Guide To Retractable & Fabric Screen Painting


Standard Member

First of all let me say that a fixed screen, be it DIY or commercial, is always a better choice than a retractable screen. Unfortunately not all situations will accommodate a large fixed screen. Retractable screens are vulnerable to waves. The waves usually take on a large "V" shape. I have examined every retractable screen I have come in contact with in the last two years. Most of these are in conference rooms and most were manual retractable screens. All of them had waves of some form. This can be improved upon by opting for a Tab-Tension screen, but this comes at an additional cost.

You may consider making a retractable screen and after a little investigating you might conclude that some of the more inexpensive remote controlled retractable screens are in the same cost range as the components required to make one yourself. What you may also determine is that inexpensive screens are only offered with white screen material. The problem with a white screen is that it requires a darkened room with dark wall and ceiling colors. Typically that means a dedicated theater room. Of course in a dedicated theater room a retractable screen is usually not necessary.

In the following photographs there is a white panel on the left and a gray panel on the right. With no lights on the two are very similar.

As soon as you introduce some ambient light the white screen will lose contrast while the gray screen will maintain darker blacks. Therefore in a white living room situation, like mine, the only reasonable option is a gray screen.

So we may be able to get the screen we want, at a price we like, but the screen is only available in white (my situation). Or you may have a screen that has gotten stained or discolored. Otherwise it is mechanically sound and the material is still in good shape.

The most common reason I have encountered for painting a commercial screen, both retractable and fixed, has been to remedy texture or sparkly issues. As I mentioned, most retractable screens will develop V waves unless they are tab-tension. Many screen materials employed some form of texture and surface sheen in order to claim a higher gain value. This texture may have been deliberately added or it may have been due to the weave of the fabric. In some cases this worked well for older lower resolution projectors but when the upgrade to 1080p was made, the texture started to cause problems.

The secret to hiding screen surface imperfections is to use a flat or matte finish paint. To hide some texture or screen waves it is not necessary to go completely flat finish. I have found that many paints come in a flat and flat enamel. The flat enamel has a slight sheen to it. This sheen is enough to improve the brightness of whites but not enough to reveal V waves or some texture. I have also found that exterior paints designated as flat are not truly flat. They actually have a low level sheen similar to interior flat enamels.

Whatever your reason for considering the option to paint a retractable or fixed fabric screen, I suspect the first question is whether or not it is possible. The answer to that is "yes". In particular you may be wondering if you can paint a screen that will be rolled up around a 3" diameter roller. The answer to that is also "YES". However there are some special considerations that I will outline now.

Considerations for Painting A Fabric Screen

The first concern most people express is that the paint will crack. In my experience around the house, only the alkyd paints have cracked. Any latex paint I have used is still intact. In fact, if you try to sand a latex painted wall, you will soon find the paint comes off in the form of little rubber balls. Latex and acrylic paints are inherently flexible.

The next concern is how well will the paint will stick to the screen surface. As always you must clean the surface of all grease or wax coatings. A paint must be selected that has excellent adhesion properties. In fact a paint that was designed to adhere to vinyl siding is the ideal choice.

Considerations For Painting A Retractable Screen

The biggest consideration when contemplating painting your retractable screen, is that it must remain deployed for 2 weeks to a month. If you are painting the border as well as the image area, then plan on a month for the paint to fully cure. You may want to consider hanging the screen some place where it will not be in the way for that time. You will be able to use it as a screen but you must let the paint cure before rolling it up. In my case the screen covers the other entertainment equipment when deployed. Therefore I had to paint it in the basement.

Click thumbnail to see the full size photo.

The next consideration is how to hold the screen material so that you can roll paint on it. This can be done easily with some weights, clamps, and bungee cords. I know it may seem more practical to simply push the screen material against the wall or lay it flat but then you run the risk of not being able to properly control the roller pressure.

You may have noticed, in the photographs above, that my painted screen has wider borders than it had originally. I won't dwell on this, but I strongly suggest considering it. The overall look is better and if there is any curling at the sides of the screen, the border is wide enough that the image area remains flat. To put it into perspective, the first image shows the screen with the full 120" image area. The wider borders only reduced the screen size to 115" but significantly improved the appearance of the screen.

