The difference a screen makes

You can project onto a white wall and get a really great picture, but if you’ve spent more than $500 on a projector, you will notice a marked difference with a purpose built screen. The benefits of projecting onto a great screen include the following:

  1. Increased sharpness / perceived resolution of the image
  2. Increased contrast
  3. Better ambient light rejection (when using a grey or silver screen as below) which means you can watch TV, movies or Sports with some ambient light on without completely distorting contrast

Enter Projection Paint

There are some – may I say – rather expensive paints on the market that you can use to build a DIY screen. In this article, I will show you how to get the materials yourself, mix the paint, paint the screen and hang it.

Please note that this is a fixed frame projection screen, which means it is not really possible to paint a roll-up screen with the below method.

Getting the screen

There are a few options on where to paint the screen.

  1. If you have the wall-space you can paint the screen on the wall with a black frame or even paint the whole wall with the paint mix below to create an invisible screen… until the projector is turned on that is.
  2. If you cannot paint the wall, you have the option of getting an MDF sheet to paint or even better…
  3. Paint on 3-5mm foamex / forex PVC sheets. These sheets are really light and easy to work with. You can nail them to a wooden frame for hanging or even nail them to the back of some bookshelves.
  4. Any other rigid material that is paintable.

imagesForex Sheet

You can calculate the screen size you need atΒ http://www.projectorcentral.com/projection-calculator-pro.cfm and get the materials cut to size, leaving enough outer rims for nailing and hanging.

Getting the paint

The paint mix is called Black Widow. I will show you how to mix and variate the colour shade of this paint mix to get the desired results. For now, let’s look at the base, no frills mix, for which you will need the following:

  1. A matt white water based paint. Any will do such as the Dulux Wash and Wear Matt white. The most important thing is that it is water based and matt. 2L is plenty for upto 140″ screen.
  2. You will need to ask the paint to be tinted using black paint to a grey to a shade of N7.8. If this is not possible an N8 will provide the right shade of grey also. If your trade centre doesn’t know how to tint paint using the N tint codes, ask them to call Dulux or a Dulux Trade Centre.
  3. You will need Auto-Air Colors 4101-16 Aluminum Base Fine paint, which is a water-based silver paintΒ formula. You will need 4 parts white paint to 1 part Auto Air Colors. If you’re using 2L of white paint, this will mean 480ML of Auto Air Colors. Be sure to buy the “fine” coarseness.
  4. A short nap roller
  5. Fine sandpaper

313p5W+ljML._SY300_
Auto Air Colors

You will mix the above together using a drill and paint mixer head for 2-4 minutes

Painting the screen

  1. Using the paint mix, you will paint the surface with the roller in one direction only (vertical or horizontal) using quick movements. Go over it once quickly.
  2. Do NOT go over the surface again until it has dried.
  3. Once the first layer has dried, use the fine sandpaper to remove any imperfections from the surface.
  4. Remove any dust created by the sanding using a duster or a dry cloth.
  5. Repeat until you have at least 4-6 coats and a smooth even surface.
  6. Let the screen dry out completely before using it.
  7. Enjoy!

Variations on the above mix

The mix above comes out to a light to medium grey that is perfect for rooms with light coloured walls and bright projectors. It rejects ambient light well and has great contrast characteristics with the lights off as it rejects reflection from the light coloured walls.

If however, you are building a dedicated home cinema room with dark or black walls and you don’t intend on using the projector in ambient light, and you have a projector with great contrast (such as a JVC), you will want to mix a slightly lighter mix.

For a lighter mix, simply tint the white paint closer to N8.5, N9 or even N9.5. For 3D projection, which needs a lot of light, you could even try mixing with only a white base, as opposed to grey.

33 Comments »

  1. Hi, which mix would you say I would need for my HW40ES ? I use it in my living room with white ceiling + walls. I use it mainly for sports in the daytime and movies at night. I have blinds so I can almost blackout the room.
    Regards Casper

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    • The Sony projectors have great brightness so you can get away with a darker grey like N7 – N7.5. The ambient light rejection comes from the grey colour, not the silver, so you will get better contrast with lights on with a darker shade of grey. However, because brightness is decreased somewhat, you may need to operate the projector in high brightness.

      One of my friends has the same projector and he painted it N7.8. He is happy with the results, however, because I’m used to the deep blacks of the JVC, I would have gone with an N7 and turned it on high brightness. It’s all about preference. Remember, if you don’t like it, you can just paint it with other shade of grey.

