Many people may wonder, can you use a projector without a screen? Is a projector screen necessary? Does the projector screen really make a difference? I spent some time researching this topic and believe I have some easy answers for you.
Can you use a projector without a screen? The simple answer is yes! But using a projector without a screen will decrease the quality of the viewable image.
A simple white wall will definitely provide a good surface for an image to be projected, but there are definitely some downsides to it. A wall does not reflect light near as well as a projector screen. The surface of a wall is also not as smooth as you would think. Get really close to the wall, and you will see what I mean.
In this article, I will go in-depth on why you shouldn't use a projector without a screen. I will also explain what needs to be done to a wall if you choose to use it instead of a typical projector screen. Don't be discouraged by what I say!
If you don't want to buy or use a projector screen, you don't have to. You are an adult and you can make your own decisions, I just want you to be aware of some issues you may experience. Now let's get to it!
There are a couple of reasons that using a projector without a screen isn't ideal.
Projector screens have a special coating that improves its reflective properties. A typical wall will not have this special coating. Therefore, an image projected onto the wall will not be near as bright as it would appear on a screen. Generally, the wall would also need to be completely white.
A white object will naturally be more reflective than any other color. It's science people. A darker wall will not reflect the projector's light enough to provide a clear image.
The light will be drowned out and you won't be able to see the details in the image. So if the wall isn't plain white, then you would need to repaint it to achieve the best results.
The uneven surface of a wall will likely cause problems with the projected image. A wall may appear flat and smooth, but most walls are not as smooth as they appear at first glance.
Run your hand across the area. You will likely feel imperfections such as small bumps and crevices. These small imperfections will cause tiny shadows to appear on the projected image. This will cause the image to be less bright and crisp overall.
If you have a cheap projector with a low-quality image then these imperfections won't impact the image quite as much. But if you have invested in a higher quality projector, then the small imperfections with have a profound impact on the image quality. A projector screen provides an ultra-smooth and highly reflective surface that a typical wall cannot compete with.
As mentioned, it's not ideal to use a projector without a screen. So if you choose to use a wall instead of a projector screen, then there are few things that can be done to increase the quality of the image projected.
You want the wall to be as smooth and with as little texture as possible. As mentioned, small bumps and crevices on the wall will cause tiny shadows to appear.
You will need to turn the lights off and use a flashlight or if you have a projector already, project an image onto the wall. This will help identify any problem areas. Use a pencil or something else to accurately mark these areas.
Once these areas are marked, use sandpaper or a power sander to smoothen the wall. You will need to sand and paint the wall multiple times to get the wall as smooth as possible. A smooth wall is a happy wall!
The best solution for using a projector on a wall is to paint the wall with a projector screen paint. It is not 100% necessary, but it allows the wall to reflect the light more efficiently. The issue with this type of paint is that it's not cheap.
A quart of screen paint (on Amazon) can cost about half the amount as an actual projector screen. This type of screen paint is actually one of the cheaper options out there.
My personal suggestion is to paint the area with regular white paint or primer first. After sanding, reapplying, etc., you can then apply a thinner coat of the screen paint over the same area. If you only have a quart of paint then 1 or 2 thinner coats over a regular white paint or primer is a great option if you are on a smaller budget.
A full gallon of high-quality screen paint (on Amazon) will cost about the same as one of my favorite projector screens out there, the Silver Ticket 100" Fixed Frame Projector Screen (on Amazon).
The best solution is to use multiple coats of screen paint, but you will likely need more than a quart to do so. Most of the time you will use a white screen paint, however, if your projector has a very high lumen count (around 3,500), then consider using gray paint.
Projecting 3,500 lumens onto a white screen will feel slightly blinding. An immense amount of light would be reflected directly at your eyeballs. But most of the time, a plain white screen paint is the best option. You don't absolutely have to paint the wall with specific screen paint, but it is definitely a great addition.
A frame is an essential addition to any screen! Having a distinguishable border around the screen helps the viewer focus on the high-quality image. This is more important than you think, I promise! Almost all screens have a black outline around the projection area because it boosts the image quality.
It gives a clear beginning and end to where the image is projected. The frame naturally helps the eye maintain focus on what is being displayed, and not where the edge of the screen is located.
Some people including myself, struggle with focusing on super minor details. Small things like the edge of a projector's image will be pretty distracting. The frame also enhances the contrast between the wall and the image.
To easily build a frame, first set up your projector in the desired position. Then display a full image onto the wall and use a pencil to mark around the entire projected image.
After marking the area use a black velvet tape to outline the area. If you want the frame to look even better, build a wooden frame to size. I would suggest wrapping each piece of the wooden frame in a thin black carpet. This is what we did, and it looks outstanding!
All in all, you don't have to do these different things to use a projector without a screen. You can point any projector onto any wall. Nobody is going to stop you, but if you are a little OCD then these small things may get annoying as time goes on.
With that said, if you still choose to use a projector without a screen, then I highly suggest doing the three things mentioned above. Smoothen that wall, paint it, smoothen it some more, paint it again, etc. Then place a nice dark frame around the projection area. These things will make a noticeable difference, I promise!
But in reality, projector screens aren't really that expensive. After buying the screen paint and materials for the border, then spending the time prepping everything. Is it really worth it to do all this work when you could just purchase a prebuilt projector screen? In my opinion, no not really!
There are a lot of fair priced projector screens on the market, although, in case you were wondering, you don't need a special one if you have a 3D projector (our guide). Check out our recommended projector screens for our favorite choices. If you want the cheapest option possible, then I suggest buying the projector screen material and building a customized frame around it.
This is the best solution for the price, but that is just my opinion. But if you have the extra cash or budget, then definitely buy a fixed frame projector screen and save yourself a lot of time and effort.
If you're interested in using a projector screen in a living room then check out my article on using a Projector in a Living Room. It has truly been a wonderful experience, and I encourage you to try it if possible!