Can you use a projector on a white sheet?

Let’s face it, projector screens are expensive.

Also, wall-mounted projector screens are big, bulky, and can look quite ugly in small rooms or rooms that are more decorative such as your front room.

There are simpler, less expensive, and less permanent ways of projecting images against a surface.  This begs the question, Can you use a projector on a white sheet?

The answer is an absolute yes

There is more to consider here though, such as should you use a white sheet for projectors, and what are the other considerations and alternatives?  This article explores all of these aspects.

What color sheet should I choose to project onto?

So you are probably thinking that a white sheet is the best color sheet to project onto?  You’d actually be wrong.

White would certainly ensure that the colors projected from a projector were true to the colors that were presented to you on the sheet.  This is because white reflects light extremely well as it doesn’t absorb the color.

Therefore, the colors will be high fidelity.

This highly reflective property of the color white is also why it isn’t great for projecting on materials such as sheets in some circumstances.

If your environment, whether it be your home theater or living room, contains a lot of ambient light, then your projector will struggle to display a perfect image.

This is because the ambient light created by nearby external windows, room lighting, etc, won’t be absorbed by the sheet but instead will be reflected back to the viewer.

This causes the image to become washed out and faded, as the image will be lower in contrast and the blacks won’t be as black as they should be.  Your 1080p or 4K resolutions are going to diminish dramatically.

The darker the color sheet, the less reflective the wall will become.  This is because dark colors absorb light.

Black sheets absorb almost all ambient light which is why black is black.  However, if a sheet was completely black, the projector itself would struggle for its image to be reflected back to the viewer.

Therefore, there is a happy medium to be reached with which color sheet to use for the purpose of projection.

That happy medium is the color gray.

Gray has some of the light absorbent properties of a dark color which increases the contrast in colors and isn’t as reflective as a white wall and therefore is less susceptible to washed-out colors caused by white walls.

The properties of these darker and lighter colors are what is called gain.  Gain is the level of reflectivity of a surface.  A low gain value is more reflective than a high gain surface.  The lower the gain value, the more susceptible the surface is to ambient lighting.

The good news is that bed sheets are relatively cheap to buy so you can buy a range of different colors from white to cream, to gray to dark gray so that you can test each of these to see which offer the optimal picture quality for your particular room along with its varying degrees of ambient light.

Considerations when using a white sheet as a projector screen

White sheets or any sheet for that matter weren’t designed with the purpose of home theaters in mind, therefore there are many things to consider when deciding whether or not to use a sheet as a projector screen.

Let’s take a look at them.

Transparency

A single white cotton sheet will be very transparent when you begin to project against it.  As a large percentage of that light will travel through the sheet, it won’t reflect back to the viewer.  

That means that the colors will be washed out and your image will begin to look blurry.  Your 1080p or 4K resolution is going to be reduced dramatically.

One way around this problem would be to use a thicker white that uses more thread in its production.

Another solution would be to use a second sheet or third white sheet behind the first sheet.  The overall reflective value (also known as gain) of the screen will increase dramatically.  Therefore the image will contain much more vivid colors and will increase the overall sharpness of the video.

A blackout sheet would also make a good sheet to place behind the white sheet.

Wrinkles

Bed sheets are wrinkly by their very nature when compared to a real projector screen. If the surface of the sheets isn’t flat then this will cause shadowing in certain areas of the screen.

If sheets are just to be used every now and then to watch the odd movie or tv show, then this probably isn’t the end of the world.

There are two solutions for this.

The obvious one being the need to iron the sheet as flat as possible before using it as a projector screen.  This is by far the simplest method.

The second option is to attach the sheet to a wooden board to hold it nice and tort or to stretch the sheet by its edges when erecting it for viewing.

The aesthetics – it looks cheap

There is no getting away from it.  Using a bedsheet as a projection screen looks cheap and certainly isn’t an impressive solution.

If you intend for this to be a long term solution, you will probably likely want to change it sooner rather than later.

If you are inviting the boys around to watch the game then it’s probably not going to give you the results that you desire.

