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

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Using a Sheet as a Projector Screen

Yes, you can use a sheet as a projector screen, but only if you have to!

If you have the time and the inclination, you can build a projector screen to use with your projector rather than using a sheet.

The screen is an important part of the projector experience. Without it, you will not get the full picture.

While you can use a sheet as a projector screen, it will not give you the picture quality and experience you get when using a screen designed for that purpose. Here are some tips to help you make your decision.

A sheet is not a screen. Rather than using a piece of fabric or a sheet, choose a projector screen designed for the purpose. There are many reasons for this. Here are some of the main ones.

It is more flexible than a sheet. Choose a screen with a flexible surface that will not tear or scratch. The flexible surface will conform to uneven surfaces and will not be torn easily if bumped.

It will be easier to hang than a sheet. A projector screen is designed to hang on a frame, while a sheet is not. A screen will be constructed to hang securely and will remain neat looking.

Material, Gain and Ambient Light Rejection

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether you should use a sheet as a projector screen. The main deciding factors are your specific projector, ambient light conditions, and the finish material of the sheet.

Although a white sheet works well enough for many projectors, projector screens are made for the purpose of projecting on them in rooms with controlled conditions.

In deciding whether you should use a sheet as your projector screen, you must look at the projector first, then the ambient light, and finally the material finish of the sheet. All of these should be viewed as a system and not each on their own.

Some projectors will display HVAC panels like white sheets, but in many cases, it will result in a very colored looking image when viewed from up close. This is most often caused by ambient light coming into the room around the edges of the curtains. A projector screen will block out the ambient light, and hence, produce a better looking image.

Also, if you are looking for the cleanest, brightest and contrastiest possible picture, a screen optimized with a projector in mind using the same material finish is the way to achieve that.

Below are some examples of ambient light rejections of different projector screens.

Let’s Talk About Gain

Screen gain is a measurement of light output versus brightness. This measurement is somewhat confusing because it is usually presented in a misleading format of lumens per square foot. The higher the number, the more light is projected.

If you use a projector screen for a film, you will need a high level of brightness. This will result in the best image possible. However, using a high-gain projector screen will make the screen start to show a blue hue from the lamp when the light is aimed at it from a low angle (if you’re sitting on the floor). This effect is called “hot spotting” and can be distracting, depending on the circumstances.

The bottom line is that most projectors are not bright enough to require a high-gain screen. In fact, if you rely on gaining your projectors rather than adding supplemental lighting, you might run into some problems. For this reason, it’s important to trust your instincts when your projector just isn’t bright enough for the occasion.

Let’s Talk About Ambient Light Rejection

First an important distinction between ambient light rejection, also called gray rejection and black level performance. They don’t mean the same thing. Ambient light rejection refers to the brightness of an image when brightness is controlled by the ambient lighting. Tiles, other walls, and furniture can affect ambient light and the brightness of your image on the screen.

For example, if you’re watching a football game in a room where your other choice is to watch the football game on the same wall the tv and projector is mounted, ambient light rejection and black level are especially important. When you watch the game on the wall, the brightness of the tv screen is affected by the brightness of what’s surrounding it. So if a light source is shining directly on the wall, turning that light off would help tremendously.

Black level performance is how dark the blacks get on your tv screen. Obviously, the darker the blacks get, the better. In the past, there was a lot of internal debate about whether or not black level performance or ambient light rejection was more critical.

Today, most knowledgeable videophiles believe that black level performance is the most important. Some say that visual acuity actually increases when the image is darker.

So long story short, if your projector’s black level performance is good, you are unlikely to have a problem with ambient light rejection.

Let’s Talk About Projector Screen Materials

Screen materials come in a variety of different colors, which are generally measured in "gain" and "surface", both of which produce an image with different characteristics. Screen materials can be roll unfaced, which is basically an ordinary white sheet, or they can also be roll faced, which has additional features designed to create a better viewing experience by a certain amount. Surfaces are either matte or glossy, which will also correlate to the image you're watching.

While you CAN use a sheet as a projector screen, I wouldn't recommend it.

You can construct your own projector screen using sheets, but the cost will be higher, it will take more time and effort, and the image quality might not be optimal.

There are two main reasons why you should consider getting a roll face sheet, or a "screen with gain", instead of using a simple white sheet.

Projector Capacity and Screen Material Recommendations

You can use a bed sheet or other lightweight fabric as a projector screen. You might be able to find a used bed sheet in your home or at a thrift store and save money over what you'd spend on a pre-made screen. You could also use a frame to support the edge of a bed sheet if you don’t want to clamp everything to the wall.

However, putting together a DIY projector screen requires some creativity and a willingness to do a little work. So, should you build your projector screen from scratch?

Many people on a tight budget will prefer the cost-effectiveness of building their own projector screen. And it is possible to build your own screen, if you have the knowledge and supplies and are willing to do the work. However, there are some practical reasons why you may want to consider purchasing a pre-made screen instead.

