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The best fabric for a DIY projection screen

When you want to build your own projection screen, selecting the right fabric is essential.

Now, what I will NOT be talking about is the viewing angle, the gain or other technical aspects of the fabric’s finish (the optical coating).

No, I will only be discussing the material’s characteristics that will make it easier to get your screen surface perfectly flat.
Because no matter whether you are buying a brand new projection screen or you are making your own. One element is paramount: the planarity of the surface.

If the surface isn’t perfectly flat, your movies will come out distorted.

The 2 projection screen fabric types

Because we are looking at the “mechanical” characteristics of fabrics, there are only 2 groups of fabrics:
Stretchable and none-stretchable ones

Most surfaces are non-stretchable. They are most often used in manual projection screens, but are also very common in electric projection screens. The tretchable ones are found in fixed frame screens, electric screens and tab-tesioned screens.

Fixed frame screens almost exclusively use stretchable materials. The only exeception I know of: the fixed frame screen with woven acoustically transparent fabrics.

Choosing the best fabric for your DIY project

There’s a reason almost all frame screens exclusively use the elastic / stretchable screen fabric: it gives mass producers of projection screens the most reliable results, in the shortest amount of time.

And that’s why it should be your first choice too.

With a stretchable material, you can apply a lot of tension that will create that flat-as-a-sheet surface. It’s a lot more forgiving when it comes to creases as well, because they are “stretched” out in combination with the applied tension.

A non-stretchable piece of fabric seems to have a “memory”. The result: even with tension applied, a crease will not disappear.

The third reason why a stretchable material is the better choice is that it’s a lot easier to apply tension to it. A non-stetchable material will be very difficult to tension, as there’s almost zero stretch. So it’s very hard to get it tensioned to perfection.

That’s because the little tension that you can get onto it, is often gone as soon as you try to fix it in place (there’s always a moment where you have to release a little bit of tension when you tack the screen in place).

When a non-stretchable fabric is a good choice

The only instance where a non-stretchable fabric is a good choice is when you are looking to create an acoustically transparant projection screen.

If you don’t know what that is: it’s a projection screen that allows sound to pass through it.

There are some fabrics with very good acoustic woven fabrics available, that are non-stretch only. If that’s what you want, then there’s no other option. It’ll be a lot harder to get it perfectly flat though.

How to avoid disappointment with the material you bought

If you don’t want to end up with the wrong fabric (and money wasted), there’s only one way to ensure you have the right material.

Test it yourself

And that’s because there’s no manufacturer that gives you a stretch-factor for their projection material.

So before you buy anything, request a sample sheet. By stretching the material with yor hands, you can easily determine yourself whether the fabric is the right choice.

If in doubt, only ask for fabrics that are used in fixed frame screens.

Available fabrics, or…where to buy

There are a number of fabrics that I know are perfect for frame screens.

I am making these available through this site, as great fabrics can be very hard to source, I was told by a lot of readers.

Which is something I want to address, as great fabrics should be eassily available and don’t need to be expensive.

So here are the fabrics:

Matt white (1.2 gain)
Matt white rear coated (1.2 gain, black back)
Reference white (1.0 gain)
Reference grey (0.9 gain)

All these are available for order and can be cut exactly to size.
Samples are available for testing as well.

If you want more info or samples, please mail me at otto@projectionscreen.net

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Comments

  1. Hello,

    I understand you are staying away from fabric’s contrast and color properties, but for a DIY setup one needs that advice too, where would you recommend finding it?

    Best, Priam

  2. i want to buy an epson TW3200, what screen material is proper for this device asuming that i have not such a bright room put the paint is light?

    thank you!

  3. Alejandro says:

    Agree with Priam here…

    “The next step is looking at the reflective properties: color type, gain and viewing angle”

    And where can I find the info for this next step?

    Thanks,
    A

  4. David Dake says:

    I have a 24 ft by 16 ft screen, I am now using a White Tarp, I would like to us fabric instead. Can you help.

  5. This provided no information at all, you did not even mention one type of material, all you mentioned was stretchy and not stretchy -.-

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