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DIY or Buy: 6 Screen Ideas for an Awesome Outdoor Movie Night

Summer family movie nights just got a whole lot more fun

Published on: June 11, 2020

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During the long, hot days of summer, no one wants to be indoors, even to watch a favorite movie. A backyard movie screening is a perfect solution, whether you invite a crowd or just the family.

Outdoor movie screens can be made from a variety of materials: blackout fabric, a white sheet or even a shower curtain! If you’d rather buy than DIY we tracked down the top-rated products for you from screens to projectors. So get the popcorn on and don’t forget the bug spray because it’s movie night!

1. DIY screen using a sheet

This DIY screen from Lia Griffith uses a twin bed sheet to create a screen that is hung on a wall or fence. You’ll need a sewing machine and a few other supplies to make this, but it is a great low-cost option. Be sure to check the rest of the blog post for links to free printables such as popcorn box labels and invitations. 

2. DIY shower screen

Timisha of the Toolbox Divas blog offers this tutorial for making a screen from Dollar Tree items. Created using a white shower curtain, this screen will need to be attached to a wall or fence. Best of all, Timisha promises that this project can be completed in under an hour! 

3. Blackout fabric screen

If you would prefer a free standing screen for your movie night, try this project from The Wisconsin Homemaker blog. The posts are set in buckets filled with concrete, which means you can use the posts to support a volleyball or badminton net as well as the movie screen. She uses blackout fabric, a high-quality, thick fabric made for this purpose. You can find this fabric on Amazon

The material can be purchased on a roll or folded, with the rolled version being more expensive. Reviewers say that the folded version requires some time and work to get the wrinkles out, so consider this when choosing which one to buy.

4. Collapsible screen 

The Shabby Creek Cottage blog created this freestanding screen from PVC pipe and a white sheet. She says it costs under $50 to make, which is less than taking a family out to the movies! And bonus: it’s collapsible so you can put it away when the weather turns. The only tools you will need are a sewing machine, drill and a saw for cutting the pipe. 

5. Inflatable movie screen 

Want a screen that you don’t have to build yourself and will only take minutes to set up? Then you should probably consider an inflatable screen. A few things to keep in mind: inflatable screens require fans that blow continuously to keep the structure inflated — so be sure you have good speakers to drown out the blower. Also, these screens need to be tethered to the ground with stakes, so you'll want to set up your movie on the grass.  

The Lifesmart screen offers 12 feet of viewing area and the ability to withstand some wind. If you want to have the whole neighborhood over for movie night, this deluxe Gemmy inflatable might be right for you. It features a 14-foot screen and quiet fans. 

6. Freestanding screen 

The Elite Screen has 4.6 stars on Amazon and was voted top choice in a review by Outsidepursuits.com. This freestanding screen has a frame that is crafted from lightweight aluminum and requires no tools for set up. The series of screens comes in a variety of sizes from 100 inches to 200 inches, making it simple to choose the right size for your backyard. You can even order front or rear projection capability.

What to look for in an outdoor projector 

You’ll need to consider a few things when shopping for an outdoor projector. The first is how much space you have to set up your movie. Most projectors need to be between 5 and 15 feet away from the screen. The “throw ratio” tells you how far away the projector can be while still getting a good image. So, for small backyards, choose a “short throw” projector.

Brightness is another consideration and the lumens rating tells you how bright the picture is. Look for a lumens ratio of 1,000–2,000 for smaller screens and 2,000–3,000 for the big ones. Last, be sure to match up the display size listed on the projector to the size of your screen.

ViewSonic 1080p Short Throw Projector: This projector works well for small spaces and is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon. It is compatible with most media players and works for screens up to 300 inches. Reviewers warn that the fan is loud, so you will definitely want extra speakers. 

Vankyo Leisure 3 Mini Projector: This is a bestseller on Amazon and at just over two pounds, is very portable. It also features excellent brightness with LED bulbs and a noise suppression system to cut fan noise by half. 

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2019, and updated in June 2020.

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