Choosing a suitable outdoor projector screen is an essential component for a quality home theater experience, but it can be quite expensive.
Fortunately, there are numerous projector screen alternatives you can make inexpensively with some basic materials and a little creativity.
So, if you want to save money and create your own projector screen for a backyard movie theater, keep reading for our top 10 cheap DIY projector screen alternatives for outdoor movies!
What Can I Use for a Projector Screen?
1. The Side of Your House
An inexpensive and easy option for outdoor movie projection is to use a plain, white surface on the exterior of your house.
This option requires no extra effort or expense. Simply project your movie onto a bare wall and voila!
It’s worth considering that the quality of the projected image on a wall might be influenced by various factors.
For instance, consider the reflectiveness and texture of the surface.
Walls that are dark or have patterns may not reflect the full light of the projector, resulting in poor image quality with reduced detail.
For optimal results, project onto a solid, white surface, which will reflect the light and produce a bright, clear image.
Additionally, the texture of the wall should be as smooth as possible to mimic the experience of a projector screen.
Even tiny bumps and crevices on the wall can cause shadows and distort the projected image.
Therefore, it is best to find a wall that is both solid white and even in texture to create an ideal projector surface.
If a suitable wall cannot be found, painting it may be a viable option.
2. Projector Screen Paint
When using walls as a projector screen, there is an issue that arises. Ordinary paint is not compatible with projectors and can lead to dull and unclear images.
To counteract this problem, you need to use projector screen paint, which is specifically designed to improve your viewing experience.
Before buying this kind of paint, it’s essential to make sure that your wall is as even as possible. This can be accomplished by using sandpaper to smooth the surface of the wall.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to select the appropriate paint.
Different paint finishes can greatly impact the quality of your projection, so it’s essential to choose a finish that doesn’t reflect light too strongly while also maintaining color vibrancy.
We recommend using satin paint as it is one of the best paints for projector screens.
Paint color is another essential factor to consider.
White, black, and gray are the most frequently used colors for screens. However, the best projector screen paint color for you depends on the lighting of your projection area.
After selecting the perfect paint color, learning the perfect paint mixing formula will help you paint your wall correctly as an alternative to a traditional projector screen.
3. Blackout Cloth
Another cost-effective material to use as an outdoor projector screen alternative is blackout cloth.
This material is designed to block light. It has a smooth front and a layer of thick foam at the back, which prevents light from interfering with the images.
Blackout cloth is durable and captures colors well, making it ideal for larger groups of people during movie nights.
This type of screen material is also reasonably priced, making it an excellent choice for those on a tight budget.
Blackout cloth from Carl’s Place is highly recommended as a great projector screen alternative.
However, you need to build or buy a frame for the screen and make sure there are no creases when installing it.
Here are two helpful videos that show you how to DIY your own alternative projector screen on a budget using blackout cloth.
While the projector screens featured in the videos are installed indoors, it’s worth noting that blackout cloth can also be used effectively for outdoor screenings.
4. A Bed Sheet
If you’re looking for a projector screen alternative that offers more flexibility, using a sheet is a great option.
Not only is it cost-effective, but you can easily move it from wall to wall. With a sheet, you can project onto any wall, regardless of its color, pattern, or texture.
This means finding the right sheet is often easier than finding the right wall.
Additionally, sheets are typically very smooth, and you can easily find a solid white sheet almost anywhere.
The challenge with using a sheet as a projector screen is hanging it securely to avoid wrinkles, folds, and movement that could ruin the image.
One way to do this is to stretch the sheet across a clothing line using clothespins and weigh down the corners at the bottom with stones or full water bottles.
When selecting a sheet, opt for a thicker one to prevent the light from shining through.
You can also improve the picture quality by adding something black and sturdy, such as cardboard, behind the sheet or doubling it up with a white sheet overlaying a black one to make it less see-through.
This video guides you through the process of setting up your own sheet projector screen.
5. A Tarp
A tarp is a great alternative option if you want to make a large outdoor projector screen.
Similar to other fabrics, a white tarp will provide you with the best viewing experience possible.
For optimal results, it is recommended to utilize a white tarp that has a matte finish or apply a layer of matte paint on top of the tarp.
Avoid using shiny white tarps as they may cause glare and reduce the picture quality.
To achieve the best possible image, it’s recommended to use a white tarp that has a black blockout layer on the back.
This way, you can place it against a dark wall and the dark layer will prevent any light from coming through the back of the screen and impacting the image quality.
Alternatively, you can buy a tarp that already has a black layer attached to the back. Understanding how to get the best image quality from a white tarp screen can help you get the best performance from a white tarp screen for outdoor projection.
My Tarp offers a range of white 16 oz block-out vinyl tarps in various sizes and price ranges, ensuring a flawless outdoor movie experience tailored to your needs.
Tyvek is another great alternative material for your outdoor projector screens.