The first, and most obvious reason, is to ensure stability. The projector is heavy and the screen needs to be easy to slide across the floor and mount. If you’re working with limited space and maybe mounting to the ceiling or wall of an apartment building it can make these tasks quite difficult. A pre-made screen will be easier to work with in many cases.

Your Projector Screen Size Does Matter

Depending on whether you're planning to watch from a distance (usually 10-25 feet or 3-7m for home theaters) or sit close (4-6 feet or 1-2m for home theaters), there's a size screen for you.

If you happen to have a projector that’s small enough to fit in your cell phone, you might be able to get away with using a sheet. However, if you’re thinking of blowing up your favorite vacation shots to a size that’s good for watching home movies or if you’re building a home cinema for watching films or sports, there’s a good chance you’ll need to purchase a professional projector screen.

Size does matter.

Business projector users typically prefer screens larger than 60”, while home theater enthusiasts look for something bigger than 80", whether it’s fixed or motorized. Many people are happy with a 100" screen, but it really won’t matter what size you choose until you’ve taken the time to engage in a little projector screen math diagramming.

Screen Color Options

Screen color is an important factor to consider when considering between a sheet or a pre-made white screen. You can easily achieve a white screen with a sheet that’s white on one side or one that’s white on both sides.

However, a plain white sheet may lack the ability to improve the appearance of a dark image or show the picture as it was intended. For the best results, you’ll need to attach some kind of diffusing material on the sheet. There are numerous options available for this step. You can choose from a wide range of projectors that come with white screens, or you can purchase a ready made white screen from a store that specializes in projectors. Or you can get creative by making your own.

If you decide to make your own projector screen using a sheet, you can choose from any of the following basic options for adhering a diffuser to your sheet:

Attach Velcro dots to the sheet and attach the soft side of Velcro to the diffuser. Some sheets may be purchased with Velcro already attached; this usually happens on white sheets.

Attaching a frame to the sheet will create a frame where you can then attach a pre-made diffuser. Make sure you get a frame that provides for a gap around the edges of the sheet where you can place the diffuser.

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

For those who consider themselves penny pinchers, this idea may seem like a no-brainer. A bed sheet costs a lot less than a projection screen and if you're lucky, you might even have one just lying around your house. But before you rush out to raid your linen closet, consider the following reasons why you shouldn't use a sheet as a projector screen – at least not all of the time.

The Multimedia Setup Will Look Cheap

Those of you who have been to an event recently in the city might have noticed a lot of people using sheets as projector screens. The sheets are held up by clotheslines and are hung on walls. You might have even tried this at your place or you've seen it at a friend's house. But do you really know the purpose of this setup or how it can affect your home/office multimedia experience?

Here's what you need to know about using sheets as projector screen:

Sheets aren't good at diffusing light: When you use a sheet as a projector screen, the light will come straight towards your audience, and this is horrible for two reasons:

{1}. ) You'll find that the lights are too harsh for projected content. But more on this below.
{2}. ) Addition to the light coming straight towards you, you feel that you're sitting close to projector and this will create a cramped viewing experience.

Sheets aren't good at light diffusion: When a projector throws light on a sheet, your lights will definitely shine through. Dark colors will create darker areas, but that's about it. This is because a sheet will only spread the light out about a few inches from the source. The rest of the sheet will continue provide its previous look. This would look bad. The same is true for any background color you choose.

Light Will Pass Through the Bed sheet

First, here’s the breakdown. Bed sheets and other lightweight fabrics are translucent instead of transparent. So who cares? That translucent feature can make a huge difference.

When you think about viewing a movie on a projector, for example, the screen is roughly 2 feet away from your eyes. Given the proximity to the screen, the actual amount of light that makes it in front of the screen is tremendous (because of geometry, projecting that much light would be an issue).

So back to the bed sheet.

As an alternative to a projector screen, a piece of lightweight fabric like a bed sheet or a shower curtain may seem like a viable solution for watching a movie on a white wall or the ceiling in your home. As you can see from the video below, projected light from a homegrown projector screen will shine through the fabric and flood an entire room.

As if that’s not bad enough in itself, the light will give off an enormous amount of heat, effectively turning your makeshift projector screen into a convection oven! That translates into killing your projector lamp and overheating the projector.

Picture Quality Issues

With Sheets vs. Projection Screens

The three main issues most people have with using a sheet as a projection screen are picture quality, the availability of wall space, and it’s not as easy to clean.

Picture quality issues are usually associated with viewing in a bright room with a large screen size. This is where a projection screen constructed with a surface that can diffuse the light supplied by the projector and eliminate "hot spots" is a better choice.

The trade-off you will make when choosing a sheet is that you will probably have to position your projector and screen farther away from the audience than you would if you used a projection screen.

What If I Paint My Wall for My Projector Screen

My simple solution if you're setting up a projector in your home is to not paint a wall. Or if your wall is the only wall you can make work, you could get a cheap mural to put on it to hide the fact that it's a painting of a wall. A projector is meant to project onto a screen, not a wall, or painting.

