Projection Screen Paints
for the DIY Home Theater
But are 'paint-a-projection-screen' solutions worth the expense?
Are you in the process of setting up a home theater on a budget? Many DIY home theater enthusiasts would often consider painting their own projection screen wall, often experimenting with a variety of gray shades and home-made paint mixes. Others would simply opt for a flat bright-white acrylic paint!
Yet, there is a better alternative to experimentation. It is possible to find specially formulated paints for projection screens that come with precise reflectance to control the screen gain and eliminate hot spots, while various neutral shades of gray solutions are available to help you control image contrast. One such paint product we will discuss in this article is Goo Systems' product line, branded as Screen Goo.
The problem with off-the-shelf paint solutions is that while cheaper than fabric projector screens from Da-Lite, Elite, and the like, are still significantly more expensive than the wall paint you get from your favorite hardware store. The whole issue is: Are 'paint-a-projection-screen' solutions worth the extra expense? Do they really represent a suitable alternative to a fixed-frame screen?
Read here to discover more what we think as we review Goo Systems projection screen paint product line.
You can definitely save considerable money over an off-the-shelf projection screen solution by simply painting your own projection surface.
Up to a few years, your only way forward in this direction was to experiment with different paint mixes. This is no longer the case. Specially formulated screen paints are now readily available from a number of paint manufactures. Projection screen paint solutions like Paint-On-Screen and Goo Systems offer a full range of paint products, from pure white, to a variety of gray shades to help you improve image contrast.
Painting your own screen is a relatively favorite topic among beginners' home theaters and DIY enthusiast as it is relatively easy. All it takes is to apply the paint by roller like any other water-based wall paint even though screen paints with a silver base should be sprayed for best results.
Paint for projection screens do not come cheap in comparison to standard acrylic wall paint. Despite these are targeted for the home theater on a budget, expect to spend around $200 in paint products―depending on the selected screen finish―for approximately 1 liter of base coat and another liter of top coat.
To this you have to add the black matte paint for the screen mask/border and any labor costs should you decide to subcontract someone else to do the job for you. Labor costs may eventually make the whole project unfeasible since these will vary depending on the work necessary to ensure that the surface is completely flat and free from defects.
In other words, if you really want to enjoy the financial benefit associated with projection screen paints, you have to paint your own screen; this is fundamental.
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This question follows out of the rather high price associated with specially formulated projection screen paints in comparison to the acrylic wall paint you buy from hardware stores.
For the purpose, we have tested two Goo Systems products, Goo Reference White projection screen paint, and Goo Systems High Contrast. Each of these products comes as a two-part video projection screen paint solution, a basecoat and a top coat; you have to use both to obtain the specified finish. These paint solutions are available from B&H PhotoVideo for $118 per 2x500ml kit comprising sufficient basecoat and the finish to cover up to an 84-inch diagonal 16:9 projection surface.
Application: A large piece of moisture resistant MDF was used as the backing material. This was first sealed with ordinary white undercoat paint. Then the Screen Goo basecoat and topcoat were applied in line with the product instructions by means of a smooth roller.
Results: Goo Systems 'Reference White' top coat acrylic screen paint did definitely produce superior image quality to that obtained using the 'cheaper' white acrylic wall paint we bought from a local hardware store. Goo Systems painted surface produced a clearly brighter projected image, with an overall image quality that is very much in line with the typical performance you would expect from white fabric projection screens available from major brands.
Using a somewhat superior grade (but more expensive) white acrylic wall paint did produce a slight improvement over the cheaper white paint mainly as a result of what appeared to be a smoother finish. But the projected image quality still did not provide an exact match to that of the more expensive Goo product.
More striking was the difference in projected image quality between a screen surface painted using a light shade of neutral gray ordinary acrylic wall paint and one painted using Goo Systems high contrast projection screen paint; the later produced a superior high contrast image with more true-to-life colors.
So... What do we have to say?
While good quality smooth white acrylic wall paint did not exactly make the grade, the projected image may still be acceptable to some when considering the price difference between the two. On the other hand, specially formulated gray projection screen paints are generally much more difficult to mimic than white paint. The reason is that you can never know the exact 'color' of the black tint used by the paint mixers to come up with their gray wall paint.
In other words, if what you want is a white surface, a good quality smooth acrylic paint may do the job though it still would not really make the grade. In the case of a high contrast screen surface, ordinary wall paint is in no way a direct replacement to the more expensive but specially formulated projection paint solutions.
At this point, we think it would be appropriate to discuss in more detail Screen Goo product line. Goo Systems is not the only paint-a-screen product manufacturer; equally popular is the Paint-on-Screen line of projection paints, mainly designed for high contrast surface applications. However, despite its rather expensive price in comparison to ordinary wall paint, the Goo solution is still among the cheapest projection screen paint products presently available on the market.
Goo Systems was one of the first companies to come with a full line of specially formulated projection screen paints, branded as 'Screen Goo' that will allow you to use your wall as an effective fixed-frame large projection screen solution!
The product line consists of a set of specially formulated high reflective acrylic coatings designed specifically for the video industry. Aimed in particular at the budget-restricted home theater, Screen Goo acrylic projection screen paints will allow anyone to transform a smooth paintable surface into a quality projection screen.
Screen Goo is made from a quality acrylic base with no filler materials; this partly explains the relatively expensive price tag. The term 'filler' is often used in the paint industry to indicate the use of cheap additives like talc, marble, and clay, whose sole purpose is to increase the volume of the paint.
