If you’ve just purchased a video projector, you may be wondering whether (or not) it’s necessary to purchase a screen as well, or if a bare white wall will suffice?
The goal is to get as clear a projected image as possible. High definition quality is key, if you want the ultimate viewing experience. Therefore, you should be aware of the difference(s) between projected images on a wall versus a screen.
What (if anything) is the difference between a screen versus a wall when using a projector? While you can use a bare wall to project images, the quality is not as good as when you use a screen. A wall does not reflect light as well as a screen, which can negatively affect the clarity of the images being projected. A wall surface is also not as smooth as a screen and can distort or blur projected images.
Check out my top picks for home theater projector screens.
Now that you know there is a difference between images projected on a wall versus a screen, let’s take a closer look at this in more detail below.
We’ll discuss how they’re different and which is better. We’ll also look at which paint color is best when using a projector on a wall and if ‘projector paint’ is a good alternative. We’ll even outline how to make your own video projection ‘screen’!
So, if you’re ready to learn more about the difference(s) between a wall and a screen when using a video projector, then let’s started!
Projection on Wall Vs Screen – Which is Better?
Is a Projector Screen Better than a Wall? I would say the answer is ‘yes’, a projection screen is better than a bare wall.
A screen provides the best quality and highest definition possible. Light reflection is the key and a wall simply cannot match that of a screen. An ultra-smooth surface is what reflects light best and since most walls have flaws, cracks or bumps, projection screens are far superior in this aspect.
Projector screens also have a special coating on them which increases their light reflecting abilities. A typical wall doesn’t have this coating (unless you plan to sand it, prime it and paint it with a special ‘projector paint’ beforehand). Therefore, images projected on a bare wall, even if its white, won’t be near as clear or bright as those shown on a projector screen.
Does a Projector Screen Make a Difference?
Based on the information above, I would agree that a projector screen does indeed make a difference when it comes the quality and clarity of the images presented.
The two contributing factors which affect how a projected image appears on a wall (as opposed to a screen) include both the color and the texture of the wall. If the color of the viewing area is too dark or unreflective and the wall is bumpy or flawed, the projected image will be poor or ‘blurry’.
If you absolutely must use a wall instead of a screen, you need to ensure that it’s as smooth as possible. Taking sandpaper or a power sander to the wall will likely be necessary.
Priming the wall and then painting it with projector paint is also recommended. Outlining the projection area with a dark frame will also help. We’ll discuss this in more detail below under the subheading entitled How to Make Your Own Projection Screen.
Can You Use a White Wall for a Projector?
While you can use a white wall instead of a screen for a projector, it’s not ideal and won’t give you the best picture quality possible.
Projection screens come coated with optical enhancers that increase light reflection. A plain white wall, unless it’s painted with special projector paint, doesn’t reflect enough light to create the high definition images which are indeed possible with a projector.
What is the Best Color to Paint a Wall for a Projector?
If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my article on the best type and color of paint for a projector screen. It is highly descriptive and one of the most popular articles on Home Theater Academy.
You may think white is the best color to paint a wall being used for a projector. Trust me, that’s not always the case! Choosing a white-grey or light grey paint instead, especially if your projector produces more than 3,500 lumens is often better.
A black wall, on the other hand, is not recommended, since black is essentially the absence of color or ‘light’ and won’t reflect images properly. They’ll appear dark or dull, which is not good at all!
Some people still support the notion that a bright white wall is the only way to go when it comes to video projector viewing.
If the ambient light in the room can be fully controlled and the projector is equipped with a high contrast ratio, then sure. Or, if you plan to view in an area with no ambient light whatsoever, like that of a traditional movie theater, then a white wall is better. The choice is ultimately yours, depending on your circumstances and personal preferences!
Is Projector Paint as Good as a Screen?
Projector screen paint is a great alternative to an actual screen. Best of all, it’s relatively cheap compared to purchasing a brand-new projection screen.
It can also be used to paint a wall in any dimension (so you need not worry about the aspect ratio). As well, it provides a high definition surface on which to view any projected image, whether it be movies, slides or photographs.
What is the Best Projector Screen Wall Paint?
Choosing the right projector screen wall paint is easy, so long as you choose one that has more ‘pros’ than ‘cons’, provides the brightest possible light reflection results and supports both Ultra HD and 4K imagery.
It should also be easy to apply (preferably with a built-in primer to reduce time and money), environmentally safe and cover a large surface area.
The top 4, in my opinion, include (but aren’t limited to) the following:
Projector Central carried out extensive research to find the best paint below $100. They found that the Sherwin-Williams ProClassic produced picture quality equivalent to a high end projector screen.
You can read all about the research here.
Paint on Screen S1 Screen Plus (G005)
This projector screen paint (see it on Amazon) offers a wider coverage (up to 240 inches of wall space), which provides for a much larger viewing area. It works great on drywall with no additional preparation required.
The image will be bright (but not too bright) and support both Ultra HD and 4K resolution as well as 160 degree viewing angle. The disadvantage is that it’s one of the most expensive brands currently on the market.
Digital Image Ultra White High Definition Screen Paint
A single can of this high-definition projector screen paint (Amazon) will cover a 16-foot by 10-foot wall surface. It’s easy to apply, safe (free of VOC or volatile organic compounds) and can be either sprayed or rolled on.
Two coats are all you need to make your existing white wall 50% brighter for optimal light reflection. The only downside is that it’s more expensive than some other brands.