If that is the case then read further down this article for some alternatives to using white sheets as a projection screen.

That said, if the sheets are only used every now and then when the mood takes you to watch a film and you want that home theater experience, then heck, why not?

Other surfaces to use a projector screen

As mentioned above, white sheets probably aren’t the best solution when it comes to trying to achieve a home theater experience.  There are a few other options though that don’t cost the earth and are more effective and desirable.

Let’s take a look at each of them.

A Plain Wall

If you have a plain wall large enough to project onto that has a single color of paint applied to it, you are likely to get decent results.

Your wall is likely to be flatter than what your sheet would achieve, thus causing fewer shadows across your image.

Even if your wall isn’t white or gray in color, there are ways of getting around this issue.  For instance, quite a lot of modern projectors allow you to change the color outputs so that they complement the different colors of the wall that you are projecting onto.

Some projectors even automatically detect the color of the surface and adjust the colors accordingly.

Another consideration is to check the wall for minor cracks as these will cause streaks to appear across the projector image.

Projector paint

If you want to take the idea of using a wall as the projector screen rather than a white sheet, then why not paint the wall using a specialist projector paint?

Projector paint comes in different shades that offer different levels of gain to your screen surface.  These particular levels of reflectivity will create far superior results when compared to a white sheet or even a plain wall.

Here is what to consider when using projector paint.

Prepare the wall for painting

Before applying any paint to the wall, remember to prepare the surface first.

A smoother wall will yield a much sharper image.  Therefore, ensure that any cracks in the wall are filled with a very fine waller filler.  Using as fine a wall filler will make it easier to sand the surface down whilst providing an ultra-smooth finish.

If you are painting your projector paint on a wall that has already been painted, prepare the area to be painted with a light sanding and primer coat of paint.

Ambient Light Levels and Gain

Before choosing which projector paint to buy, first, check the light levels in the room.  If your room is full of ambient light (from nearby windows or lighting), then you are better off choosing paint with a high gain whereas if your room won’t have much ambient light when you are projecting then you can choose a paint with a lower gain level.

Gain is the level of reflectivity of a surface.  A low gain value is more reflective than a high gain surface.  The lower the gain value, the more susceptible the surface is to ambient lighting.

It’s sometimes difficult to know for sure how well the projector paint you choose to buy will perform until you try it.

The good news is that if your wall is too dark or too light then this can be easily repainted with paint with a different gain level.

Number of coats of paint

To achieve the optimum level of image quality from your projector, you will need to apply at least two coats of paint to ensure that the wall is uniform with the color of paint you have chosen.

Sometimes walls dry differently in specific patches so a second coat will resolve any differences in tone or color.

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper is a cheap alternative to using a sheet as a projector screen.

The positives to using wrapping paper are two-fold.

Firstly, the underside of wrapping paper is much more reflective than using a white bedsheet.  This will really make the colors of the image pop.

Secondly, it can be easily mounted flat to any surface using tape or glue.

The downside to using wrapping paper as a projector screen is that if your room has a medium amount of ambient light from nearby windows or interior lighting, then the reflective surface of the paper may begin to wash out the beautiful colors from your 1080p or 4K projector.

Blackout cloth

Although this isn’t an alternative to using a white sheet, we recommend using a blackout sheet as well as a white sheet as a projector screen (if you want to go down the whole sheet route that is).

Simply place the blackout cloth behind the white sheet.  This will improve the overall quality of the image by quite a margin.

Projector screen

The most obvious alternative is to simply use a projector screen as these were designed with creating the optimal surface for projecting images onto.

The good news is that there are many screens available that do not require wall mounting.  There are some projector screens that can be folded away into a case and stored elsewhere when not in use.

There are even inflatable projector screens for use both indoor and outdoor if space is a premium.

Conclusion

In conclusion, although the answer to the question Can you use a projector on a white sheet? is a yes, there are major downsides to this if you want to use this for anything other than a temporary solution.

As we have seen though, there are plenty of affordable and flexible solutions to this problem though.  As they are all affordable, then it is easy to try them all out to see which solution is the best fit for you.