You Can Use a Sheet as a Projector Screen, but Should You?

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Use a Sheet as a Projector Screen

It only takes a couple of seconds and a Google search to find thousands of results and suggestions relating to DIY bed sheet projectors. The question isn’t can you use a sheet as a projector screen. The question is, should you use a projector screen?

Using a Sheet as a Projector Screen

If you are looking for an outdoor projector screen, or a screen for your home theater system, a bed sheet as a projector screen will not produce quality or even the standard results you are looking for.

Check out my article on the best outdoor projector screens before you read on.

There is a common misconception, mostly found online, where people believe that this is the answer and some kind of miraculous solution for their projector screen. Let us be very clear, it is not.

Track with us for a second. We trust that you have factored in the costs of investing the time and money in setting up and putting together a top-notch entertainment system. At this point, why jeopardize the most essential part of the experience, the image quality, by projecting it onto a bed sheet?

If you are looking for a crystal clear and beautiful image, we hate to be the ones to tell you, a bed sheet is not going to cut it.

Material, Gain and Ambient Light Rejection

Before we get into why a sheet (or any at-home DIY screen projector projects) are not great options, let’s first discuss the technology and perks that both average and high-end projector screens provide us with. Most of these “perks” are related to projector screen material and lighting features.

Let’s Talk About Gain

Every screen has a measure of gain, or how much light the screen reflects in comparison to a uniform reflective surface (also referred to as Lambertian surface).

In a nutshell, a screen that has a gain of 2, in essence, reflects twice as much focused light than a screen that has a gain of 1.

So why is this important? Gain is important because it measures the amount of focused light that is being reflected off the screen.

Where a perfect Lambertian surface would normally spread and scatter the light in all directions, the gain of a screen indicates how focused that light is being projected.

Ideally, this projection is towards you, the viewer, and more specifically, your eyeballs! 

The gain does have its downsides, however. Remember, you are no longer dispersing light uniformly in all directions (it is focused now).

Due to this, screens with high gain sometimes make it difficult for people sitting on the sides to see the image.

The image may appear dimmer and not as bright, as the light is aimed more towards people sitting in the center.

Thinking about your desired screen width, in conjunction with the capacity of your projector should allow you to come to a decent happy medium.

Let’s Talk About Ambient Light Rejection

Ambient light rejection, or ALR, refers to a screen feature that prevents ambient light from washing out a projected image.

Technically speaking, a screen does not reject ambient light, but rather either absorb it or divert the light away from the viewer’s field of vision.

So what is ambient light? We are glad you asked. Ambient light is any atmospheric lighting, this can be either inside or outside, naturally or artificially, that can threaten to wash out or dull the image on the projector.

This can be in the form of lights coming through the windows, skylights from outside, wall or ceiling lights, lamps, or candles.

Light-colored walls and ceilings can also contribute to ambient light problems, and negatively affect your movie-watching experience.

As you can imagine, most home theater and multimedia systems are set up in homes that use the room for multi-purposes. Most commonly the living room.

Since most rooms do not have 100% control of ambient lighting that occurs, this is where ALR steps in.

Let’s Talk About Projector Screen Materials

Read my article on the best projector screen materials if you want to know which are the best alternatives.

Given the many projector screen options we have discussed so far, by now we should be anticipating that not all projector screen materials are created equal! If you were thinking along these lines, you are correct. 

The absolute most basic projector screen type is vinyl. Vinyl screens consist of a smooth material that has a reflective coated surface on it.

Then we have perforated and woven screens. These are used if you are opting to mount speakers behind the screen itself. This would be a great option for those looking to hide the speakers and give yourself a bit more leeway in multimedia set up. The perk of a perforated and woven screen is that the voices of the movie or film you are watching will come through the speaker (hence the perforation in the material).

With any perforated and woven screen material, however, you will lose some light. Depending on the distance and angle in relation to the screen, you may even see a bit of the woven texture in the screen material.

Due to this, it is a trade-off on what you want to achieve in your home multimedia set up.

There are options for rigid screens and ambient light rejecting screens.

To pinpoint the screen material for best for you, take into account the amount of lighting that will be in the room your multimedia is set up in, the size of your screen, and the capacity of your projector.

This leads us to our next point.

Projector Capacity and Screen Material Recommendations

Here are a few tips for you to decide on the surface of your screen based on your projector capacity.

For a projector that has a resolution of 1080P or less, going with a projector screen material that is smooth is going to work well.

If you are using a projector that is 4K, using a screen that has a grittier texture will work best. This is because a gritty projector screen will allow you to capture more detail and depth that the higher resolution projector offers.

Also read: Acoustically Transparent Screens (Guide) 

Your Projector Screen Size Does Matter

The size of your projector screen size depends on a few things. The layout of your room, the distance of the projector from the screen, and the actual capacity of your projector.

If one opts for a bed sheet, a one size fits all approach just won’t work! Usually, most people are under the impression that the bigger the screen, the better. 

If you are dealing with a projector whose capacity is 1080P or below, placing the projector at least 15ft away from the screen should work well.

If you are dealing with a 4K projector, placing the projector at least 10 feet away from the screen should work.

Screen Color Options

When we are talking about projector screen color options, generally speaking, there are three options: white, gray, and black. The main effect of the screen color is on the contrast of the image you watching.

A white screen will display the brightest picture, however, the contrast between light and dark will suffer. A white screen is a great choice if the projector you are using is not throwing a very bright picture.

A gray screen is better at handling darker tones, however, it will not allow the images to get as bright. If you are opting for a gray screen, you want to ensure the projector you are using is capable of displaying a brighter picture.