Spray Painting

No doubt spray painting is a very good way to paint a retractable screen. However I limited my investigations to rolling since that can be done in one's living room. I will not be providing any information specific to spray painting but much of the information provided should be useful to those who opt for spray painting.

You Too Can Have A Black Widow Screen

For those of you with fabric or retractable screens, that have been reading about the Black Widow DIY Screen Paint, YES you can use it on a retractable screen. I did! :smashin:
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Standard Member
Paint Considerations

I am located in Ottawa Canada. Up until now I have only investigated paint products widely available to people in North America. With some help from people located in the UK I hope to be able to provide some product recommendations in the future. In the meantime I will describe the attributes of the products I recommend in North America so that you will know generically what to look for.

When painting a retractable screen it is considered prudent to try to minimize the number of coats applied. This is to reduce the added thickness and subsequent stiffness of the screen material. This is not as big a consideration for a fixed fabric screen. That would make a primer or self-priming paint attractive. Unfortunately primers are not intended to be exposed and therefore do not wear very well. In my experimentation I had one screen that ended up with at least 10 coats of paint on it. It still worked fine. Therefore I don't think this is a huge concern.

In Canada ICI Paints has a brand called CIL. They sell a primer called Smart3 Anywhere Primer. Glidden, another ICI Paints brand, sells a primer called Gripper Primer. It is speculated that the two primers are very similar. DULUX also has a primer called Difficult Surface Primer. Regardless of the brand or name I think it is best to use a very good primer capable of adhering to difficult surfaces such as melamine or vinyl. Therefore I would suggest that either the Dulux "Difficult Surfaces" primer or the International UPVC or Melamine Primers are products to be used when painting screen surfaces.

Since DULUX is a brand of paint available in the UK and we know they have neutral shades I would suggest that this would be the best choice for the top coat. In my experience all the latex and acrylic paints have survived the flexing of my retractable screens. Whatever base is commonly recommended for screen painting should work as long as it has a very low sheen. It does not have to be flat but if it has to high a sheen the inevitable screen waves will be more visible.

I discovered two brands of exterior paint available in North America that have attributes that I feel makes them excellent choices for painting retractable screen. First of all exterior paints are formulated to be more flexible. They are also more resistant to UV damage. They are both identified as flat but actually have a gloss level between a flat and an eggshell. Both of these exterior paints are also self-priming. One intended use is for painting exterior vinyl siding. If similar exterior paints are available in the UK they would be worth investigating.

There is one caveat with exterior paints. They are not recommended for interior use. They often contain higher levels of anti-fungal agents and in some cases may even contain insecticides. This varies from brand to brand and in some cases the formulation is varied depending on the geographical location.
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Standard Member
Preparing A Retractable Screen For Painting

I feel the best way to hold the screen surface for painting is to secure the bottom bar with weights.

The first time around, I used clamps, bungee cords, and a large piece of lumber.

Later I used the clamps and bungee cords but found it more convenient to use hand weights. When I was painting the border I wanted the screen much lower to paint the drop section. For that I simply used the clamps and weights. My screen is electric. I would raise it just before painting to apply some tension. If it were a manual screen you could release the clutch so it is trying to retract. This would also increase the tension.

I prefer having the screen hanging and tensioned. Pushing back against a wall or trying to lay it out flat are possible alternatives but I would be afraid that I could not control the roller pressure very well.

Proper Ventilation

In my case I used exterior paints. They are more flaxible and durable than interior paints but they are not formulated for use indoors. For that reason and because my wife has some respiratory sensitivities I wanted to be sure to vent as much of the off gassing as possible. I rigged up a couple of fans in the basement window to drive the air from the basement outside. If you decide to use an exterior paint then this is something to consider.


I can't stress thi enough. The most common detail overlooked by people following my instructions has been cleaning the screen. Commercial screen are often treated with chemicals to prevent mildew etc. Typically the instructions for cleaning a screen involve water or very mild detergent solutions. We are not cleaning the surface. We are stripping the surface of any residue that might interfer with the adhesion of the paint. I used Windex with Amonia D. This is a very strong multi-surface cleaner. You must find a similarly strong product available in the UK. Wipe the screen down twice, just to be sure. Let it dry for an hour or so.

Just before painting I would dust off the surface with a Swiffer Duster. You want to use something that will remove and dust, hair or other lint particles that may have settled on the surface while it was drying.

