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Many artists have considered getting an art projector for their artwork, but have found that they’re just too expensive, are a bit inconvenient to use or don’t really work that well. There’s great news, though – quite recently, even in the last few years, the best art projectors for artists have gotten much better, much easier to use and a lot less expensive!
Today, in fact, not only are the best art projectors for artists incredibly useful tools for all kinds of projects, they can be quite affordable. So, if you haven’t checked in on the latest digital and opaque art projectors in a while, you may be pleasantly surprised at the performance, and the value, you will find.
What we’re talking about here is a device that can project an image onto the wall, or a large canvas or piece of art paper (you can, with the right art projector, even shine through these last two!), so that you can trace or repaint that original image, use it as a guide for murals, decorations or other projects, or even just display your beautiful artwork – like in your studio, a gallery or even a potential client’s wall.
Art projectors range in size from pretty darned big to pocket sized, and there are also a huge range of prices.
Some art projectors, called opaque projectors, will project a painted, drawn or printed image that’s on a piece of paper or canvas (or any other flat, opaque material), while others, known as digital projectors, use digital images, videos or anything else you can view on your phone, tablet or computer screen.
Artists, being creative, find so many different uses for their art projectors, and some of the both common and not so common uses include:
If you have a digital art projector you can also, of course, watch movies or videos, but only after your work is done!
There are lots of different kinds of projectors, of course, and many have been around forever – for three rather old-school examples there’s the hot, noisy overhead projectors, the clunky and oft-jammed slide projector, or the movie projector, also usually hot and loud but with the added attraction of often spooling precious movie film across the classroom floor.
But here we’re going to the about two types of projectors which are most useful to artists:
So, the natural question is which is better for an artist – a digital projector or an opaque projector? More specifically, we might want to ask?
Not long ago even halfway decent digital art projectors were pretty expensive, and while they were good they didn’t really shine like it seems they should have – performance, like brightness and sharpness, wasn’t amazing, and especially for the price. At that point, the opaque projector, with its (often, at least) much lower price, seemed a much better bet for artists.
But now digital projectors are cheaper, brighter and easier to use, and the premium models are frankly amazing, and for somebody who works almost exclusively in the digital realm (or somebody who can easily scan, photograph or otherwise digitize their paper or canvas creations) they really do make a lot more sense.
The opaque projectors are pretty cool, though – they work great, can still be quite a bit cheaper than digital projectors and are an absolute snap to use. Anyway, if you yourself are still pretty old-school, and working a lot, or even exclusively, on paper, canvas or other physical media, and you don’t want to scan or take digital pictures of your work, you will need to use an opaque projector.
And many artists have both, and love the option of easily projecting any image from their computer, cloud or the internet and, at other times, working from physical media with no need for conversion or other prep work.
We have already discussed whether you may want to get a digital projector or an opaque scanner, or both, which really is the first thing to establish. Once you’ve decided on that, you will find that either way – opaque projector or digital projector – you want to look for pretty much the same things:
LED Lights – It’s crazy, but some projectors still use incandescent lights, which are hotter, less color-neutral, less stable, worse on your eyes, use lots more energy and have only a fraction of the long, long life of the newest LED bulbs.
Brightness – You may think of projecting in a dark room, and may not be too fussed about how bright the projector is, but it’s nice to have the option of using your new projector in either a lit or darkened room. Anyway, brighter projectors will give you a lot more flexibility – including the option of not just projecting onto a canvas or art paper, but through the material.
Resolution – Lots of folk will say that for artwork the resolution of the projector doesn’t matter, but this is a little silly. Now this mostly applies to a digital projector, which will be projecting digital files, but you can easily see that the sharper projectors make your art or whatever original source image you are using much clearer, easier to work on or trace accurately.
Connectivity – This just applies to digital projectors, which will potentially have USB connectors, memory cards, cloud connectivity, wireless, Bluetooth, HDMI video inputs and other means of connecting.
Projection Screen Size and Throw – How large of an image are you going to want to project, and how far away from the wall will the projector be? This is an important factor, but rest assured that all the units I will recommend in this buyer’s guide to the best projectors for artists will project an image that’s plenty big, huge even, and will work in pretty much any sized room – if you aren’t working for National Parks and planning a presentation at the Grand Canyon, you will definitely be covered!
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Best Digital Projector for Artists Overall
Best Mid-Priced Digital Projector for Artists
Best Budget Digital Projector for Artists
Best Opaque Projector for Artists Overall
Best Budget Opaque Projector for Artists
You probably already have an idea of how much you want to spend, and may have even decided whether you want digital or opaque, and however you go you can be confident that my corresponding recommendation for the best projector will be a wonderful choice, easy to use, well made and long lasting and really useful – probably in ways you can’t yet even imagine!