One of the biggest perks with gray screens is that they can handle ambient light the best. This means that this screen color would be better suited for a room filled with a lot of windows and natural light.

Reasons Why Not to Use a Bed sheet as a Projector Screen

Once your multimedia set up is (almost) complete, image and picture quality is not the component were skimming down on costs should be compromised. 

As we have discussed, getting the most out of your projector is almost solely dependent on the image quality. Keeping this in mind, let us take a closer look at the reasons as to why a bed sheet for a projector screen would make for a not so good idea.

If a tight budget is a driving force behind your bed sheet idea, we have economical screen suggestions that you can check out! We suggest that the bed sheet idea should not even be considered.

The Multimedia Setup Will Look Cheap

When you invite your pals over to watch a game or the latest blockbuster film, the quality will just not be there.

Sure the surround sound will be amazing and 3D, but if you want to enjoy the movie in its full glory and color, then the result will only be as good as the equipment you are using: a bed sheet.

For example, if you’ve invested in a 4K projector, the detail and depth that you would be able to get out of the high resolution the projector offers when displayed on a gritty material will be 100% loss in the sheet.

The splendor of the graphics, animation, and CGI will just not translate onto the sheet at all.

If your pals see a bed sheet where the image is being projected onto instead of a projector, their impression of your multimedia setup will be greatly diminished. 

Consequently, no one will be able to enjoy a crystal clear image, but rather only hear crystal clear sounds. Not exactly the results that a top-notch setup is looking to offer.

If one opts for a bed sheet, choosing the right color of the screen for the room would be nonexistent.

For example, a gray screen is more suitable for a room with a lot of natural light exposure and windows. 

Opting for a regular white sheet would forgo the perks of diminishing ambient lighting that a gray screen provides.

In this scenario, the resulting images would be virtually invisible.

Light Will Pass Through the Bed sheet

Once your home theater room or patio is set up, ready to start projecting your favorite blockbuster film, you will be surprised at the image quality. And, not in a good way. Remember how we talked about gain and ambient light rejecting? 

When a movie is projected onto a bed sheet screen, light from the projector will pass through the sheet. The resulting image will be something that will essentially look transparent, and extremely difficult to see.

This is perhaps not what you envisioned showing off to your friends. Trust us, we are here to help.

Instead, you will want a screen with the perks of gain and ALR, not something that will let light pass through altogether.

Picture Quality Issues

When it comes to picture quality issues as a result of using a bed sheet, transparency issues are not the only things we have to contend with.

Bed sheets by nature come with wrinkles, creases, and folds. When you are expecting a beautiful and crystal clear images, the movie is going to look odd, even if you can iron out the creases. This will be due to undulations in the bed sheet material.

If your theater setup is in an outside patio where you are planning to project your movies, you also have the wind to contend with. Even the most gentle of winds can cause a ripple effect in the sheet.

What If I Paint My Wall for My Projector Screen

If you haven’t already, I suggest you read my article on the type and color of paint best suited for projector screens.

Those who are thinking about hanging a bed sheet as their projector screens will almost always simultaneously consider painting a wall.

The downside to painting a wall, at least in our experience, has been that you can always see the texture of the wall along with the image projected onto it. Despite this, many tend to want to go down this avenue.

One thing we will note is that this is a cheap option nonetheless. But be forewarned. To pull this off, you need an extremely smooth surface.

When we say extremely smooth, we heavily emphasize and imply sanding down the wall, painting, sanding down again, and painting again.

The color on the wall has to be a neutral white color. Any tint on the paint will also taint the image.

Our recommendation is to grab a few samples of varying shades of white and painting a small area to see which will look the best. This is the only way you will truly know what your image will look like on certain shades of white paint.

However, our thought process is that going with down the painting route is also not the best of options.

Purchasing an excellent portable or hanging screen, which we will get to in a short while, is even cheaper than the tools and utilities required to paint!

I Am on a Tight Budget, What Are the Cheap Alternatives?

If a tight budget is the main source for your bed sheet dilemma, let us reassure you that it does not have to be this way!

We feel as though if you have gone through the trouble of inviting guests, getting all the high tech gear set up, then a bed sheet should not be front and center (literally).

 You want your guests to still enjoy a movie in widescreen format, with clear and crisp image quality.

Portable and Hanging Screens

You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that portable standing or hanging screens (Amazon links) are very affordable.

The average price for a portable standing screen will be anywhere from $30 to $100.

The average price of a hanging screen is anywhere from $70 to $260. For example, a 4K Ultra HD 3D screen (Amazon link) will tend to lean more towards the more expensive side.

Doesn’t the sound of the image quality sound much better than a bed sheet?

Airblown Movie Screens

Airblown and inflatable movie screens (Amazon link) are all the rage. At least if you want to project a 12 foot X 12-foot movie in your patio or your home theater room. Some projectors even accommodate 16 feet!

The average inflatable projector screen is resilient and sturdy. For the most part, inflatable projector screens can withstand varying weather conditions, and most come fully equipped with support ropes, similar to pitching a tent during camping.

Inexpensive Projector Screen Models

The inexpensive models may not provide many of the features such as attractive aesthetics and motorization to retract the screen when not in use.

They may also not provide the gain or ambient light rejection that is found in the high-end projector screens.

However, these inexpensive projector screen models offer smoother images than do the bed sheet and paint on the wall options.

Let’s Look at the Big Picture

To get the best image possible and to create a great home theater experience for you and your guests, pairing your projector with the right screen is key. 

Now that we’ve covered several reasons why both using a sheet and contemplating painting a wall are not good screen options for your multimedia home theater system, its time to look for a great screen for your needs!

After all, all eyes will be on it, as it is the center of attention!