Now that the screen is secured and the surface is clean and dry, you can move on to masking off the area to paint.
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Standard Member
Clean Edge Masking Technique

Regardless of the quality of painter's tape you use or how well you press the edge down, there is always a chance that some paint will wick under the tape.

You can avoid this and produce a very clean edge by sealing the edge of the tape. This is usually done by applying some paint the same color as that under the tape. You simply go along the edge with a small artist's paint brush and seal it. The idea is not to apply a lot of paint. Just apply enough to seal the edge.

This will ensure a very clean edge.

In the case of painting a retractable screen, it is advised that you paint the border first. Here you can see I have masked off the screen area in preparation to paint the border wider.

The reason I suggest painting the border first is so you will not be putting painter's tape on the final screen surface. If you peel a bit of the border paint off, you can just touch it up. If you peel some of the screen paint off you can touch it up but it will more than likely show in the image. Therefore paint the border first and the image area last.

Once the image area was masked, I sealed the edge with some of the paint that I would be using on the image area.

When removing the masking tape always peel it back on itself and away from the freshly painted side. Pulling the tape straight out is much more likely to peel the underlying paint off.

Border Painting

The main reasons for painting the border are to increase the border width, or to change the screen's aspect ration. It is not necessary if the border is in good shape and you want to leave it the width and shape that it is currently.

I used a black paint that was more durable than flat. I wanted it to be washable and was willing to sacrifice the light absorbing of a truly flat paint. Flat paints are notorious for being easy to soil and even just touching them can leave finger marks. I recommend using a good washable latex/acrylic paint.

You can see that the paint I used is far from flat.

However it is only really noticeable at very shallow angles. From a short distance and straight on it looks quite black and dull.

I used a small foam trim roller to apply the border paint. The foam rollers produce a much smoother finish than the smaller fuzzy rollers. I applied two coats. If you will be painting the border and image area, you could prime the entire front area of the screen. However a little border paint peeling is not as catastrophic as having some of the image area paint peel off.
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Standard Member
UK Specific Recommendations

I would use the Dulux Difficult Surfaces Primer on the screen. One coat of primer. If you are going to repaint the borders then I would prime the entire screen surface.

Then I would use one of the recommended paints. I will try to put together a short list of the recommended products.

< insert list of recommended Dulux paints (Vinyl Matt, Lumitec etc) >

Two coats of the paint over one coat of the primer should be adequate.

You can get the paint tinted to one of the lighter shades of neutral gray if you wish to enhance ambient light performance. The tint names are different over there in the UK but the codes are the same.

  • 00NN 72/000 == N8.5, RGB = 219 220 219, L*ab = 87.68 -0.30 -0.30
  • 00NN 62/000 == N8, RGB = 206 206 205, L*ab = 82.83 -0.21 -0.37

Painting The Screen Area

It is important that you have good lighting. This will alow you to see any roller tracks that need to be worked out.

There really is no difference between painting a retractable screen and painting the wall. The fact that the screen surface will give if you press too hard is actually a good thing. To achieve a very smooth uniform finish on any screen surface you only want to apply the smallest amout of rolling pressure. Just enough to keep the roller rolling. Be sure to use a good quality roller handle that roll freely. You also want to use a good quality lint free roller. If you can find a 3/16" nap roller that is ideal. Typically 1/4" nap rollers are more easily found. These too will do a good job. A lot depends on how well the paint levels out. The better the paint levels the smoother and flatter the surface will be.

In this photo you can see the sort of texture you can expect:

If you look very closely you can see some of the original screen texture showing through. Don't let this worry you. The matt finish paint will nit reveal these minor variations in surafe angle due to it's inherently wide viewing cone.

Just to put your mind at ease take a look at these roughness hiding trials I did:

Believe it or not those are the same panels with a coat of flat paint on them. In our case we don't need to use a truly flat paint though. A nice matte paint will hide any V waves and the paint texture will also be invisible in the image.

Practice Practice Practice

Painting a retractable does not offer the chance to sand and try again. Oh, you probably can wet sand a painted retractable screen but I think it best to get it right the first time. At my local home renovation store you can by these 1/8" hardboard panels that have a white coating on one side. I hung then lengthwise so that they were free to swing and practiced painting that first. They are 2' wide and 4' tall when hung this way. The 4 foot height is a reasonable simulation of the height of a screen surface and the 2' width allows for at least two vertical strips of paint. Get a panel like this, a scrap of drywall, or even an old vinyl blind and do a couple of practice coats first. I did . . . .