It is a synthetic material that is cheap, lightweight, and strong, which makes it portable for outdoor movie theaters.
The material is available in large sizes, making it ideal if you are looking to create large screens with little expense, especially for drive-in movie theaters.
Tyvek is also a very durable material since it is waterproof, so you don’t have to worry whether it will hold up well in inclement weather.
Additionally, Tyvek reflects a lot of light and has no seams, which can cause distortions in the image.
However, one side of Tyvek is usually printed with its logo, which this tutorial suggests is a possible problem for rear projection, but it didn’t affect front projection.
Another downside is that Tyvek is usually sold on a large scale. Therefore, you might want to contact a construction project or contractor who might have some leftover material for your personal use.
You can also reach out to Material Concept, an authorized distributor of DuPont™ Tyvek®, to inquire about Tyvek material that doesn’t have printed logos on it, which is suitable for both front and rear projection.
Spandex is an intriguing material that can be utilized for an outdoor projector screen.
Its ability to stretch out makes it an excellent option for a portable setup, but it is not weatherproof.
To achieve optimal contrast and sharpness, it’s best to use dual layers of white overlaying black.
Some spandex products come with these two layers pre-attached, while others require you to purchase white and black separately and place the material yourself.
The frames for spandex screens should be sturdy, as the material needs to be stretched out without being overstretched.
If spandex is stretched beyond the percentage of spandex in the threads, the cloth fibers will become noticeable during movie playback.
This material is also acoustically transparent, meaning that you can put your speakers behind it to improve sound performance, which is also a good consideration if you have limited space.
This tutorial provides instructions on how to construct a spandex projection screen using a PVC frame.
8. A Plastic Panel/Shower Board
A plastic panel or shower board is an interesting and affordable alternative to traditional outdoor projector screens.
It is a versatile material that offers no hotspots and great detail when used for projecting images.
The plastic panel is also easy to mount and can be made fully weatherproof, which is essential for outdoor use.
However, the material is glossy, which might create glare that can distort the image. You can apply some coating layers of primer to the surface to cut out the glare.
It’s also advisable to sand down the surface just enough to remove the glare and give a better surface for paint. This will improve the quality of the projected image.
The Thrifty White Hardboard Panel Board will do the job as your cheap outdoor projector screen.
9. A Shower Curtain
If you’re looking for a cost-effective alternative to an outdoor projector screen, a frost shower curtain may be an option to consider.
Although it may not be suitable for front projection, the frost shower curtain can serve as a viable option for rear projection.
When choosing a shower curtain, make sure it says “frost/frosted” on it as this works best for projection.
Avoid curtains that are labeled “clear” as they won’t catch the projected image, and “white” curtains are too thick and won’t reflect much light.
To ensure a better viewing experience, steam the shower curtain instead of ironing it to avoid any wrinkles or folds.
However, keep in mind that shower curtains are not flexible materials, so avoid stretching the curtain out as it will create wrinkles once you tape the border.
To make the curtain hold its shape once hung, a frame is highly recommended. This will give it the necessary support to prevent any sagging or rippling.
This tutorial will demonstrate how to create a homemade projector screen using a shower curtain as an alternative material.
10. A Picture Backdrop
A photo backdrop is an excellent alternative to a traditional projector screen.
These backgrounds are usually white and non-reflective, and they often have finished edges for a professional look. Since light cannot shine through a photo backdrop, it is perfect for use as a projector screen.
Additionally, this material is sturdy so you can move it around without damaging it, making it ideal for watching movies in different outdoor locations.
Some backdrops are pre-mounted on a cardboard core and only need to be unrolled. Others may require you to install them on a frame.
A photo backdrop is an excellent choice as an alternative material for a projector screen.
It’s usually white and opaque, which offers you optimal image quality, accurate color representation, and improved contrast, making your outdoor viewing more enjoyable.
Furthermore, this material is durable, ensuring minimal damage while moving and setting up your screen outdoors.
To ensure a smooth and wrinkle-free display, you may need to create your own frame. This will help eliminate unwanted wrinkles and enhance the overall image quality.
What Can Enhance These Alternatives?
One essential feature for a quality projector screen is a black border, as it creates much-needed contrast.
This border draws your eyes toward the screen and enhances the viewing experience.
Black borders are optimal, and some people even opt to build wooden frames for their home theater.
The simplest solution is to use black border tape with zero reflectivity. This indicates that even if the projected image goes beyond the screen area, it won’t be visible on the edges.
For a more professional look, consider wrapping an actual frame with black cloth and placing it around your screen.
If you’re on a budget but still want to enjoy outdoor movie nights, these are our 10 creative, inexpensive alternatives to a traditional projector screen.
Not only will you save money, but you’ll also have the opportunity to flex your creative muscles with a fun DIY project.
Finding an affordable projector screen alternative is now easier than ever before, even if a traditional screen is out of your budget.