So, let’s get into the best digital projectors for murals, for tracing and copying and for much more!
Ok, I admit it – while I’m not so much of a materialistic person, and have never had a real “keep up with the Joneses” attitude, I recently discovered the Samsumg The Premiere digital projector, which costs a cool 6,500 dollars, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t even watch movies that much, but somehow I really want one.
That said, it is probably a bit too much for artists who want to project an image onto the wall, for tracing, painting murals, displaying art or any other reason – unless the wall was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I guess.
A much better choice is the BenQ TK850 digital projector, which for well under a quarter of the Samsung’s price (!) offers absolutely superb full 4K resolution, perfectly projected to full effect using their magnificent 10 element crystal glass lens. Add to this stunning sharpness extraordinary levels of brightness and contrast, and superb, factory calibrated color fidelity, and you start to get an idea of just how accurately and beautifully the TK850 will display any work of art. Still, even a good idea, based on descriptions and specifications, will never prepare you for the stunning reality, how beautiful projected artwork looks, and how easy this projector makes it to work on and complete even the most complex and demanding images.
If you need to copy or reproduce high quality fine art or extremely detailed art or graphics with absolute precision, whether huge or small, inside or outside, in a dark or well lit room, against a wall or through a canvas, and work with the utmost precision, ease, accuracy and even inspiration, this BenQ digital projector is the answer. If you are setting up an art or multi-media installation, especially in a higher level gallery or museum, or any venue where image quality is of the highest importance, the TK850 is, again, the perfect choice.
While a veritable bargain compared to the silly-expensive Samsung, this is nonetheless an expensive digital projector, but for the highest levels of sharpness and detail, even with a very large projected image size, the most stunning and accurate colors, the best brightness and contrast and the best material quality and reliability, the BenQ TK850 ticks all the boxes, and is my choice for the best digital projector for artists overall on the market today.
One of the most popular and highly rated mid-priced home theater projectors on the market today, the Optoma HD39HDR High Brightness digital projector is a brilliant choice for the most demanding work and the most demanding artist – and at less than 800 dollars it is a substantial value.
Optoma is still less than 20 years old, but is fast becoming known as a real leader in the digital projector market – top of the field in technology, design and engineering, material quality and reliability as well as social and environmental awareness. Their products are known for their superb image quality and accuracy – brightness and contrast, color fidelity, range and energy, incredible detail, depth and sharpness and unsurpassed edge to edge precision in alignment and geometry.
And the Optoma HD39HDR is the perfect example, offering the performance you would expect from a much more expensive digital projector, including 2K full HD resolution, incredibly accurate, rich and saturated colors, 50,000:1 contrast ratio and superb accuracy in image geometry. For precise, highly detailed painting, drawing or copying work from a projected original image, projected onto a wall or work surface, the HD39HDR is unsurpassed in its price range, and the full 4,000 lumens of brightness make projecting with bright, crisp colors and full detail possible – even in a bright room or projected through a canvas or even heavier drawing paper.
Even though this projector doesn’t have quite the resolution of the BenQ reviewed just above on our list of best digital projectors for artists, I can’t really describe just how breathtakingly beautiful and detailed its projection really is, how truly accurate the colors, how impactful and usable the image. For any kind of work, and even for the most demanding fine art installations or displays, this is a fantastic unit, and an easy choice for best mid-priced digital project for artists.
Now we’re getting into the silly-inexpensive range, with the Epson VS260 digital projector which, for only around 300 dollars, can nonetheless still be considered a premium unit, and is really ideal for artists and their needs. Indeed, while the first two recommendations in our survey of best art projectors in 2021 clearly perform better, and have extraordinarily beautiful, bright and usable projected images, the Epson VS260 is not that far behind, and at a fraction of the price of either of them.
The Epson XS260 digital projector has great brightness, at 3,300 lumens, which means it will not only work in a well-lit room, or even outside, but can even penetrate a canvas or thicker art paper from behind, with a bright, easily usable image, so you can work without the distraction and annoyance of having light beaming into your eye, or blocking the image with your body or hand while you’re trying to work.
The XS260 also has XVGA high resolution graphics, which while not as sharp as full 2K or 4K HD projectors, provides more than enough resolution for the most complex images and the finest detail, even with bigger enlargement, and an amazing 15,000:1 contrast ratio for exceptionally beautiful, visible and usable images.