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      • Thanks Roland. I will try to start with a 7.5 (ish) and see how that works. Now that my projector has a very high output, even in calibrated mode, could I then maybe do without the AAA mix ? I shoot a 90″ image from 9 foot from the projector, full zoom, so I guess I have maximum lumen on the wall.

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      • Well, you could try but you may lose more brightness than you’d like. The AAA is in the mix to ensure the correct level of reflectivity. I wouldn’t leave it out, no. I think anything that saves lumens is good as over time the lamp will fade. I personally prefer a bright image so even with an HW40ES I put it on high brightness. The reason is the Sony’s are not as good as the JVCs with black level but have historically been much better in the brightness department. Increasing brightness will give the image more punch. If you can lower the black level with a darker mix, you will have the best of both worlds. I hope the above helps.

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  2. Thank you so much for your guidance and tips. Could you please tell me which material will be better? PVC Foamex, MDF, or particle board? My budget is 300$ and i would like to go for the best material for my screen.

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    • I’ve found foamex the easiest to with with but as long as the material is smooth / without grain and you are comfortable working with it, it should matter too much.

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      • Thank you. Also, I am in India and dulux doesn’t have the Milton moon shade. However I found the colour veil which has an RGB of 186′ 186 184. Would this mean I am very close to N7.8? Paint dealers here are not very knowledgable and they don’t know how to get the paint to n7.8

        On the wiki page of black widow I found the RGB of a dulux grey paint which is n 7.8 to be 184 184 182

        Would this mean that the paint I have mentioned above will have a shade similar to n7.8?

        I will be painting this colour with aaa on an mdf board. I will be putting this up in my living room. My living room will also have my dining table. So there would be lights, not very bright ones but decently lit lights on all the time.
        I have a benq w2000 projector dlp which has around 2000 lumens output

        Should I go for a darker grey or a lighter grey assuming ambient light will be there all the time

        Should I go for a higher N value or lower n value and if possible could you please give me the rgb info of the shade I need to use. I can use the RGB I for to get the shade closest to the ones which you recommend

        Thank you for your super quick response earlier.

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  3. Since you have ambient light, you want a lower (darker) shade of grey. 7.8 is fine but you could go lower with the BenQ to 7.5, 7.2 or even 7. You have 2000 lumens to play with after all and it has not so good black levels so the darker grey would improve things in that area.

    Mmm, it looks like the paint you have found has a slight tinge to it. It isn’t too bad, though. If you are colour and grey-scale calibrating the projector, it isn’t something to worry about. You should be able to correct it in the projector. However, I doubt the slight error in colour would be noticed by the average observer – if at all. It seems close enough.

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    • I really appreciate your advice. I have one last question. If I have to go for a grey of say N7.5 and I don’t know what shade to use, could you please tell me the RGB info of the shade please? In India it is difficult to find the exact shade and I am not able to find knowledgable paint vendors.
      So I have to match the Shade myself.

      Please let me know the RGB in for for a 7.5N grey colour.

      Many thanks

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  4. Good question!!i don’t know off the top of my head. Do you by any chance have Dulux operating in India? We literally called up Dulux and have them explain to the shop how to create N7. They explained it as the number of drops of black paint the tinting machine had to put into the mixture. If you cannot call Dulux in India, I can try call Dulux here in Sydney for you.

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  5. Hi, i have an Epson EH-TW9200W (6030UB in US) im thinking about going to spray my whole wall with a bosch hvlp. white ceiling, ambient light from left, blackout curtains on the right with only a little ambient light. is N.7,8 the way to go with 4:1 AAA?

    /Chris

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  6. Hey mate, I have just bought an Epson 1985 Business projector (1080P) as it has higher brightness of 4800 and will be used in a area that is normally lit up with fluro’s or ambient light. I will be painting the wall and was wondering what would be the best N for this situation. I was thinking as the projector has high brightness and in a lit room then maybe a higher N. It will be used for TV and Movies (not business) Thanks

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    • Hi Geoff,

      Yes, you want to have a darker screen (lower N rating). You could try 6.5-6.8 and see how that looks? I haven’t tried anything lower but it could be possible that you might want to add a little more silver paint, but not go overboard or you’ll have hot-spotting. Silver helps reflect more light back.

      You could paint the surrounding area darker but you could also pain the whole wall with the same paint. Painting a black border does help the perception of contrast but it isn’t exactly sexy, especially if the projector isn’t on all the time and the room is used for other functions as well.

      If you have unlimited funds and you want the very best picture quality in S lit room, you may want to check out the black diamond screen.

      Cheers!

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      • Hi, I have a dedicated dark room and a low budget movie in there πŸ™‚
        Projector is mg 850hd epson, always running in eco mode due to noise

        Screen size is app 95″ and distance to screen is 2.5-3 meters

        What would you suggest to tint the white paint to?

