People Watching using movie projector

How Many Lumens for an Outdoor Movie Projector?

An outdoor movie projector is a fantastic way to enjoy your outdoor space. You can create a drive-in or outdoor camping movie experience and share your favorite films with family and friends.

You can also use an outdoor projector to share games, sports, and other exciting events.

However, because these projectors can be expensive, it’s essential to choose the right one. So how many lumens are needed for an outdoor movie projector?

What is a Lumen?

In simple terms, a lumen is a measure of visible light from a single source over a unit of time.

Unlike other measures of radiant power, including all the light waves in the spectrum, lumens only measure light that is visible to the human eye.

It’s the most convenient way to measure how much light we can perceive from a device.

Most projectors are labeled with ANSI lumens, a defined measure standardized by the American National Standards Institute.

Projectors labeled with ANSI lumens are easier to compare because they all comply with the same standard.

How Many Lumens do You Need for an Outdoor Movie Projector?

There are a lot of factors that determine how many lumens you need in an outdoor projector. Here are some things to consider:

Ambient Light

Watching movie with ambient light

Of course, you need a very bright projector to enjoy movies outdoors on a bright, sunny day. But remember that your outdoor space may have a lot of ambient light, even at night.

Street lights, security lights, sky glow, and even the moon can create ambient light levels that compete with your projector.

Screen Size

Big screen for projector

The larger your screen, the more lumens your projector needs to fill the entire area. If you have a big outdoor projector screen, you need a bigger, more powerful projector.

Content and Image Quality

High quality screen

The truth is, you will usually not be using your projector at its highest possible brightness.

If you are watching films or playing games, turning the projector to 100% will wash out the image and reduce contrast and quality.

You will often be actually watching content at a much lower brightness level than the projector’s maximum capability.

Screen ‘Gain’

What is Screen gain?

Gain is a measure of how much light the screen itself can reflect. A screen with a gain of 1.0 reflects light equally in all directions.

A screen with a higher gain boosts the brightness but within a defined viewing angle.

If you want more brightness in your outdoor movies, consider choosing a higher gain screen, provided you will be sitting at a good viewing angle to enjoy it.

Because of all these different factors, you will need to choose the outdoor projector that makes sense for your screen, content, and lighting conditions. Here are some basic recommendations to start from:

  • Most experts recommend 2,500-3,000 lumens for outdoor projectors to be enjoyed in daylight hours, although more is better for bright, sunny days. However, you may need 5000 lumens or more to project on a giant screen or wall
  • If you are watching outdoor movies on a smaller screen in the dark, you may only need as few as 500-800 lumens.

What if an Outdoor Movie Projector Doesn’t List Lumens?

Unfortunately, not every outdoor movie projector simply lists their lumens, making it difficult to compare them.

Here are some of the other brightness measurements that projectors can use and how to compare them.


Lux is a measurement of lumens over volume. In other words, how much visible light can be seen per square meter of space.

You can use an online calculator to input the desired lumens and screen surface area and get the desired lux measurement.


Watts is a measure of how much energy a light bulb uses. It isn’t a measure of brightness but can be converted into lumens.

For example, a 13W LED bulb, a 19W CFL bulb, a 53W halogen bulb, and a 75W incandescent bulb all produce about 1100 lumens.


If you want to enjoy movies, games, TV, and other content outdoors, you need a high-quality projector. For daytime viewing, brighter is almost always better, but it isn’t always necessary.

Depending on your content type, screen size, screen gain, and ambient lighting conditions, you can still enjoy an outdoor projector even if it has fewer lumens.

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