The Projector Project


There's a new way of doing things in the pdf pattern world. It's with a projector! Yes, rather than printing your patterns, you project them!

I remember telling my husband about this cool idea I saw in a video last November. The person used a projector to transfer the A0 pattern pieces onto their fabric. Rather than spending the time and costs to print and cut out each pattern, they just cut it out on the fabric directly. I was intrigued. The cost though... yikes! The setup the person in the video had was $400 for the projector plus a chromecast and mount. For something new and untested, this seemed out of my budget. 

Fast forward to the week after Christmas. A new Facebook group popped up, Projectors for Sewing. (I am not affiliated with this group) I joined when there was something like 200 people. I was interested but reluctant to jump on this projector bandwagon. There were still too many unknowns. 

Then it happened, the Apeman projector went on lightening deal + $20 off coupon to make it $66 to order. I did it. I was all in with the mount and chromecast for $104 shipped. I was nervous but excited. The excitement didn't last long. It was a disaster. There were too many aspects about the projector setup I didn't understand yet which took quite a while to figure out. The variables made a huge difference. 

I wanted to give my experience with the projector setup to help you decide if this is something for you. If you've been thinking about it, here's some pieces that I wish I'd known or thought through from the beginning. Now, this is my experience only. I'm not saying I'm an expert or that I did everything correct so keep that in mind. 

What's Important with Projectors

So what do you need to know before ordering a projector? I'm not an expert but here's what I found was important for making decisions with my projector setup. Also key in this, I have a Mac and set up with that. If you are operating with Windows, it may be different. 

Setup

First, where will your projector be setup? Does it need to be portable like on a swing arm mount or will you be able to mount it to a ceiling? Will it need to be able to be taken down or moved? This impacts the type of mount you will purchase as well as type of projector.

Throw distance

How far is it from your table (or floor) to the lens of the projector. This can be impacted by how far the mount drops your projector so keep that in mind too. If you have tall ceilings, you are in luck. Otherwise, a lot of people find they needed a short throw projector. The throw distance impacts how large of a projection you can get. If it's small, you'll be moving your fabric and/or pdf around a lot especially with adult patterns. That's fine a doable but one of my priorities was to not have to do that too much. If mounted on the ceiling, my distance from lens to table is 54". I decided to mount instead inside of one of the skylights to get a throw distance of 72" with a projection 29" high x 50" wide. I made this decision because at the lower distance, my projection was too small for me. I wasn't able to get a full women's shirt front without moving the projection (by scrolling the PDF) which took more time and added to my margin for error.


Projector Clarity

I found this a big deal for me. If the projection wasn't clear, it was difficult to see the lines and markings on the pattern. That being said, the text on your patterns may not end up very clear especially the further the distance. The projector I ended up with had the ability to make focus adjustments so that's what we did to find the optimal clarity. 

Dark/Brightness of Room

This was the biggest hurdle I found in the projector setup. My room has 2 skylights which means during the day it is super bright. During the night, it's no issue. My husband joked that I could just cut at night which crazily I actually considered. Really though, I do most of my sewing during the mid-day when it's the brightest in my room. During the daylight the projected lines weren't visible, especially if it was a sunny day. I was forced between two options due to the light. I could darken out my skylights or purchase a LCD projector that is meant for use in bright daylight rooms. I opted to put cardboard in my skylights for now and save the funds on the more expensive projector. (Since I made this decision there's been people purchasing these projectors on eBay for around $100. New they are $500+.)



For comparison, here's my projection with my sunlights blocked and blinds closed but the overhead light on.



Here is with all lights off in the room. Both images were taken at 10am on a cloudy day. 


Cost

What is your priority on cost? Is this a long term use for you and investment or just something to try out? Setting a budget is key. I wanted to stay under $150 for my all in cost which limited me on other projector options. 

