Home Theater Projector Screen on a Budget




Introduction: Home Theater Projector Screen on a Budget

If you want to make a good looking, good quality projector screen and you don't want to spend a lot, this is one good way to do it. My total cost for the screen was around $50. I didn't add it up exactly. I got some of my ideas from other instructables and some ideas from AV forums. I wanted to find an article just like this, but it wasn't here, so I decided to post this. I learned little nuggets of wisdom along the way that I will share with you. Feel free to share alterations that you made. I shared my particular measurements throughout as an example. Yours will likely vary, but you can use the same basic principles.

Step 1: Preperation

Before getting started, here's a list of supplies you'll be using:

Staple Gun, Staples
Wood Glue
Measuring Tape
Pieces of 1"x3" Poplar (you'll get the measurements in the instructions)
1" pieces of plastic trim
Paint Roller, Paint Pan
Primer Paint
Paint for the Top Coat
Drywall Anchors
Screws with O-rings
Screws with Hooks

Here we go...
1. Install the projector where it will be

2. Measure hight & width of the screen while the projector is on (mine was 45x102.5).

3. Pick your paint:

For the higher end, you can use screen goo - http://www.goosystems.com/index.php
There's plenty of info about that product at those sites. I plan to use that some day (when I get more Christmas money). It sounds like a great solution.

If you want to be cheaper, like me, for now, you can select a normal paint.

--at this point I should mention that I found Home Depot more useful than Lowes for several things in this project - 1. they carry Behr brand paint and 2. they cut pieces of wood to length and sell it by the foot--

I went to Home Depot and picked several paint chips from white to light grey. Some AV forums suggested Behr 'Silver Screen" paint (770E-2). This is what I ended up using. When you have grey, it appears to be a better contrast ratio than white does. Also, I used a matte finish because it's less reflective and that's what you want.

So, I suggest picking up several different shades (make Silver Screen one of the options) and get a small stack of each individual color. When you get home, tape all of the chips of one color together so that it makes a square that is about 2-3 square feet in area.

Slap them up on the projector wall. I used painters tape as an adhesive so that it wouldn't mess up the walls. Now, watch part of a movie. Find one with good colors and sections with good blacks. Do your best not to compare the white to the greys, because you may think, "Oh, the white looks better compared to the grey." but remember that when the whole screen is one color you won't notice that. The white may have 'popped' better in my test, but I think I'm better off with the grey (because of contrast ratio). With the black border (very important & addressed later) it looks great.

Step 2: Plan Your Cuts, Buy Supplies

You want to plan for a border of 2"-3". I chose 2", so in my example, I have a screen hight of 45" so I add 2" on each side - a total of 4", meaning my long side of my hight will be 49" and the inside will be 45" (length is 106.5" and 102.5" respectively). You'll be cutting your wood at 45 degree angles assuming you want it to look good.
I bought pieces of 1"x3" for my frame. I highly suggest using Poplar wood. Make sure and look at each piece length-wise to make sure they're all straight. Plan to have enough for some corner supports.

If you already have your paint color picked out, you might as well buy it at the same time.

--Make sure to get some Primer Paint if you don't already have some as you will be needing some for the first 2-3 coats--

Cloth supplies: You want something like a canvas material for the screen and some black non-reflective material (thick is preferable) for the border.
I went to Walmart for the cloth. Any fabric store will do. Make sure and check the discount bin first. Also, talk to a worker. I described what I was looking for (a smooth canvas type material) and the lady found the perfect cloth for me that I would not have found. It was pretty sturdy/stiff and smooth - not like a potato sack. You may find a material that works better for you than canvas - like the back side of some pleather. The screen material only cost me a $1 per yard (I got about 3 yards worth) and the black material for the border was only $2/yard.

--Make sure to measure the area of the screen PLUS 2 inches for EACH side PLUS about 3"-4" for overlap on EACH side. Remember, you'll be wrapping this around 1"x3" slats and you want leeway on each side--

Step 3: Build That Frame!

Make your cuts according the the measurements you figured out. Don't forget the corner support pieces.

--Double check your measurements before cutting. I accidentally cut one of my pieces 45" instead of 49" and had to go back and buy another piece. If you were using the same measurements as me, it would be 49" from tip to tip and 106.5" from tip to tip as in the diagram from the previous stage.

