An Easy, Portable Outdoor Movie Screen





Introduction: An Easy, Portable Outdoor Movie Screen

One of our favorite parties involves having friends over to watch a movie on the outdoor screen. With a movie, you can easily tie in themed invitations, food and drink, music and games—but you can also call the neighbors over for impromptu snacks and a screening, and still have a grand old time.

This screen was designed to be low cost (under $40 for everything), easy to make, and portable. The entire thing can be broken down and carried in a yoga or bat bag for transportation to different locations.

Whenever possible, I had cuts made when purchasing. This meant one less step at home and in the case of the pvc pipe, it meant I could get the pieces home in my little Toyota. 

Step 1: Determine Your Screen Size

Find the widest outside wall of your house and measure the height and width. I would recommend maximizing both height as well as width, because not all films are shot in wide format. If your screen is only wide, you may end up showing an older square format film on half the available screen space.

The back of our garage is 12' wide and approximately 8' high, so those are the dimensions I started with.

Step 2: Hardware

The screen is suspended between a top and bottom frame made of 1" pvc pipe. I chose to have my pipe cut into 3' lengths in order to be portable and easily stored. You can cut pipe with a hacksaw at home, but most hardware stores will cut the pipe for you for a small fee. 

In addition to the pipe for the top and bottom of the screen, you need straight couplings to connect the lengths, caps for the ends, and snap clamps to attach the screen to the bottom piece.

I used:

8 X 3' pieces of 1" pvc pipe
6 X 1" pvc pipe couplings
4 X 1" pvc pipe end caps
10 X 1" pvc snap clamps

Hanging hardware includes:

hooks to hang the frame from
cinching straps to wrap around the pvc pipe frame
D-rings (this is belt hardware and can be found in sewing supply stores)

Step 3: Assemble and Test Frame

The pipe is simply pressure fit together. Place a D-ring under each cinch strap and hang from a hook screwed into the eaves. Be sure to test the frame once and mark the straps and pieces for future reference.

Step 4: Screen

The screen material is a 54" wide, rubber-coated blackout shade fabric. I had two 4-yard pieces cut at the fabric store to save the extra step of cutting it at home. There was no charge for this.

Step 5: Flat Fell Seam

The flat fell seam is strong and durable, with no exposed raw edges to deal with. Parallel seams are sewn along both sides of the folded portion for minimal disruption in the surface of the fabric.

Sewing this was actually the most difficult part of the screen, because the shade fabric is slippery and stretchy, and because it's a chore to push huge amounts of cloth through a home sewing machine.

Here are a few tips:
  • pin well—the better you pin, the less slippage you'll have when sewing
  • use white polyester thread and a size 70 or 80 needle. Be sure your needle is new and sharp—going through this fabric is going to dull it quickly. Discard the needle after the project.
  • adjust your stitch tension and foot pressure as necessary.
  • sew slowly, watching for slippage in the fabric
  • consider running the seams vertically instead of horizontally. A vertical seam has less pressure on it, so you can use a simple straight stitch without any finishing necessary.

Step 6: Make a Casing

Measure the casing by wrapping the top edge of the screen around the coupler (the widest part of the top frame piece). My casing for the 1" pvc was 2-1/2" wide.

Pin and sew a straight stitch, making a tube through which to slip the frame.

Next, lay your top frame piece on top of the casing and snip slots for the D-rings to hang through. These snipped pieces can simply be folded under as shown.

Step 7: Hang Your Screen

The screen is now ready to hang!

Slip the assembled frame through the casing and attach the cinch straps and D-rings through the slots you cut. The easiest way we found to hang the screen was to place it on a table and have two people lift the ends at the same time.

When the top frame is hung, attach the bottom frame to the screen with snap clamps. You may also want to secure the bottom of the screen with weights or ties in case of a sudden breeze.



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    In doing some research, I've heard that Billboard Tarps are a good material since they're weatherproof and very durable. I'm going to try something from these guys. I will try and let you know how it turns out.

    1 reply

    Jim, I would like to know how the tarp worked for you. I am considering this option as well.

    Not an endorsement, just an FYI ... I'm building some screens for my bands live show. Here's site to buy real and affordable projection screen material in bulk rolls. You can request a sample pack. I think I paid $3.00 to cover the postage for the sample pack.

    any suggestions for the best place to get the material - at the 10.99 a yard I am seeing most places this becomes a bit more expensive - but still not a bad deal

    1 reply

    Great idea. Thanks. I just bought a projector and speakers and am looking forward to doing backyard movies for the little ones this summer. I hadn't figured out the screen yet but now I have something to work with.

    How on earth do you get the image onto the canvas?! Do you have to have a projector or something?

    1 reply

    it's a projector screen, so I'd assume so, but it might just be magic.

    This is a great idea! However I do not see how this would be portable. I am looking to make something that stands independently to take camping. Any tips?

    2 replies

    Add the cost of a sewing machine that I don't have and there goes the under $40 theory! For those with the same problem as I, they sell 12' x 8' thick canvas drop cloths in the painting department at walmart for $15. It's a single piece, no seams.

    As for true portability, I used 1" steel conduit from home depot. It's very cheap. You can build a frame out of it with corners, T-fittings and couplings as you like. Then just drive the two "legs" of the frame into the ground wherever you wish to set it up and assemble the rest of the frame. I used several grommets ($5 for 100 - available at Harbor Freight - including the tool) on each side of the canvas and stretched it onto the frame with ball loop bungee cords.

    Thanks for the tip about the drop cloth--I'm going to try that for our next iteration of screen. (The biggest problem we've had with them is that the screen gets dirty over time--we live in an agricultural area.) The conduit frame sounds great for camping. We hang ours over concrete, so it wouldn't work here. But I will definitely look into a no-sew drop cloth--thanks for that tip!

    This is great and I really like the casing idea. But I do have a. question regarding the couplings. Could you please explain where the 6 couplings would go. Thank you!

    1 reply

    I'm so sorry for my delay in replying. The couplings hold the top and bottom pieces together. A single length of pvc pipe was not strong enough to support the screen, but by using shorter lengths and coupling them together, it became stronger.

    Great screen! I ordered screen material from Amazon and built a pvc frame. It's 200"x100". Now I'm working on an easier way to put the screen up each time. If I come up with what I'm thinking, I will def. do an instructable, because I haven't been able to find anything close to what I'm thinking, lol. As for projector, mine too is an optima, and a few years old but still great, and will push the 200" just fine. But like you said they sure have come down in price and are getting brighter as well. Happy Movie watching!

    1 reply

    I'll look forward to your instructable! This was my second screen, and I'd still like to improve it to make it easy to put up, take down and store (and ideally, transport to other people's homes, as well).

    Urmm, what do you use for the image ? Projector right ? But which one would you recommend ?

    1 reply

    Wow, that's a hard question--it's such a personal choice. Ours is several years old and is an Optoma, but projectors are getting brighter, smaller and cheaper all the time. Probably best to look at a consumer site for the latest information.