Connectivity

Are you looking to minimize the number of cords? You can use a Chromecast device attached to the projector that will allow you to cast your screen. This avoids needing a USB or HDMI cord connected from the projector to the computer. Some projectors also come with casting included in them like airplay options for casting between the projector and a Mac. The same is true for the power cord. If you want to not have one hanging or snaked across the ceiling a pocket battery charged projector is an option. Keep in mind you'd need to be able to access the projector to charge it periodically. 

So what did I choose and why?

First, I picked up the Apeman 3800L because of the cost alone. I had no idea about anything else with it. 

Throw distance: long
Clarity: poor
Room brightness: needed dark room
Cost: $66-100 depending on sale 
Connectivity: Requires chromecast or cord
Other: Does include remote and mirror option on the projector to flip pattern pieces

The Apeman has a decent projection size at 54" which is great. When we had this mounted up at 72" my projection was actually larger than my table of 36"x60". The clarity at this point made everything blurry though. My main issues with this projector is that it never focused well and needed an absolutely dark room to be seen. After finagling with it for a few days, I ordered the Bomaker (below) to try and returned this one to Amazon. Most projectors have a 30 day return policy with Amazon which is nice to be able to test it for your space. 



Throw Distance: Average
Clarity: Average
Room Brightness: needs moderately to dark room
Cost: Purchased for $84 (with available coupon); Currently $115 but look for amazon warehouse deals
Connectivity: Requires chromecast or cord
Other: Allows adjustments to projector settings for more clarity and brightness of projection

It took a bit for me to be happy with it but now I can say it's fine and will work for my needs. My biggest issue doesn't have to do with these projectors, it's the light in my room. To get the Bomaker to work, we ended up blocking out my skylights with cardboard. The Bomaker does work with more ambient light on in the room (I can have my task lighting on) plus the brightness can be adjusted on the projector itself. Paired with pattern companies increasing their line sizes and my darkened skylights, I can easily cut during the daytime. If it's a particularly bright day, I might have to close my window blinds too. What I liked about the Bomaker was it's clarity. The lines aren't fuzzy and the text is pretty legible. Although I was able to get better clarity at the 54" ceiling height mounting, I opted for a larger projection size by moving it to the inside of my skylight at 72".

For both projectors I used the V LED Warehouse Mini Projector Ceiling Mount for $9.99. It was easy to install and small. If you are not mounting it and rather using a light stand, make sure it is sturdy. If it moves or gets bumped, you won't be calibrated correctly. I chose to cast using Chromecast rather than having an additional cord hanging from the ceiling. 



If looking for a pocket, battery charged pocket projector, the Wowoto A8 seems to be a great option. It's more costly at $349 but has wifi built-in so doesn't require a separate device or cord for casting. 

For ultra short throw projectors, there seem to be several Epson models that are recommended. You can purchase one of the older versions on eBay for significantly less than the $400+ of new ones. Keep in mind the bulbs are used on the eBay options and older bulb style. What's neat about this style of projector is that it can just be propped up and doesn't need to be mounted. 

Calibration

In all honesty, I don't know a whole lot about this. My husband is awesome and set up both projectors. I do know that the end goal is to have the 1" squares displayed on the pattern projected to be exact. If it's off even by a millimeter, you'll be impacted by that in the fit. 

Some pattern companies are including a 1" grid layer to help with calibration. The benefit to this is that you can measure that square on each corner of your projection to make sure that it's exact. The companies that have this 1" grid add it as a layer so I will use it to ensure I'm calibrated then turn it off to make less lines for cutting. 

Why is that important? The projector, cutting table and floor must be level. If these aren't, you'll get a distorted image and distorted pattern being cut. I will have to say, I think this is the most challenging aspect of the projector setup. The accuracy of that 1" square across your entire projection has to be perfect. One thing that can make this get out of whack are if your cords get touched. I'm serious, even bumping them can turn your projector, making it no longer level. I know this from personal experience.