Sand any rough edges.

I poked little dents on the portions being glued together so that the glue had that much more surface area to touch. It may have been pointless. You may know better.

Before you start to glue, put all the pieces together to make sure you had true 45 degree angles and that it makes a rectangle correctly.

Set the 4 pieces on the ground in the rectangle. Glue the adjoining faces of two corners and stick them together. Spread any excess glue around (know that there will probably be some coming out the back).

Staple. Use a hammer to lightly tap the staples all the way in.

Repeat this with the other 3 corners.

CAREFULLY flip the whole frame over & staple the back side on every corner.

Now, glue and staple the corner supports that you cut. Hammer tap again. Staple the other side.

Step 4: Attach the Screen Material

After your frame has had time to dry, you're ready to add the screen material.

If need be, iron your material.
Lay the material out flat and put your frame on top.
I suggest using some help for this part. I did it by myself and it was tedious stretching it out tight/taut. If you get it pulled as taut as you can and there's still some wrinkled looking areas, do not fear. At least for me, I had some wrinkled looking areas, but after I painted, they disappeared.
With the frame centered, fold one side of the material over and staple away.
-- As a side note, I used longer staples to staple the wood, shorter ones to staple fabric and longer ones for a later step of adding the plastic trim.
Pull the opposite side as tight as possible and staple it down the same way. I started at the center of the other side and, as I pulled tightly, worked my way, stapling, towards the outer edges.
Finish off the other two sides of the rectangle.

Step 5: Paint the Screen

If you use canvas material like I did, you will need to put at least 2 coats of primer on. When getting rollers for this job (you want to use rollers), ask a sales clerk which ones are best for a smooth surface & one that will not leave bits of fuzz. I used one roller for primer and a different one for the final paint coat.

Even if you know how to paint well (always roll over the painted surface lightly after you finish an area to make sure it's smoothed out) painting on canvas is not as easy as a wall, so expect that. Follow the can for instructions on how long to wait between coats.

I put two coats of the Behr Silver Screen on after the primer and then still added touch-up after that (always going over touched-up areas lightly with the roller for an even surface).

If you're not used to painting, don't worry when you get done and it looks splotchy because once it completely dries, it'll be more even.

You will do the same basic thing if you use the Screen Goo. There is a small instructional video on one of the sites I linked to earlier telling how to paint your screen.

Step 6: Add the Border

Once you've painted, you are to add your border.

This is probably the most complicated step to explain. You may come up with a better idea. I read in some AV forum that using black paint - even matte finish ends up being too reflective.

The schematic pic is my best depiction of how I laid out the plastic 1" trim if the black material were not there. In the picture, black represents the wood frame, white represents the plastic trim pieces.

Cut the black material into strips that will cover the border area. I cut mine length-wise into 3rds and cut one of those pieces in half, which gave me four pieces the right size for what I needed. Do your own measuring. It's better to have too much that will just end up folded on the back.

I folded my black material in half to make it thicker.

This is where it kinda gets tricky in the explanation...With this, again, I'm using the measurements for my screen. If you want a bigger border, you may do it a little different. It's important to look at the progression of the pictures along with the following steps. Also, hopefully, the image notes (yellow squares) will help this make more sense.

Start on one of the sides (the 45"/49" sides)

With the screen (painted area) facing up, lay your black material about an inch inside the screen with the excess laying inwards toward the middle of the screen.

Staple along the edge of the black material which will be about 2" inward.

Next, measure and mark all along the side at exactly 2" in with chalk. Also, measure 2" in from the top and bottom.

Take a piece of 1" plastic trim and cut it to 45" long.

Place the inside edge of the trim to the outside of the chalk line (so that 1. from the edge of the frame to the other side of the trim equals 2" and 2. from the inside of the trim on one side to the inside of the trim on the other side - once it's all done - equals 102.5" for the length [or 45" for the hight] of the screen). You'll also want the trim to be 2" from the top and 2" from the bottom.

Now staple this trim piece down on top of the black material (basically over top of where you stapled the black material already. I stapled one direction for the material and then perpendicular for the trim so that I didn't hit any staples when I was stapling down the trim. Through this whole process, always make sure to tap the staples down with a hammer to make sure they are flush.