Ultra HD Screen Paint for Home Theater and Commercial Screens
This projector screen paint (Amazon link) provides for a 50% brighter surface with no hot spot reflection to alter the image quality. Watching long movies is no problem with this high definition product!
It easily supports 4K resolution, however, not 6K or 8K. It’s safe to use and can be rolled on or spayed on. The main disadvantage is that it’s prone to environmental effects and therefore should only be used indoors.
Do yourself a favor and check them out these paints today! They’re the easiest, most affordable alternative to an actual projector screen.
Best of all, they can be delivered right to your front door in as little as 2 days! You have nothing to lose (and everything to gain) by looking into it!
Is Black or White Better for a Projector Screen?
When most people think of projector screens, the color white immediately comes to mind.
And, while white is generally the most common, black projector screens are the newest trend. The reason being that black screens provide a sharper image, especially in areas with plenty of ambient light. By reflecting the ambient light in a room, black screens provide high-quality imagery superior to many white screens.
If you want the best of both worlds, why not consider purchasing a grey projector screen! They too absorb and reflect ambient light, maintaining better black levels than a white screen.
In short, whites stay bright white and blacks remain deep black for optimal picture quality. Assuming, of course, that your projector has enough lumens output to support this.
Can You Use a White Tarp for a Projector Screen?
A white or off-white tarpaulin or ‘tarp’ is often used as a projector screen nowadays. However, the thickness of the fibers along with the uneven surface of the material doesn’t provide for high definition picture quality compared to other materials like blackout cloth, for example.
If you’re on a tight budget, this material will do, temporarily, until you can upgrade to a better option.
What is the Best Material for Making a Projector Screen?
While there are different options when it comes to material for projector screens, blackout cloth is one of the best! It’s made from opaque fabric that’s foam backed and designed to block or ‘black out’ incoming (sun)light.
Commonly used to protect fancy curtains from sun damage, this material will reflect ambient light in a room better than a white tarp, for example.
You can purchase blackout material online or at most fabric supply stores. It is often sold by the yard with prices ranging from $5 to $50, depending on the type and quality. While this material can be pricey, especially for the high-end varieties, it’s well worth the money when it comes to reflecting the highest standard of projected imagery.
How to Make Your Own Projector Screen
If you enjoy ‘big screen’ movies and would like to experience them at home (on a budget), then making your own projector screen is the way to go!
One of the easiest ways to do this by hanging a tarp or blackout material on the wall or making a painted screen. The painted screen method is outlined below and includes the following steps:
Step 1: Gather All Materials
- For this project, you will need: sandpaper; wet and/or dry wiping cloth; primer; paint (one color for your wall and another color for your screen); roller brush; pencil; painter’s tape and black velvet tape.
Step 2: Prepare the Wall
- Decide which wall you plan to hang the projector screen on and prepare it.
- Sand any rough spots or imperfections on the wall.
- Wipe down the wall with a cloth to remove any lingering dust or debris.
- Paint the entire wall with primer first and let it dry completely (12 to 24 hours).
Step 3: Map Out the Screen Area
- Once the primer is dry, you should map out the dimensions of the projection screen before you paint the wall.
- Turn on the projector and position it to the exact spot where you want the image to be displayed on the wall.
- Take a pencil and mark the inside area (all the way around) of the border where the projected image will be.
Step 4: Paint the Wall
- Paint the wall around the border leaving the screen area primed only. Be sure to use a non-reflective paint in a shade darker than the color you’ve chosen for the screen – which should be a white-grey or bright white, satin finish for best results.
- Use painter’s tape to mark the outside border of the screen and prevent the paint from running.
- Let the paint dry completely (24 to 48 hours).
Step 5: Paint the Screen
- Once the wall paint is dry, begin to paint the screen itself.
- Using white-grey or bright white satin finish paint, apply the first coat using a small paint roller.
- Let the first coat dry completely and then apply a second coat.
Step 6: Add a Screen Frame
- For a finishing touch, add a simple black frame to the painted screen area.
- Use black velvet tape and place a smooth, even strip along each side of the screen.
- Make sure the tape is laying smooth and flat on the edges and that the frame is straight level all the way around.
Now you’re ready to start watching. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the show! And remember, keep wall lights directed away from the screen.
What Should I Consider When Choosing a Projector Screen?
When choosing (or making) a projector screen, you must ask yourself the following questions:
- Where am I planning to put the screen (indoors or outdoors, upstairs or downstairs)?
- How much money can I afford on material to make the screen?
- How much time can I spend on making/setting up the screen?
- What type of resolution do I want/need (Ultra HD, 3D, 4K, etc.)?
- How important is picture quality to me?
The answers to these questions will help you determine whether you need a projector screen or if a plain white wall will suffice.
If money is an issue and you don’t particularly care about the quality of the imagery, then a bare wall is all you need. However, if you want the ultimate viewing experience (either indoor or outdoor) with highest definition possible, then you must invest in a screen.
Also read: Acoustically Transparent Screens (Guide)
To conclude, you can use a bare white wall with a projector, but the image quality and clarity won’t be as good as when you use a screen.
Canvas-like surfaces are the best! A wall simply can’t reflect enough light to create high definition imagery projection. As well, a wall surface is not as smooth as a screen and can distort or blur projected images.
Applying ‘projector paint’ to a pre-primed wall is an easy and affordable solution, if you choose not to buy or make a screen.
Hopefully the information contained in this article has been both informative and helpful. Good luck and happy viewing!
Also check out my recommended projector screens.
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.