Goo System projection screen paints are simple to apply by either roller or spray. Note however that a roller coated surface and a sprayed surface will behave differently since the resultant screen gain and viewing angle will be different due to the resultant different surface texture. This means that the coating process should be taken into account when choosing the right projection screen paint for your application.
Good results with projection paints depend on spreading paint evenly and consistently over the entire projection area. When applying projection screen paints on large surfaces, it is thus essential to ensure that adjacent areas do not start drying up as otherwise it will be impossible to obtain an even application. This is something that can easily happen in a dry environment. Screen Go range includes a retarder additive for the purpose (Goo Flow Release) to help slow the drying time for an even finish.
Screen Goo Projection Screen Paints Product Information
The line of Screen Goo paints for projection screens includes four different paint finishes designed to meet different front projection environments; a fifth paint solution is also available but this is designed for rear projection application. These projection screen solutions come as a basecoat - top coat pair; you have to apply both to obtain the desired result.
Actually, what is being referred to as basecoat is not a true undercoat in that you still need to apply a proper undercoat. The Goo Systems basecoat is in effect a reflective coat which provide an ideal reflective surface setting to which a diffusive, color correct finish coat is added. It is the combination of the reflective basecoat and the diffusive finish coat that gives the Screen Goo projection screen paint solution its unique properties when used in projection screen surface applications.
The following lists the four Screen Goo paint solutions for front projection applications:
Reference White (CRT White): A high-gain low contrast paint best suited for dark environments with complete light control and projectors producing less than 25 ANSI Lumens per square foot of screen area (25 Ft-Lamberts).
High Contrast (Digital Grey): A medium gain, medium contrast paint solution best suited for rooms with moderate ambient light levels and video projectors producing 25 to 35 ANSI Lumens per square foot of screen area.
Max Contrast (Ultra Grey): A low gain, high contrast application best suited for rooms with high ambient light levels and powerful video projectors producing more than 35 ANSI Lumens per square foot of screen area.
Ultra Silver 3D: This is a high gain, high contrast coating that produces a high reflectance silver coating especially suited for polarized 3D projection. It can also be used under a very bright environment, where deep shadows and black tones are generally not so critical. Unlike the other projection screen paints, the Ultra Silver 3D projection screen finish has to be sprayed.
The Reference White finish is ideal for dark environments while the 'gray' line of reflective coatings produce better contrast control and deeper blacks in environments with a higher level of ambient light; the use of neutral gray shades ensure that color accuracy is not affected. The perceived high contrast effect is achieved as the gray finish effectively lowers the black levels in the projected image. Projected images would not look as bright as with the Reference White but image brightness is not much reduced with the High Contrast Digital Grey surfaces.
The chart below depicts the screen gain versus viewing angle for the white and gray projection screen finishes::
Image courtesy of Goo Systems
Potential uses for projector screen paints include home theater installations, retail point-of-purchase displays, conference rooms, and large venue displays such as concert halls, arenas, and houses of worship. In reality, applications are limited only by your imagination.
Finding the right projector screen paint:
The trickiest part when using Screen Goo is picking the right paint for the job, this in view that these projection screen paints are formulated for particular projector types and viewing environments.
Less powerful projectors may produce a dim image on a gray screen surface; too bright an image and the image will suffer from distracting hot spots and degraded black levels.
Goo Systems has set-up a product calculator to help users determine the right Screen Goo for their requirement.
Paint formulations for projection screen applications are much more expensive than standard wall paints, yet they are capable of a significant level of improvement in projected image quality over traditional simple DIY projection screen solutions. The Screen Goo solution under review did provide very good color fidelity, with good horizontal and vertical off-axis characteristics and minimal hot spotting despite the excellent gain.
But projection screen paint solutions have their own drawbacks which have to be taken into account by anyone considering this approach:
 At around $200 for sufficient screen paint to cover a 90-inch diagonal 16:9 screen surface, the price of a painted projection screen starts to get close to that of good off-the-shelf fixed-frame screen solutions from major brands.
 A painted screen would definitely take more time to complete than putting up an off-the self product!
 Acoustic transparency is not possible with projection screen paint solutions!
 With projection screen paints, the projection surface characteristics are very much dependent on your workmanship; unless you are capable of doing a good painting job, it would be tricky to apply projection screen paint and get a consistent surface texture with a uniform shine across the entire surface.
However... Do not overlook these paint-a-screen solutions
For many, projection screen paints are nothing more than a low-budget application; in particular, many videophiles consider the painting-a-screen as nothing more than a home theater on-the-cheap solution. But those taking such an approach would be missing on the possibilities that paint solutions offer.
Simplistically speaking, inasmuch as vinyl and fabric-backed projector screens are made by applying different layers of specially formulated coatings to obtain the desired surface reflectance, projection screen paint solutions represent an alternative way of obtaining a screen surface optimized for the projection of video images. Both approaches rely on the application of specially formulated coatings with the desired reflectance characteristics to a backing medium.
There is one significant difference though; it is at the bigger screen sizes that the price advantage of projection screen paints really starts to kick in.
The truth is that if what you are after is the biggest screen for your budget and you know how to correctly use a paint roller or spray gun, painting your own wall with a specially formulated projection screen paint is an effective and affordable DIY option to transform a wall―or in that case any smooth paintable surface―into a quality projection screen.
Are you looking for
Projection Screen Paint Solutions?
Screen Goo paints are available from B&H PhotoVideo.
An alternative projection screen paint option is the Paint-on-Screen line, available at amazon.
Would you like to have your say? You may submit your comments here...
What is your opinion about paint-a-screen solutions? Have you ever made use of these products? Do you think these represent a feasible alternative to a fixed-frame vinyl or fabric-backed projection screen?