But the really great thing about the Epson XS260 is the true 3 chip, 3 LCD color system, which is just an artist’s dream. This system provides extraordinarily high levels of color fidelity and brightness, consistent and fully stable colors throughout the spectrum and throughout your work sessions, and no rainbow effects, color shifts or other problems.
The Epson XS260 has a tripod mount, pretty essential for the most accurate work, a wide range of connectivity options and compatibility with Apple, Windows PCs and Android phones and tablets, and a maximum image size in excess of ten feet wide without image degradation (even larger with some blurring, especially at the edges). Exceptional for such an inexpensive projector is Epson’s marvelous skew correction circuitry, which detects and corrects for incorrect keystone, and allows you to use this projector off-center in smaller spaces.
In all the ways most important to artists, the Epson XS260 digital projector is a real gift – with sharp, bright, with amazing colors and contrast, it is a near-perfect digital projector for anybody doing mural work, tracing or copying, displaying art, or even as a component of an advanced multi-media art installation. The two amazing projectors described above are better, for sure, but I might recommend the Epson more enthusiastically, considering its unbelievable price-to-performance ratio – easily the best budget art projector on the market today!
We’re going to make this section simple – all of the best opaque projectors on the market are made by one company – Artograph. Yes, there are some super-cheap projectors out there, from generic brands and unknown, unestablished companies, but they aren’t really that much cheaper than the wonderful Artograph products, and I wouldn’t even consider them.
While there are four basic models in the Artograph line, and they all could get enthusiastic recommendations as the best opaque projector for artists, the two opening models – the Tracer and the EZ Tracer – work so well, and are such great values, that we will focus on them.
For well under a hundred dollars, the Artograph Tracer is a premium opaque art projector, with sharp, color-neutral optics and a projected image that is clear, undistorted and up to 14 times the size of the original.
As is usual with a basic opaque projector, the Artograph Tracer works with only small original images, no larger than 5 by 5 inches. The original image needs to be flat, and printed on opaque material, and you simply place the Tracer on top of it and the projector will beam an image of up to 70 square inches (almost 6 square feet) with accurate and undistorted geometry, tru colors and crisp, clear detail. You can even make larger projection, by moving the Tracer farther from the wall, but you will lose some sharpness and brightness.
With up to 1,600 lumens of illumination, the Artograph Tracer may not be as bright as the much more expensive digital projectors above, and as such has some limitations compared to them – you must work in a dark room, and this little guy is just not strong enough to shine through canvas or thicker drawing paper. In the right conditions, though, the image is bright, clear and colorful, and extremely easy to trace or copy.
Well built and reliable, from the company that really knows artists and their needs, the Artograph Tracer works great, is well designed and well built, and is my clear choice for best opaque projector for artists overall – not to mention an incredibly useful tool to have on hand!
I should probably clear something up before we close, since it might otherwise cause some concern or confusion among the more tech-savvy artists out there, who may have noticed that I didn’t include any Artograph digital projectors in the section for best digital projectors.
In fact, I had intended to. I originally wanted to write this article because I had had some experience with the wonderful art-specific digital projectors from Artograph – one of my favorite companies, and one that does, as I’m sure you noticed, feature heavily in my recommendations, here and elsewhere.
Their digital projectors were really amazing and useful gadgets, with not only good, bright, high resolution images but cool built-in tools specifically designed for artists, like grid lines and other drawing and geometry aids, color correction, image adjustment and even gray-scale mode.
As I started researching this article, though, I found out that Artograph has, in fact, recently discontinued all of their digital scanners – the whole line and every unit in it. They continue to make, support and develop their line of wonderful opaque projectors, but no more digital models! I was a little annoyed and quite disappointed, and decided to take several days off to recover.
When I did get back to my article, a few minutes later, I came pretty quickly to a great realization, and even began to understand why Artograph had made this major decision. This realization was actually in two parts:
Well, being projectors, they didn’t actually dream, but you know what I mean – the bottom line is that, considering performance, value and even usability for an artist or crafter, the newest generation of general purpose digital projectors are much better values than the recently discontinued Artograph series, and in concert with the right software they can do anything and everything you want.
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While there is very little to using an art projector – pretty much either open your digital file or lay down your opaque image, turn it on and trace away – there are still a few things you can do to make sure you are getting the best performance and results, and to make your work easier and more effective.
Thanks so much for reading my latest article – Best Art Projectors for Artists: Digital and Opaque Projectors for Displaying and Tracing Artwork – and I encourage you to visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for other buyer’s guides, online courses, articles and lots of other resources.
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