That is a cheap vinyl blind I painted to see if the paint would stick and not crack. It has many coats of paint on it. I hung it in the basement over my work bench. Every now and then I remember to roll it up and down a few times. After more than two years of that there are still no cracks in the surface.

Getting Down To It

Screen painting is done in a series of vertical strips:

In the following video I am painting a wall screen but the technique is the same:

I usually waited about 3 hours between coats. You can simply put the roller in a plastic bag and it will stay fresh for up to 24 hours.

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Standard Member
Two Roller "Ultra Smooth" Painting

While experimenting with various metallic paints (very difficult to roll) I developed a method of apply and smoothing the paint using a standard low nap fuzzy roller and a 6" hard foam trim roller. This method requires the paint to be thinned with 10-15% clean cool water. Typically two coats of rolled paint provides good coverage. I typically apply three coats when using this technique.



Standard Member

Well I think I covered everything. By all means feel free to ask any questions.

If you have any recommendations on the Dulux or other paints to use, please pass them on.

If you give this a try and it works out well for you, then I would love to hear about it. If it does not work out well, then I insist that you post a report of the troubles you had. Failures are more important to report, because that leads us to better instructions, techniques, and product choices.

Now back to surfing the net . . .




Active Member
amazing and invaluable write up :thumbsup: 5* from me too

will be looking at this when i do mine shortly :clap:


Standard Member
Thanks for the compliments!

I have been consulting with custard10 regarding the paints to consider for painting a retractable screen. So far I have this list of paints that might be suitable:

Dulux UK

Dulux Trade Vinyl Matte Brilliant White

Dulux Vinyl Matt Paint Pure Brilliant White


Custard10 was not sure if this product could be tinted.

From the Dulux UK website I also identified these products:

Colour Mixing Matt

Colour Mixing Endurance Durable Matt

This one sounds ideal for a retractable screen. It is hard to know how much sheen it has "Durable Matt"? The durability is very attractive for a surface that gets rolled up against itself.

Light & Space Rich Matt

I understand that this product is referred to as LumiTec and is known to be a very good white screen paint. Can it be tinted?

One big advantage to the DULUX (ICI Paints) is that there are known neutral gray shades. That is the first requirement of a gray screen paint. I understand from Custard10 that in the UK a matt finish is between a flat and eggshell, so that is good too. Basically the Dulux products are a known quantity.

Leyland Trade

While looking for paints available in the UK I also ran across Leyland Trade. They seem to have stores in all the bigger cities.

Leyland Vinyl Matt

International Paints

I ran across some really interesting products from this company. They have primers for tile (glass bead screens?), UPVC (vinyl screen?), and melamine (plastic screen materials?). They also have some very interesting black paints, or should I say Blackboard Paints. There is one that is magnetic, that might prove useful for a masking system. The International paints are available from B&Q, Focus, Homebase, and Dulux Decorating Centers. It would be interesting to find out what finish the primers are and if they can be tinted.
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Active Member
one question, i have had experience with grey and white, i find it impossible that a proper black can be casted onto a white surface.. well not even close !
when you watch movies in their correct aspect you have the black bars.. they end up being a very light grey ? ok so within the image if you say take a letter like 'O' and the background is black (like credits) the inside is perfectly black as the letter provides the contrast, however if you have a large expanse of dark/black material and just some writing or a dark scene (perhaps a spooky cave like in decent) its all grey like a poor LCD screen even with the lights off and a decent DLP. with grey its not perfect but a huge difference.

perhaps its just my glass beaded high gain screen, it almost seems to glow with all the lights off and no image !

would a white paint stop this ?

please could you add a decent grey paint to use :smashin:


please could you add a decent grey paint to use :smashin:

i think you'd use the colour mixing matt or endurance matt and have it tinted to the neutral greys with the codes beginning 00NN.

i bought two neutral greys tinted at a dulux centre (possibly n7.5 and N9)yesterday so i will post some spectro readings soon. i expect them to be quite similar to the eqiuvalent tints in USA/canada.

tiddler - lumitec is tintable to only a few colours in the UK. but in the USA it is tintable to the master palette aswell which is where the neutral grey codes (00NN) originate from.


