Do-It-Yourself Projection Screen

Welcome to my screen construction web page. This small project started because I needed a 16 x 9 projection screen for my Optoma Projector, and didn't see the value in the commercial tensioned screens, which run $1000 and up here in Canada. While hanging out in the AVS Forum, I learned that some people were using 'blackout cloth' with good results. So I decided to build my own tensioned screen using that material and some cheap lumber. Here are the details:

Screen Parts    This shows the parts used to make the screen. It's really very simple. I used 1 x 4 fir framing pieces, then mitered the ends using a 10" miter saw. I used Fir because it's hard, meaning it will be more rigid and hold staples better. I don't know if this is necessary. You could save a few dollars using a cheaper lumber. The other parts are some plain old metal angles from Home Depot, and some screws.
For Screen cloth, I went to 'FabricLand', and bought some 'blackout cloth' that is used to line curtains for light blocking. This material has an off-white side, and a white side. To my untrained eye, the material on the white side looks exactly like a matte white screen material. Same color, texture, and gain, which I believe is around 1.3 (based on comments from other people who have used this stuff for a projection screen). This material comes on a roll 54" wide, and can be stretched a couple of inches in width, meaning you can make a 96 x 54. 16:9 screen with it. I paid $8.54 per linear yard.
Finally, I purchased 3 yards of a felt-like black cloth, which I will staple to the framing members.

This image shows the black cloth stapled around each framing member. The first one I did wound up having a couple of wrinkles in it, because I tried to staple one side first all down the length of the framing piece, then staple the other. I had a tough time this way. On the other pieces, I basically worked my way down the frame, stapling the cloth tight as I went. This worked perfectly.

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Short side of frame

Corner Detail This image shows some detail about the stapling, and how the angle pieces were screwed on to give the frame some rigidity (in this picture, the screws weren't in yet - I used 3/4" wood screws, and put one in each hole). One word about the stapling: If your staple gun doesn't set the staples into the wood well, then continue pulling on the cloth while you hammer down the staple. That way, the tension force is spread across the whole staple instead of just the prongs.
This picture also shows how I finished the ends of each piece. Basically, I just folded the cloth around the ends and stapled it down, much like wrapping a Christmas present. All that was done prior to assembling the frame pieces.

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The next step was to stretch the cloth onto the frame. Rather than describe it, I suggest going to this site: How to stretch a canvas. However, this site shows how to stretch a canvas for a painting. This means the face of the cloth is stretched over the front of the frame and pulled behind it and stapled on the sides. In our case, we want the 'face' of the cloth behind the frame facing through it, and we want the staples on the back. So I laid the frame face down, laid the cloth face down over the back, then pulled it tight and stapled according to the instructions on that web site. It was easy, and took maybe half an hour.

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Stapling Detail

Cloth stretched on This is the frame with the screen stretched across the back, face down. If you find that the screen is too flexible after it's all done, I would recommend nailing some 1/16" ply or MDF to the back. That would make a 'composite' structure that should be extremely strong, and would also protect the screen from puncture damage. My screen turned out perfectly flat, so I didn't have to do that.

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Here's the finished project, although this photo doesn't do it justice. It looks very professional, and the black cloth border makes for a great mask. The frame is very strong where it counts, which is in the ability to hold its tension (i.e. the frame pieces won't sag or bow in). However, it's fairly flimsy in torsion, which means that you may have to bolt all four corners to the wall. I got lucky, and mine hangs completely flat, so I just screwed a couple of flat metal hangers to the back and hung it from the unfinished framed wall of my theater to test it out and get a feel for the geometry of the room, projector mount, etc.

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Finished Frame

I'm extremely happy with the way the screen came out - movies look gorgeous, and there's not a flaw in the surface. No creases, wrinkles, uneven finish, etc. It really does look like a professional movie screen in my home theater, and my total cost was $75. It took me two nights to build, working about 2 hours a night, including the time it took to buy the parts.

If I were going to build it again, one change I might make would be to get some rails and spline used to make 'fly screens', and use that to pin the fabric down in the back. That way, if the fabric gets damaged, or develops wrinkles, you could simply pull out the splines and stretch a new cloth into place.

I'd like to thank everyone on the AVS Forum for all the help and suggestions I've gotten there. If you're into home theater, you simply must hang out there.