You can go ahead and do this whole process to the other side as well.

Next, flip the screen over so that the back is facing up, then wrap the black material around to the back. In doing so, you are wrapping it over the 1" trim, covering it up. Make sure the material is taut.

Start this same process over for the length (Ultimately, the top and bottom of the screen). The only difference is that this time, you cut the trim to go all the way to each edge (each side). It's OK if you have to use more than one piece of trim for then length since it's all gonna get covered up by the black material anyway. The last picture in this step illustrates what this will look like once the material is stapled and you put the trim down, but have yet to wrap it around to the back.

Once you complete this for the two sides and the top & bottom, you're just about done.

Step 7: Fasten to the Wall

I'm not putting much here because there's many ways to do this. You may want to have yours permanently affixed to the wall.

I put the finished screen up to the wall centered exactly, then measured from the edge of each wall to the middle of the 1"x3" on each side (this should be the same on each side if you want it centered). then I screwed in these hardware pieces - a screw with an O-ring - to the back of the frame making sure that the screw portion was short enough that it wouldn't protrude out the front of the black border area (that would be ugly).

On the ceiling, I used screws with open-ended hooks. I made the holes and used drywall anchors to give it enough strength to hold up the screen (trust me, if you're not screwing into studs, you need drywall anchors). Remember, if you're hanging it close to the ceiling, you need enough wiggle room to get it hooked and unhooked.

Like I say, you may find a solution you like better for hanging yours. This way works for me and I can easily mount or dismount it from the wall when not in use.

Step 8: Enjoy Your New Screen

Here are some pics of my finished product.

**A note about aspect ratio: To get the measurements for my screen, I chose a movie with the 2.35:1 aspect ratio (movies like Matrix, Starwars, etc.) and blew the picture up to the size I wanted. When I watch content with 16x9 or 4x3, there is white showing on both sides of the screen not being used. To address this, I added black curtains (along with a black skirt) so that it covers up any unused portion of the screen (See pics below). The result is that the entire wall is either the movie or black. Another way to address the aspect ratio variation would be to create a 4x3 screen that was much taller, but still as wide as possible. Then, you could have a black skirt that you raise up for 16x9 content or 2.35:1 content. This way, regardless of the aspect ratio, your content will be as wide as possible on your wall.  

Make sure to have a party for the inaugural movie viewing.

Just some final notes on how I (technically) only spent about $50 for my entire Home Theater setup:

Old multi-media projector - given to me. This may take some good social networking. My church replaced it's main projector in the auditorium and the old, obsolete one was just gathering dust in a closet. I asked if it could gather dust at my house. Once the bulb goes on it, it will basically be trash because the $300-400 that it'd cost for a new bulb will be half way towards a new projector with much better specs. UPDATE: With '08 birthday & Christmas money, I replaced the hand-me-down projector with a 720p projector. No surprise, the picture looks much better. I have also since added a built-from-scratch HTPC with Blu-Ray, HDMI out & Optical audio out. With Windows Media Center, it can stream Netflix & Hulu and also DVR over-the-air HD. I use an iPhone app as the mouse, keyboard & MC remote. I love the set up and maybe I'll make an instructable on creating an HTPC. 

Surround Sound System:
I looked in Consumer Reports for a comparison of models. The top model was a 7.1 Onkyo, but it was a receiver only. I already had a DVD player, but decided to go with a system that had a DVD player because the one I got is up-converting and has HDMI ports (a little future proofing). I went with the second highest ranked model in CR, which was the Sony HT-7100DH. I'm quite pleased with it. I got mine from amazon. You can definitely find better prices online (as always with electronics). This is where the technicality comes in. I bought this with Christmas money, so it wasn't really out of pocket.

As stated before, these materials cost me around $50 for the whole project.

Hope you enjoyed. Hope this was helpful.

Be the First to Share


    • Reclaimed Materials Contest

      Reclaimed Materials Contest
    • Laser Challenge

      Laser Challenge
    • 3D Printed Student Design Challenge

      3D Printed Student Design Challenge



    1 year ago on Step 8

    This is a great tutorial. I appreciate the time you took to create it, it's very helpful.