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      • That projector has almost 3000 lumens. It’s bright!
        If you watch it in daytime or you have white walls, I would go with a darker grey like N6.5-7. If not, somewhere between N7 and N7.5.

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      • That’s still pretty bright. If it’s a dedicated room with dark walls, you can go with a lighter grey. However, considering the average contrast ratio of the projector, you may still use a darker grey to improve black levels in dark scenes. I would go with an N7 at least, maybe darker.

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  7. Sorry, just to add to my previous one, I also need to paint the rest of the wall around where the projector paint will go. Should this be a much darker color for separation or just a different color.

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  8. I have a 14×20 foot dedicated theater room with a Panasonic ae8000u on a aeon elite 135″ screen. Zero edge. Even though I painted my walls and ceiling absolute flat black I am still not happy with the black levels/contest. My first screen I made at my last house was 140″ with a flat white as a base a faux glaze mixed with acrylic silver. It turned out pretty good. In fact I think it turned out better than my current elite screen. I don’t have dark carpet Terry, but want to make something better if it will truly be better. Thoughts?

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    • Hi Greg,

      If you have truly done everything you can to control reflection off surfaces and you are only watching the projector at nighttime, or in a fully darkened room, you should look into closing the manual iris of the projector or using an ND filter. It sounds like the black level is now about lowering light output if you can.

      Otherwise you can use a grey screen to do the same… and allow for better light rejection with some light in the room.
      I hope that helps.

      Like

  9. Hi, Im getting a old 3 tube projector for a home cinema and video ending suite set up in my room, the projector has 850 Lumens weighted at white peak. I have blackout drops on all windows that roll down when I’m colour correction during video editing but do not want to have to put them roll them every time I want to watch a movie in bed. What colour would you recommend for projector screen that has brilliant colour and back during room black out and performs adequately-okayish when there is a bit more ambient light during the evening?

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    • I would do a light grey, maybe an 8-8.5N? The projector is not a light cannon so you don’t have a lot of brightness to lose. However, you’ll get enough light rejection that it will be watchable. If you can, increase brightness (black floor) until it is visible then back off one and gamma to around 2.0 for “day mode”. It will make a difference in watchability.

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  10. Hi Roland πŸ™‚ Just about to jump onto the wagon here, with an old Sanyo Z2000, rated at 1200 lumen, but effectively somewhat lower in eco mode. I’m going for 100″ image on mdf with a 12 ft throw. I’ll most likely be upgrading the pj within the next year or so, but would still like to enjoy it until then with a new screen. The room is relatively light controlled, but not pitch black in the day and with white walls. What combination/shade of grey would you recommend?

    Also considering, if it’s worthwhile experimenting with spraying instead of rolling? I have no experience with it, and it would require quite a bit of covering half the room in plastic, but if the result will be remarkably better, it might be worth it?

    Like

    • Hi Josef,
      I would say that I wouldn’t go lower than an N7 or N8 in this case because you don’t have a lot of lumens to spare. The black level of the projector is not actually too bad but mind the default / reversed / incorrect HDMI setting in the menu of the projector. I don’t know if it was fixed from the first iteration of the firmware. Enhanced means standard in this case. See which one works.

      You’ve got to have superb skills to spray paint. It requires the right equipment also. To be perfectly honest with you, I wouldn’t attempt it. Rolling and then sanding down each layer lightly will give you excellent results as long as you follow the instructions. However if you insist on spray painting, try it on something other than this project first and practice to make sure you won’t make a mess of it. πŸ˜‰

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  11. Thanks so much ! πŸ˜€ Think I got the colour coding sorted, so I just need to order the AAA paint. And for me, it’ll make good sense to use a roller, when you don’t have spraying experience, so I’ll definitely go with that πŸ˜‰ One thought though; You’re recommending 4-6 coats all in all, which sounds like a lot (although perhaps explains the need for 2,5 L of paint) for a 140″ screen. I see some recommend no more than half of that for the same size. What’s the main goal of the very many coats, something to do with surface texture, or ….? πŸ™‚ (By the way, I want to use MDF, so there’s bound to be some priming of that first, about 2 flat white coats, I imagine, before using BW mix, right?)

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    • Mmm, MDF. Make sure it’s super smooth. No need for white paint. 4-6 coats will cover it (hence the number of coats).
      The number of coats are important because
      1. The coats shouldn’t be very thick otherwise they could end up being uneven
      2. The surface must be fully covered so light can’t come through (especially important with Foamex or Forex, not so much MDF.)