If you need to paint the wall, you need to prepare the wall well. Otherwise, you will get flicker and a washed out picture.

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

Making your own projector screen doesn’t have to be complicated. Yet, you can still get a well-lit screen through your efforts.

Building your own screen is much more economical than buying an off-the-rack projector screen. A readily available material and tools is all you need in order to make your own projector screen.

You can make a projector screen with a variety of materials such as cloth, foam board, fabric, PVC, etc. Have a look at this post for some DIY projector screen ideas!

Remember that it’s not necessary to spend thousands on a screen. Manufacturing a screen doesn’t have to be costly. And your screen shouldn’t be used just to fit your budget.

<br><h4>Building your own projector screen doesn’t need to be expensive. You don’t need to spend a fortune when you can make your own screen that’s bright and big.</h4>

However, your decision to build your own screen instead of taking a cheaper option should be justified by the need to obtain a certain performance. This performance, which your screen will need to exhibit, will be the deciding factor on whether you should build your own screen or buy an off-the-rack projector screen.

Portable and Hanging Screens

There are a couple of situations where you might want to make your own screen. For example, if you want to watch a movie or slideshow while camping or hone your PowerPoint skills, you might want to try this out.

But the good news is, it’s not as difficult as building a projector screen box. All you need is the right material. In fact, all you need is a white bed sheet!

Bed sheets work well for portable screens because they are lightweight, flexible and provide a neutral color. Just remember, the idea is to have a projection surface that’s as large and flat as possible. So, make sure your bed sheet is as large as your projector screen area …also, the larger the better. This way, you’ll be able to get the most benefit of your movie-watching experience. The trade-off is that you’ll have to deal with more wrinkles.

Remember how to get rid of those wrinkles? You iron the sheets first and then watch them.

Airblown Movie Screens

Maybe you’ve seen projection screens made of open mesh or perforated metal reflects and wondered whether a sheet can work for your projector. A lot of times, people go to the trouble of purchasing a projector screen and then using it for a movie. They don’t realize they can use a sheet as a projector screen as well.

Sheets may not be as portable as a projector screen, but they can be just as effective. The quality of the image, however, depends on the type of sheet or material used as well as the lighting in the room.

If you’re thinking of using a sheet as a projector screen, here are a few things to consider.

What Type of Fabric is the Sheet Made From?

Sheets and fabrics are made from different materials, some with poorer light transmission than others. The best projector screens for home use are made from materials with over 95% light transmittance. That means they don’t absorb much of the light projected by your projector.

Some sheet materials, such as silk, are more opaque than others, but generally speaking, the best materials have low thread count. The more thread count, the more texture there will be in the sheet and the less light it will let through.

What are the Dimension of the Sheet?

Inexpensive Projector Screen Models

If you're like me, you love watching movies from your laptop or streaming from your smart devices. Finding the best projector screen can be challenging. The market is filled with various sizes, features, and price points. Most of them are designed for specific uses, so you may find yourself having to choose between functionality and portability. I admit, it's a hard choice to make.

I found an affordable solution that delivers great results and complies with all of my movie viewing expectations, but it comes with a big price tag.

Since I love my friends, I'd like to share my solution with you so you can watch movies on your laptop or smart device with friends and family.

Let’s Look at the Big Picture

Some of your older relatives may remember the days back before flat screens when families gathered together to watch anything that was shown on a movie screen in a dark room that had uncomfortable metal seats. But then, along came new inventions like DLP projectors, LCD projectors, and decent living room screen sizes. These provide comfortable viewing at a fraction of previous prices and a snap to set up on the wall.

And yet, if you notice that your projector screen is getting a little dusty in the corner you might wonder, just how obsolete are those projector sheets in your closet?

If you use a projector screen, then the answer is, very.

But how do projector screens, like the ones used for big movie screens, compare to projector sheets?

Are there any situations where a projector sheet might be a good option?

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An inexpensive option for a home theater projector screen is to use an inexpensive white bed sheet. However, it’s very important to ensure the white bed sheet is the right material for your projector screen.

A variety of white bed sheets are available from stores like Walmart, Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.

The common characteristic among this type of sheet is the thin fabric which makes it translucent and perfectly suitable for use as a projector screen.

However, the problem is that the quality of any bed sheet or any sheet for that matter will vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer and between different products from the same manufacturer. So, you may end up purchasing a bed sheet with threads that are too tight and weave too closely together to allow any light to pass through. The other problem is that, the white of a bed sheet is usually not intended to perfectly match every projectors full color range, meaning, your white sheets may end up introducing slight color casts associated with different wavelengths of light (more about that later).

Even if you find a bed sheet that is correct weight and has thread count that’s suitable for every day viewing, it’s a good idea to experiment with a few different white bed sheets and projectors. This will help you identify the projectors that are most suitable for viewing white projectors.