The first time you turn your projector on and pull up a 1" grid, it'll most likely not be 1" when you measure it. You'll adjust your Adobe PDF Reader's zoom percentage until you get it exact. I found for my circumstances my zoom ON EVERY PATTERN needs to be set to 45.1%. That number will be different for you as it depends on the projector and throw distance. When trying to find the amount that's perfect for you, try adjusting the zoom by 0.1%.

Cutting

The projector minimizes the need to print or trace patterns. It also changes the way that I cut out patterns. Adobe PDF Reader does not have an option to flip an image or page creating a mirror. (The Apeman projector itself did have this feature though.) For mirroring, that means I either need to cut with the fabric folded or remember to flip the fabric. This isn't how I'm used to cutting. 

Does this make it more challenging to conserve fabric? Yes. It requires a bit more thinking. I'd recommend having tailors chalk or chalk pens around so you can trace out your shape if you are short on fabric and trying to make it all fit. 

When you fold the fabric (like below) you get mirror images. This isn't the most fabric conserving approach though. I often find I get the best use of fabric if I cut one piece one way and then flip and turn my pattern piece, or in this case fabric the other way. 


It's just changed my way of thinking with cutting. There's nothing wrong with it, just be aware of it before you jump into the projector approach. Cutting below, I cut one with fabric right side up then flipped the fabric over and cut the mirror with fabric wrong side up. 


Fabrics can make a difference on what you see for cutting. Busier fabrics can be harder to see the cut lines. I have some tips about adjusting to a reverse color background below for lighter fabrics. As projector use is getting more popular, designers are updating their A0 files or creating projector files. The files that contain layers for each pattern size help immensely. The pattern above I have only the size 12 layer turned on. It's much busier and harder to track which line you are cutting if you have the full size range visible. 

Another tool you have available, is to rotate your pattern pieces in Adobe PDF Reader. To do this, Right Click < Rotate Clockwise. I use this to turn my pattern pieces so they fit on my projection or are easier to reach on my cut table. 

My Assessment

I love the idea of the projector. I test and try new patterns frequently. I'd say I would normally be printing 2-3 patterns a week minimum so this has saved on paper, ink and assembly time A LOT. My husband asked me yesterday how many patterns I've printed in the last month. I realized that number was zero! It's especially helpful with sewing for children who seem to be a different size every week. I had most of the kid patterns printed A0 before and would have to trace/grade each time I sewed. Now I can just pull up the projection, cast, cut and sew. 

Benefits:
  • Save on ink and paper
  • No need to assemble patterns
  • No need to reprint sizes
  • Saves time
Disadvantages:
  • Margin for error if calibration is off
  • Difficult to hack patterns
  • Can make pattern adjustments difficult

Tips & Tricks

These may not be helpful or important as more information is available for projector setups but for me they were key. 

Tip #1: Reversing PDF Reader Colors
If you are struggling seeing the projection, try reversing the document colors in Adobe PDF Reader. What this means is instead of your background being white, it'll be black. To do this in Adobe Reader go to Main < Preferences (or ⌘+K). The box below will pop up. Click on Accessibility on the left side. Under Document Color Options check Replace Document Colors. Select Use High Contrast Colors. Make sure "change the color of the art as well as text" is checked. Click Okay.


Your screen should go from looking like this:



To this:


To change back to the standard view, go through the steps again and unselect Replace Document Colors.

Tip #2: Write down your zoom percentage
Just put a sticky note next to your computer to always have it on hand. It should be to the 0.1% for complete accuracy.

Tip #3: Periodically check your calibration
I can't believe yet that 100% of the time my calibration is going to be right. I'm still opening each pattern and doing a quick check. Here's the thing, it's worth it to find out if there's an issue before completely cutting and sewing a pattern that's not going to fit. 

Tip #4: If it's not right for you, send it back
Maybe the projector setup isn't for you. Maybe it'll work out in a few months where there's more info on it. That's okay! Don't feel bad about sending it back. If you ordered from Amazon there's a 30 day return policy.

