Introduction to Art Projectors – Guide

Picture of projector

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In this art projector guide, we’ll walk you though all the things you need to know about this piece of equipment. What an art projector is,  how and why you may want to use one, and the various types of projector that are on the market. 

Art projectors can be a great tool to have at your disposal, but making sure you have something that suits your needs is very important.

So let’s get into it. 

What is an Art Projector?

Art projectors are a tool used by artists to project an image onto the work surface. This is something that can be useful in loads of different situations. For example, you can take a picture of a small piece that was done in your sketchbook and project it to a much larger size to be redone. Art projectors can also by utilized in doing photorealistic work and in working or large scale projects such as murals. 

What are the Different Types of Art Projector?

When it comes to art projectors there are a few different types for you to consider. Each type has its own benefits, so we’ll walk you through each of them. 

Digital Projectors

Digital projectors have become commonplace in recent times. Seen in classrooms and offices all over the country. They are also the projector of choice for many people’s home theater setup. This is great for artists who would like to use them to enlarge images. Old specialist digital art projectors could be very expensive, but this is no longer the case. 

The great thing about digital art projectors is that you can project photos and videos from nearly any digital source (think: computer, memory card, smart phone, digital camera) . This makes it super easy to do image transfers.

There are a range of different technologies available. The three main types are DLP, LCD and LED. DLP and LCD are generally on the high end, being used for home cinema and gaming. They can get very expensive with the “hidden” cost of maintenance. DLP projectors are also reliant on bulbs which last 2000-5000 hours before requiring a replacement. LCD projectors require constant filter maintenance. 

For these reasons we would recommend going for an LED projector. They are affordable, compact, have zero maintenance costs and the LEDs have a lifespan of 20,000+ hours. Brightness does suffer somewhat when compared to DLP and LCD, so an LED projector may not be ideal if used in a location with a lot of ambient light. 

Recommendations

We’ve picked out a couple of projectors that we think are pretty great. 

The first is the DR. J Professional Mini Projector. This is a LED projector that covers all the bases. With a resolution up to 1080p and projection size up to 100 inches, it should be more than sufficient for any work being done in the studio. We particularly like the wide range of input options, meaning that you can source your image from almost anywhere, even a smartphone. The projector also works great as a home projector, coming with a 100 inch screen to project onto. 

VANKYO provides a similar offering with the VANKYO LEISURE 3 Mini Projector. The key difference is that this projectors boasts a native 1080p resolution. This should provide a sharper image. It also enables the projection to be scaled up to 170 inches, a significant size increase versus the previous. 

Opaque Projectors

Opaque projectors are a more analogue option. This has some benefits and some drawbacks. Being an analogue projector you will need a physical print out of the picture that you would like to trace. This can be beneficial if you are enlarging your own sketches as it removes the need for digitization.

How to Use an Opaque Projector?

The set up for an opaque is fairly straightforward. First you want to make sure that your projector is on a level surface and pointing directly at the centre of your canvas. The canvas also needs to be at 90 degrees to the projector to avoid distortion of the image (we don’t have any fancy software to help us out). 

Place your small image/ printout under the opening of the projector and turn it on. To be able to see the projected image clearly you will need to turn off the lights. You can enlarge or shrink the projection as needed by moving the projector further or closer to the canvas.

Once happy with the size, don’t move it again till you’re done. It can be very difficult to realign the image if it gets knocked. 

This type of projector can also make the reference (your sketch or print-out) very hot, so take care.

Pros and cons

The main upside of this type of projector is the ease with which you can scale things to large sizes. They are also great if you are planning on enlarging your own sketches and other physical pieces.  

There are also quite a few inconveniences in using opaque projectors. The biggest is the fact they need a dark room to work. Even in a fully dark room the projection can be dim, which isn’t ideal. Also as you are limited to scaling a small printed image, the projections can lack detail, especially when you are blowing them up really big. This isn’t really a problem most of the time as the projection is generally used for the outline.

Opaque projectors can be inexpensive, but you should definitely make sure you’ll get good use out of one if you plan to purchase.

Recommendations

If you think that an opaque projectors fits your needs then we recommend the Artograph Tracer Art Projector. Tracer branded opaque projectors have been a staple of the market for a long time and this is a fairly inexpensive option. It works with up to 4 x 4 inch reference and is able to scale up to 10 times the size of the original.  

Artograph Tracer Projector

Overhead Projects

Overhead projectors or OHP should be familiar to many. Used extensively in classrooms before the advent of computer based projections. 

With their ability to come to a sharp focus they can also be a great tool in enlarging reference photos. The projector works by shining a light through a “transparency”. This is a transparent sheet of plastic with images printed on them. Luckily these sheets are easy to get a hold off and often printer compatible (just make sure the sheets you buy work with your printer).

There are a couple downsides with OHP. First their size. This is a bulk piece of kit. Secondly, they are pretty expensive. They will commonly set you back a few hundred, so it’s a real commitment.

Take a look at this Apollo model to get a better idea.

Slide projectors

Slide projectors are an old technology somewhat similar to the opaque projector. Used extensively by the original photorealists, they require a translucent slide of the reference. This slide is placed in front  of a lamp in order to enlarge the image. 

They can be a little difficult to get a hold of, but you may have some luck on amazon or ebay for some very reasonable prices.

Slide projectors can provide a sharp image with details in line with the opaque projector midrange. We would tend to recommend a newer technology but this may be ideal for some, especially if they have the capability to make the required slides already.

We will keep this short as we think this is a very niche item, so if you think this may be for you do your research before diving in.


We hope this guide on art projectors was helpful. They really are a great way to do enlargements and transfers of pieces. And when your work is done, they can even double as a home cinema.

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