to multiple types of materials, including plastic, particleboard, cardboard, or even your wall.
This type of paint is specifically designed to create a projector screen. And you get great quality images similar to what you would expect from an actual screen.
There are different paint colors and glosses available, so you want to know what type you need. We’ve broken down the best recommendations for gloss and color.
For the best results for your projector screen, you’ll want to use flat or matte paint, as a glossy would be too reflective. Semi-gloss is also not recommended.
Flat or matte finishes have a duller appearance, so they reflect less light. You will know if your finish is glossy or flat based on how the walls look when light shines on them. If your walls reflect the light from your windows or light fixtures, you probably have a glossy finish.
Since a projector uses light to display the images from the machine to your screen, it’s essential to ensure your paint isn’t shiny and reflective. Otherwise, your picture can appear washed out or too dark to make out certain tones.
When it comes to the color, you will first need to consider the brightness of your projector. In rooms with little ambient light, a projector with 1500 lumen will suffice for a good image.
But in bright rooms where it’s hard to block out the ambient light, you’d want a projector that has a higher lumen, such as 2500 or higher. For gray paint, you’ll need a projector with lumens higher than 3000.
The ambient light in the room also affects which paint color you should choose. For bright rooms with lots of ambient light, white paint would work best. White can reflect enough light to keep your images from becoming dull or washed out.
But gray screens work better with a projector that puts out more than 3000 lumens. Gray paint would work in rooms where there is less light, as it is dark enough to not reflect all the ambient light in the room, from sources such as the walls or ceiling.
Projectors can be an expensive device to purchase, so it makes sense that many people prefer to use DIY projects as cheap projector screen alternatives. In this article, we have given you seven great and simple solutions to design your own screen.
Each of these options will allow you to enjoy projector movies, regardless of if you are indoors or outside. However, there are some downsides to using a homemade projector screen. The biggest problem is that in most cases, you won’t have excellent picture quality.
Out of all the options we have listed, you will get the best results using a screen made of blackout cloth or projects that use projector paint. Using a sheet should be your last resort. Although cost-effective, sheets often wash out most of the images. Happy streaming!
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.