Standard Member
A Point To Ponder

If you are really not happy with the retractable screen you have, and because of it's faults it may not even have any resale value, then what have you got to loose? A small amount of money on some paint and masking tape and of course a few hours of your time. You may just save yourself a lot of money in the end, or at least buy yourself some time to shop for a really nice tab-tensioned retractable.


Active Member
could it work if i used a grey exterior latex/vynil fence/wall paint on its own, im no paint expert so mixing codes is not gonna work for me !


Standard Member
could it work if i used a grey exterior latex/vynil fence/wall paint on its own, im no paint expert so mixing codes is not gonna work for me !
If it is paint that is meant to be used on vinyl fencing without a primer, that is good. It must not have too much gloss though. A matte gloss is ideal. The biggest issue will be how neutral the gray shade is. For that you will have to find someone with a spectrometer to test a sample. What brand of paint is it?


I'm still lurking in the background Tiddler!

So for paint are we saying that we use a best suited primer we can find for adhesion? Then an everyday emulsion paint for the top coat?

I've had some samples sent to me from Da-Lite and Matte White fabric is as flat and non sheen as can be! The Da-Mat is very light grey with the very slightest of sheens and extremely smooth.

I've decided that I would go light grey, from my white screen, to better address the ambient light issue.

My concerns with the project would be: a) getting the right paints/mixes, b) I would have to paint the screen in-situ and that could be a bit tricky. Not impossible, just tricky.

The biggest issue with my present screen is the sparkle/screen texture. Is there an aerosol spray that is neutral and flat? A coat or two of that would tide me over until I pluck up courage for a full on paint job!

Cheers, Nick
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Standard Member

I think you have it. Use the best primer you can find. I would go for the Dulux Difficult Surfaces Primer. It should be easily found.

Then top coat with the Dulux Vinyl Matte tinted to an ~N8.5 for a light gray screen. This post by custard10 may help:

keith - received my spectro a few days ago....

heres the spectral analysis of clouded slate 3


as you can see from the results its fairly neutral and is N8.66 :smashin:

Black widow is N7.5 but whites are comparable to an N8-8.5 grey resulting in the increased contrast seen over matt grey paints.

clouded slate 3 would be a good choice for anyone looking to paint a light grey screen


Standard Member
The flat matt sounds like it may be flatter than ideal.

Hopefully custard10 will post some comments regarding the paints you mentioned.


i cant comment on the primer as i have no experience of using it.

for the widest viewing angle the flat matt is the one, while regular vinyl matt will provide slightly increased on-axis reflectivity.

as i explained to tiddler before the 'flat matt' in this country is equivalent to 'flat' on the other side of the pond.

the 'vinyl matt' seems like it is fairly close to 'flat enamel' which is used more regularly over in USA/canada.
ICI Paints - Dulux Trade Vinyl Matt

wether you go for flat matt or or vinyl matt the dulux centre will be able to tint it to clouded slate 3.
the spectral reading i posted may have been a mix of two neutral greys rather than just one as the person who gave me the sample was unsure.
i think that the readings posted over in america are fine to go by anyway.

nick- if you are picking up the paints i will be happy to check their spectral readings. just PM me.

the two paints that i would look at to achieve N8.5 would be a mix of clouded slate 3(00nn 72000) and Ebony Mists 5 (00nn 62000).
exactly what ratios - i dont know without testing them.

note that these paints can be mixed up in vinyl matt at DIY stores such as B&Q aswell.

i was going to post some readings of some greys that i picked, but that will have to wait as i am in the process of cross-checking spectral readings with harpmaker and mech first.


Thanks for that custard10.

Sorry to be thick, but if you've already done a spectro on clouded slate 3 and it looks ok, why would I want to mix in Ebony Mists 5?

Cheers, Nick


there is nothing wrong with using clouded slate 3 except it may abit lighter than the reading i posted.

you might be closer to N9 than N8.5 with clouded slate 3.

mixing clouded slate 3 with ebony mists 5 (which is darker) will get you closer to N8.5.


I'm still lurking round here!

There seems to have been a lot of work gone into the Black Widow (UK) paint mix - would this not be a good solution for a retractable??

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