    5 years ago

    So, I created this instructable in 2008 (over 8 years ago). I have since moved and have made a new screen for a newer, better home theater. The new screen uses an acoustically-transparent material so that the center channel speaker can sit directly behind the screen. This new one cost more money, but whereas I paid around $500 for materials, if I would have paid for a pre-made screen of this quality, it would have cost $2000-3000. I took pictures during the process and have plans to create a new instructable for it. I used an entirely different method to make the new one. It is more substantial (140" screen).


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I love seeing someone else rationalize money like I do. "I bought this with Christmas money, so it wasn't really out of pocket." Hate to say it, but that's still out of pocket.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Depends. What if the money never entered the pocket? Thus leaving it as money straight out of the card. Either way. I think what shes getting at is it was gifted money. Not money earned by labor and a paycheck. Therefor, she didnt actually pay for it; the presenter did; she just chose how to spend the money that was given to her.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable! In my research, I actually found another website where someone posted instructions similar to this. They actually did tests with a few different types and brands of paint and compared the results to the quality of an actual projection screen.


    They go into pretty good detail about the test results & the picture quality, pros & cons of each paint type. They actually recommend NOT using the Behr Silver Screen paint, but of course we're all entitled to make our own choices! I guess it all comes down to personal preference, & they happened to prefer the quality of that particular brand of projection screen & wanted to get as close to that as possible using paint. I'm not quite ready to create a theater room just yet, but when I get a bigger place I'm definitely gonna keep these links handy!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Love your step by step on installing a home theater on a budget. I want to do something like this in my theater room, but don't know if I have enough space. Also great list of all the things one might need to get this project done. I'm sure that will be a big help to me if I ever decide to instal a home theater. Thanks for the great article.



    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Great job. I just bought this projector https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LDxXj2oH-M the best one ever


    9 years ago on Step 8

    Excellent step by step tutorial, and very nice finished project.
    How did you build/mount the skirt, and did you use drapery rods for the curtains. Thanks, and again very nice!


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 8

    If memory serves, I simply stapled the skirt to the back side of the screen. Thanks for your comments.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    ... My wife and I are looking into doing the same project. My mother-in-law goes to goodwill all the time and gives us these really big picture frames with glass. Instead of hurting her feelings and throwing them out, i was wondering that since the glass is a very flat surface with no imperfections. Can't I just paint over that with behr silver screen paint?........any feedback would be great



    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    that could work you could put screen goo on insteed


    10 years ago on Step 8

    This is exactly what I was searching for, Thanks very much for the excellent tutorial, Your time and effort is going to save me about £150 and for that I am extremely grateful, Thank you very much sir


    11 years ago on Step 6

    THIS IS A WICKED Instructable!!! Im looking to build a screen for my catering hall and this design works AWESOME!!!!! I can even hang it from the stage and simply pull it back up to the ceiling to store it away when not using it! THANKS SO MUCH FO RTHE IDEAS!!!!!!!


    11 years ago on Step 8

     This is exactly what I needed to see! Thank you so much for taking the time to post such an in depth step by step diy screen project! I am going to build mine next week and post a few pics, giving you credit of course! Stay diy!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this idea. please let me know what instructions will go with these specs:

    • Projection Medium: LCD (3.5 Inch Panel)
      • Contrast: 500:1
      • Brightness: 1000 ANSI Lumens
      • Resolution: 640x480
      • Audio Output: 2W x 2
      • Lamp Power: 175W
      • Display Mode: 4:3, 16:9
      • Optic Properties:
    Lens: Manual Focusing
    Projection Distance: 1.0-5.0 Metres
    Projection Size: 30-150 Inches (Diagonal)
    • TV Tuner Properties:
    - Color System: PAL/NTSC
    - Frequency Bands: VHF-L, VHF-H, UHF
    - Antenna Impedance: 75 Ohm
    • Inputs: Composite, S Video, VGA, Computer Audio, Audio In, TV Antenna In
    • Outputs: Audio Out
    • Power Source: 110V AC
    • Dimension: 320x250x110mm (L x W x H)
    • Manufacturer Ref.: RLK3Z842H956