Projectors deliver a cinematic experience way better than even the largest HDTVs ever could. They’re larger and they’re the digital home or business versions of the commercial movie projector, after all. With that said, you need a good color of the projector screen to really showcase their full potential.
What’s the best color for projector screen usage anyway? They range from white to gray to silver and even simply painting the wall with reflective paint.
Further reading: How to Choose a Projector Screen
White Projector Screen
White is the de facto projector screen color, especially in the advent of DLP projectors that can maintain black levels and deal with ambient light problems on its own without necessitating the purchase of a gray screen.
White Screens Available as Different Materials
More manufacturers make white screens instead of gray screens because there are plenty of materials available for them. Take note that an off-white or matte color is still considered part of the white color family.
Standard white and matte white screens all offer neutral gain. It’s like how with bond paper, the color of your paints are perfectly captured without the color of the paper affecting their fidelity.
What Does Neutral Gain or Slight Gain Mean?
The gain number represents a ratio of light that is reflected back from a surface from a light source. White is neutral gain or what’s produced by the projector is what you’ll see on screen. Some manufacturers claim their screen offers slight gain at 1.1 or 1.3.
The slight bump in numbers for gain is insignificant or considered a false gain. You can get increased gain from screens like Da-Lite Cinema Vision or High Power, but it’s more from emulsion built into the screen backing. As a rule of thumb, all white screens offer neutral gain.
You may also like: Projector Screens 101: White versus Grey versus Silver Projector Screen
Gray Projector Screen
The gray or grey projector screen is an ambient light absorbing screen color used to make the image clearer by increasing its black levels or contrast. Compared to white screens, gray screens are superior when it comes to black levels.
LCD Projectors and Gray Screens
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors from back the 1960s onwards to the early 2000s have issues with both ambient light and maintaining black levels in places where the lighting isn’t pitch-black. Gray projector screens saw increased usage around this time period to allow high-contrast viewing even with poor lighting.
These gray screens are particularly dependable as white screen alternatives in business meetings or classroom settings. These places required ambient light to be turned on to allow businesspersons or students to take notes or ask questions while the slideshow presentation is being conducted.
Have DLP Projectors Rendered Gray Screens Obsolete?
There’s also talk of Digital Light Processing (DLP) projectors rendering the grey screen obsolete. However, is that necessarily the case?
This claim is being made because DLPs are capable of high-brightness yet high-contrast input with amazing black levels for a crystal-clear digital image every time. You no longer need gray screens due to contrast ratios being raised as high as 3000:1 and more for ambient light viewing.
However, certain projectionists and cinemaphiles claim that gray screens offer an extra dimension of viewing pleasure for certain videos or movies. Like how they might still prefer black and white films over colored films.
Silver Projector Screen
You’ve heard movies described as the silver screen because back in the day, people used silver screens. They did exist and they’re not metaphorically made of silver. These screens literally have silver-laced paint on them to make them more reflective.
The Birth of the Silver Screen in the Early Days of Cinema
Cinemas and theaters of the silver screen era of entertainment showed slideshows, “movies” (actual moving black and white video), and “talkies” (movies with dialog versus the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton).
During these early days of cinema and the silver screen, film projectors of the era had terrible luminosity or brightness. Light bulb technology and film projector technology were both very primitive at the time. Some even use gas flame lamps instead of incandescent bulbs to light the film.
Boosting Gain via Silver Screen
This poor projector lighting necessitated the use of highly reflective silver screens that work in reflecting the light and boosting the gain of even poorly lit projectors of the day. Even in pitch-blackness, the light of the old projector still required extra reflection from the silver screen.
Silver screens actually boosted the gain of low-light projectors to as high as 10 versus neutral gain to slight gain from white screens. This and dark theater rooms maximized the brightness of old-timey projectors.
Painted Wall Screen
You can save money on buying a projector screen by simply painting a wall with reflective paint then making it your impromptu screen from now on. This is because normal walls with normal paint result in warped or dull images that mess with your viewing pleasure.
How to Make Your Wall More Screen-Like
Sand down your wall. You might think it’s a flat surface at first glance but what works with an ordinary wall won’t pass the test when you turn that wall into a projector screen. Use a power sander or grinder to flatten the brick and mortar down.
It also helps in prepping your wall by stripping down its previous paint. This flatness minimizes warping and maximizes 1:1 image fidelity.
Projector Paint Brands to Watch Out For
From there, with a budget of about $100, you can purchase performance projector screen paint like Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 100 or Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Smooth Enamel Satin Finish.
The wall color can be white or off-white, gray, silver or even black (watch out for black screen detriments) depending on your projector’s brightness, the room’s ambient lighting, and your personal preferences.
The Bottom Line
Silver screens offer the best features when reflecting even low-light projections because of their sheer reflective properties. However, it can get quite expensive. White is more common because it’s cheaper and it’s a neutral color that best captures the fidelity of the projected image.
While white is ideal for image fidelity, gray is the go-to screen color for maintaining black levels and ambient light absorption so that the brightness of the image isn’t robbed by light fixtures such as lamps or daylight from open curtains.
Black is even better at ambient light absorption and black level maintenance but its lack of reflective properties makes for a duller image with too high a contrast. Finally, you can color a wall as white, gray, or evens silver for screening purposes as long as it’s smoothened out first.
- “What Type & Color Of Paint To Use For A Projector Screen?“, Home Theater Academy, Retrieved March 24, 2021
- Evan Powell, “Should I use white or gray projection screens?” Projector Central, May 24, 2004
- “White, Grey, or Silver – A Review!“, AVS Forum, May 22, 2003