How to build a $300 screen that performs like a $2000 one

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

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 at 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 paint 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

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.

6 thoughts on “How to build a $300 screen that performs like a $2000 one

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  1. 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?

    1. 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.

  2. Hey Roland, thanks for all this info. What if the room is full of ambient light – do I still aim for N7.8? We’re trying to renovate a community space and paint one wall for use with a projector that will be used for song lyrics and presentations.

    1. Hey Julie,
      You can aim for darker, even down to N6, but you need a more powerful projector as the darker you go, the more brightness you lose!

      You could buy white and black paint, decide up the white and mix a few different shades, then try them out to see what would work best. Very little black is generally needed to tint the paint so don’t go too crazy, but measure the paint out using precision tools so you know how to re-create it.

      Then when you mix the silver into the final batch, start adding black back in until you matched the shade to your desired depth as close as you could.

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