Shopping for Projectors

Q. I’m a beginning artist who wants to buy a projector so I can enlarge photos and other small pictures onto a large canvas. I’ve tried the small, inexpensive tracers, but they practically melt my photos and require almost complete darkness to get any kind of clarity. How should I shop for a high-quality opaque projector? And what can I expect to pay for a good one?

A. Projecting photographs or small drawings onto a large canvas is a fast and convenient way to enlarge the image. There are a variety of projectors made for this purpose and you usually get what you pay for.

Several years ago I bought a German-made Astrascope 5000 with a 650-watt lamp and a Braun Super Paxigon F3.5 230mm lens. My wife and daughter have used it extensively for various projects requiring an enlarged photograph, and I’ve used it for enlarging small field drawings and watercolors for oil painting. It has a cooling fan, and while it does warm up the photograph or drawing, it’s not too much. We’ve had no problems to date.

As I recall, it was expensive—about $300 several years ago. A quick review of discount catalogs reveals a large variety of projectors today, ranging from about $90 up to $450. When shopping, look for a cooling fan, a bright bulb (200 to 750 watts) that’s easy to replace, and top-loading convenience with a large copy window (6×6 inches). Artograph and Prism make a variety of models and the Artograph model MC250 is very similar to my Astrascope.

When working from photographs, consider having them photocopied at high contrast to make them easier to trace. Larger images can also be reduced on a copy machine to get them down to 6×6 inches.

Other projection options include a slide projector or even one of the new digital projectors. For the latter you can use a scanner to get the photograph or drawing into your computer, where you can modify it using a software program such as Photoshop. The projector hooks right up to the computer and/or your digital camera to display the images. While this is an expensive option (a complete setup can cost thousands, though prices are coming down every day), it allows great creative flexibility.

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of ASTM International’s subcommittee on artist’s materials.

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