Tip #5: Keep a white poster board and/or paper around to look at lines 
I have a plain white piece of paper and poster board nearby to use when I have the projector on. If I just slide it on my cut table or over the fabric I get more clarity than just projecting onto the fabric. This helps me verify where a line or notch is. Below shows the difference with the poster board (on right). 


FAQ

Does it actually save time? 
Yes! I find that since I'm not assembling patterns, it's much quicker.

Is it hard to calibrate?
At first yes, I struggled with this. After it was calibrated though I haven't had to mess with it again. That being said, if the power cord is hit, it does move the projector and throw it out of calibration. Something to watch out for.

How do you grade with a projector?
Most companies are either working to add or already include layers in their A0 patterns. Turn on the layers you need for the grading and then grade as you would with paper. You can use Adobe PDF Reader (the program I use to open all my PDF Patterns with) to draw lines for grading on the computer that are visible projected. I find that's an extra step I don't really need. I've also seen people use tailors chalk to trace on the fabric their grading before cutting. Although this is an extra step, it's still less steps than printing, assembling and cutting out a pattern. 

How about adding/removing length?
With Adobe PDF Reader you can put an X on the projection. Cut to that X then move your screen or fabric the amount you need to adjust. Yes, it takes a minute to get it figured out but I think the same is true with adjusting physical patterns. I plan on making a video in the upcoming weeks with how to do these adjustments and grading adjustment tips. 

How about pattern hack?
I'm finding I haven't done as many hacks as I did before the projector but that could just be the type of projects I'm working on. I expect to trace the projections onto tracing pattern then do the hacks from there. 

What type of files work with the projector?
A0 or projector specific files are ideal.

What is a projector file?
Projector specific files are being added by PDF pattern companies now as there's been more demand. They are like an A0 large format but often have no size limitation. Most will include layers for each size, have thicker lines, pattern pieces for bands (rather than cut charts), 1" calibration grid layers, larger font sizes and all pattern pieces going in the same direction. Since this is so new, there's no standard in these types of files. Each designer is doing what they can as new ideas pop up daily. 

What if the pattern doesn't come with an A0 file?
There are ways to tile the pattern pages together but it takes forever. At this point, I'd reach out to the designer to see if it's something they would be willing to offer. If not, I'd probably print it instead of hassling with the projector. 

Does the projector actually save you money?
I'm not sure on this yet. I won't have the cost of paper and ink for printing as frequently. I'm also not needing to order A0's preprinted. If A0 or projector files are offered for pattern tests, that would be my best case scenario to save on money and time with reprinting. Since having my projector, 4/5 tests I've completed have offered A0 or projector files during pattern testing. 

Did you get rid of all of your printed pdf patterns?
No! I may purge some but I travel with sewing and would need to take patterns with me. Also, if I'm maximizing fabric and playing pattern Tetris I think I need pattern pieces rather than projections to do this well. 

Are there times you don't use the projector? 
Yes, I'm finding when trying to play pattern Tetris and fit pattern pieces on odd cuts it's easier with pattern pieces.

Are you finding the projector has changed the way you sew?
Yes! This is something I didn't think possible! I'm batch cutting a lot more. I'm finding if the projector is on, I'd rather keep cutting than turn it off and switch gears. It's definitely been an adjustment to my mindset. 

If you did it again, would you buy the same projector?
No, if I was starting today I would most likely start with an Epson short throw projector from eBay. I may end up switching to that setup down the road so I can use it with lights on but we'll see. For now, this works and I can afford to give it a year or so for a trial. 

Have more questions? Leave a comment or reach out on social media. I can be found on Instagram @gabeandzach or Facebook

My posts may feature affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase from these links, I receive a small percentage in compensation at no cost to you. I may have received patterns or products to test or review but the opinions I voice are my own. 

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