      Priming MDF is a good idea to ensure it’s properly sealed from moisture and as smooth as possible before putting final paint on it.

      Let us know how you go.

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      • Just finished the screen yesterday; screwed the mdf into the wall of my livingroom, filled the screw holes and sanded them 2 times, primed with flat white matt paint using a foam roller and let that sit overnight. Then I sanded the whole board one more time to smooth the surface a bit. Despite your recommendations, I decided to try and go all the way with spraying, and made a little plastic tent all around the board and the surrounding wall, ceiling, giving me about 5-6 m2 of workspace. I had borrowed a cheap spray gun (like 30 dollar-cheap), and tried practicing with this a bit on a piece of masonite, just to get the feel of it, having studied one or two YouTube videos of guys doing this, which was very instructive. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjeao4SX-08) The gun however turned out to be a disaster and impossible to adjust, so I ran out and got me a 100 dollar Bosch model instead, which worked beautifully right off the bat. Having mixed the paint (2L of matt paint with very low or no sheen, toned at NCS 2500, or N7.6 and 480 ml of AAA aluminum paint), I ended up with doing 3-4 coats with 1 hour intervals and that seemed to be more than enough. Looked kind of orange peel-y while wet, but smoothed out totally while drying. I tried projecting a full white frame onto it after drying, and the surface is ridiculously uniform, 98″ at a 7,5 foot viewing distance. During the painting, it even turned out that a couple of my screw holes around the edges weren’t 100% perfectly filled after all, which kind of bugged me initially, but when hit by the light from the PJ, they practically disappeared because of the matte surface πŸ™‚ I’m extremely happy, even my Stewart Firehawk G2 never looked this good. I ordered a new PJ, which is arriving next week, an Epson TW6700 (in the US Home Cinema 3700?), which is a light cannon, so it may turn out that I could have gone for a considerably darker tone, perhaps N6.8 or 6.2, but I was afraid it would be too dim for 3D, so I thought it better to play safe to begin with … Thanx for the input and good advice! πŸ˜€

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      • Oh wow! Thank you for getting back with your experience in building the screen! It sounds like a really awesome result! Well done! You’re even encouraging me to go to the hassle of spraying next time! 😎 the coat on my screen at home will be due for a repaint over the next couple of years so might think about it.
        I agree that 3D needs a lot of light so being conservative is good!

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  12. I tried to do the spraying exactly as the guy in the video above, which seemed to work, if you mind the finer points … 1: Start spraying outside the screen and then start moving across, so you dont get paint splatter from the initial burst. 2: Keep the arm straight pointing the gun at a perpendicular angle to the screen, with the same 10-12″ distance all the time, without flexing your wrist, in other words just walking back and forth really. So you wanna make sure the floor in front of the screen is 100% cleared, so you don’t trip on anything during painting, because you can’t really stop in the middle of the screen.

    I see some pics on forums, with people doing this without covering the ceiling, but just the sides and I’m happy I didn’t. The thing is in my livingroom, so I had plastic all around to close it completely off, which was good, because even if you might not see it at first, there’s tons of small paint particles floating in the air right after painting. You notice this once stepping outside the tent again, and so I let the paint dust settle for about 5-10 minutes and then I could open up and get some fresh air inside and the humidity from the paint out, to allow the screen to dry faster. Worked great πŸ™‚

    So, MDF worked great for me, but I can see the advantages of using Foamex boards.
    First, the surface would be even smoother, but that’s a minor point, because at a normal viewing distance you don’t see any texture on my MDF screen, and I’m sitting rather close to it. A more obvious advantage would be the ease of mounting the thing, because it weighs so little.
    In my case, I would probably have sprayed it somewhere else, even outside on a day with no wind, covered it up good in a blanket or two, taken it home and just glue it to the wall with some silicone or something, job done πŸ˜‰
    However, for some reason these boards are fairly pricey here in Denmark, no idea why.

    But I’m suuuuper happy, I did it this way. It’s also a lot less sensitive than a conventional fixed frame screen, which I would be worried about having, when there are kids or partying guests in the house … πŸ˜‰
    I did have my eye on an Elite screen same size, but that would set me back 700-1000 dollars. This does everything as good or better and cost me around 120 dollars, but that’s without the added expense of the spray gun πŸ˜‰

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    • Just had a thought, and then I’ll stop rambling πŸ˜€
      I do feel like I see the effect of the AAA aluminum paint pretty clearly, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes, comparing with just the grey base without AAA. Perhaps I should make a test sheet with a leftover of the grey base and compare some time.

      Like

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