What are the Best Lumens for an Outdoor Projector?

Whether you are shopping around for an outdoor projector for a backyard movie night, or something for a commercial or larger outdoor event, you will have come across the term, lumens.

Lumens are a unit of measurement which measures the intensity of light projected from a source. That source could be a light bulb for example, but for the case, we’re addressing on this website, it’s all about how powerful your outdoor movie projector can project and how crisp and sharp the image will be.

The lumen rating of your outdoor movie projector will dictate how large a screen you can project onto, how sharp and in contrast the movie will be, and also whether you can start watching before it’s completely dark outside.

If you are interested in how lumens came to be a unit of measurement then scroll down to the bottom of the page where I give you a short potted history, but for now, if you want to know the best lumens for an outdoor projector are, take a look at the bullet points below.

Lumens for Outdoor Projector

Not sure how many lumens you need with your outdoor movie projector. This should give you a good idea of what you will need to buy depending on how large your screen is.

  • 9×5 foot screen: 1,500 lumens minimum, ideally 2,300 lumens
  • 12×7 foot screen: 2,300 lumens minimum, ideally 3,000 lumens
  • 16×9 foot screen: 3,000 lumens minimum, ideally 4,500 lumens
  • 20×11 foot screen: 4,500 lumens minimum, ideally 7,500 lumens
  • 25×14.5 foot screen: 5,000 lumens minimum, ideally 10,000 lumens
  • 40×22.5 foot. Screen: 5,500 lumens minimum, ideally 12,000 lumens

Further down the page, I have also presented this information in a table (sortable by columns) if you want to shift things around and compare the data better.

From your perspective as a buyer, you will need to first figure out how large your outdoor movie screen is going to be. If you’ve already got it and you can measure it, then do that, and it’s then possible for you to use the data above to understand how many lumens for an outdoor projector you will need – and therefore what spec you need to purchase.

If you already have an outdoor projector and know the lumen rating, then it will also help you in deciding how large you can go with your screen.

Why Buy a Higher Lumen Rating Projector?

From my perspective, the more lumens you can afford to purchase the better.

It will future proof you should you decide to go larger with your outdoor movie screen, but also means you have a far stronger light source coming from your projector.

This means you can actually start to watch backyard movies or outdoor movies when it’s still not completely dark.

As a general rule of thumb, an outdoor movie projector with a lumen rating of 3,000 plus should be able to project an image you can see before sunset.

Ideally, you want to buy a model that is bright enough to display crisp and sharp images in standard ambient light.

So that’s just one benefit to a projector with high lumens for outdoor use.

There’s also the issue of wanting to still have some lighting on outside, whilst you are showing a movie.

To put this more into context, you will probably remember being at school or college where a projector was used indoors. To see the images clearly, the teacher would turn down the room lights, or switch them off completely. By doing so, the contrast was greatly improved.

When it comes to outdoor movies, I always want to have some degree of lighting on so that my guests can walk around safely. I can set up lanterns in the backyard, and also have lights on in my house, but still, see the movie – based on the high number of lumens I am using with my outdoor projector.

Best Lumens for Outdoor Projector – Sortable Data Table

Here’s that table I promised you that lets you sort the data in a columnar format if that helps you understand what lumen-rating you need to buy for showing outdoor movies.

Screen SizeMinimum Lumen NeededIdeal Lumens Needed
9x5 foot1,5002,300
12x7 foot2,3003,000
16x9 foot3,0004,500
20x11 foot4,5007,500
25x14.5 foot5,00010,000
40x22.5 foot5,50012,000

Best Lumens for Backyard Movie Projectors

My recommendation is always to buy a projector with at least 2,000 lumens for backyard movie use. For larger events, see the explainer a little further down the page.

But, that type of rating means it will need to be completely dark for you to watch movies outside, and you will also need to reduce any interference from additional light sources such as those coming from your house or outside lighting. If you don’t, then the contrast might not be great.

I also recommend that you try to spend as much as you can in order to get the best lumens for your outdoor projector that money can buy.

If you need guidance on what you should be buying, then go take a look at my recommended gear section, in particular the recommended outdoor projectors.

There is something there for everyone and all products have been tested and reviewed to ensure you get the help you need in buying the most suitable product.

If you do need a quick product recommendation instead and one that will work best for backyard movie nights, then I would suggest you take a look at the BenQ HT2050.

Do you want to know more about the BenQ HT2050? Click here for the latest prices on Amazon.

It offers high-definition, and 2,200 projector lumens for outdoor use. It’s also affordable, very simple to use with a plug-and-play set-up, and is truly portable.

Due to the lumens on offer with this product, it will work best in complete darkness, but once it’s up and running I’ve been able to cast an HD image of up to 180 inches wide (15 feet) – making it a superb backyard movie projector where you have a large screen size.

Best Lumens for Projectors at Larger Outdoor Events

My advice is to go for a projector with more than 4,000 lumens. This is powerful enough for most commercial or corporate outdoor events, where you are using screens 16 feet wide.

You will need the power that comes with a more expensive outdoor movie projector, and you will also want something reliable that isn’t going to break down on you.

However, you might be planning on something even larger, so if that is the case, refer back to the table further up the page which shows the best lumens for your screen size.

My recommended product here would be the Optoma EH500 – see prices on Amazon.

It’s a 1080p high-definition projector with a massive 4,700 lumens meaning it can project clearly and crisply onto a screen that is at least 20 feet wide – it’s ideal for use in large-screen applications.

With a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, it offers a stunning picture and is commonly used for DIY drive-in movie nights, and corporate or public outdoor events.

This projector has such a high lumen rating that I have seen it being used to cast massive three hundred-inch images onto walls.

Want to Calculate How Many Lumens are Needed for an Outdoor Projector?

If you are still not sure or want to get a little bit more into the science of things, then please take a read of this blog post I put together which lets you calculate lumen ratings all for yourself.

Personally, I don’t recommend that you need to know how to calculate the lumens needed for an outdoor movie projector as this article and the data presented should give you everything you need to know if you want to buy one.

Lumens as a Measurement

I did promise a short history of lumens as a unit of measurement so if you are even remotely interested, here’s the background.

What are lumens?

“A unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units, that is equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela intensity radiating equally in all directions”

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Or at least not entirely clear.

In the olden days, lumens used to be referred to as candlepower, with the measurement unit being taken in candelas. Scientists used to calculate candelas by seeing how fast whale blubber candles would burn.

In more modern times, we can measure things a lot more accurately, and one candela is now the equivalent of the luminous intensity of monochromatic radiation emitted by a predefined source at a frequency of 540THz with a radiant intensity of 0.001464128 W/sr.

Still not that clear is it? Unless you have a background in science.

But never fear, because the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has standardized how we measure light sources.

Manufacturers of outdoor movie projectors will list their ANSI lumen rating on all of their products. As consumers, all we need to do is read the box or technical spec.

In simple terms, it’s just about how bright something is. Whilst brightness isn’t entirely what a lumen rating describes, it’s good enough for the end consumer to understand and recognize.

Essentially a movie projected via a high lumen outdoor project will look a lot brighter and clearer than one with a lower lumen rating.

Want More Guidance and Help? Take a look at the essential guide to planning an outdoor movie night