The surface for projection mapping is one of the first considerations that goes into a display. To create the illusion of projection mapping, high-powered projectors are used to envelop a surface with projected light, which deceives the viewers into believing that the light is emanating from the surface itself. This requires a carefully selected surface that will be suitable for the intended effects. But what makes for an “ideal” surface for 3D and 4D projection mapping?

There are several qualities that make a good surface for a mapping display, and several that make a surface much more challenging, if not impossible, to work with projection.

A good surface is:

• White, off-white, or light grey in color
• Non-reflective, or matte
• Features flat, lightly-textured planes, while still having additional architectural features
• Not surrounded by lights, or has nearby lights that can be shut off
• Reasonably sized (3-4 stories in size)

In general, the more like a screen a surface is – that is to say, the lighter, cleaner, and less-reflective it is – the better projection mapping will look.

On the flip side, there are some surfaces that do not immediately work well for mapping, and require special considerations. A challenging surface is:

• Darker in color, like brick, colorful stucco, or grey masonry.
These surfaces requires a brighter projector, and will negatively affect colorization.
• Contains many intricate textures.
Too much texture limits the kind of content that can be designed.
• Contains many windows.
Glass can be treated with temporary “clings” to make it viable as a surface for projection, but that comes with an increase in budget.
• Complex in three-dimensions, such as projection mapping on a car or a sculpture.
This kind of mapping requires multiple projectors, precise content creation, and more lead-time for your projection team.
• Lit up by street lighting or lighting from neighboring buildings.
Bigger and brighter projectors are required to compete with nearby ambient light.
• Larger than five stories in size.
The bigger the display, the more projectors will be required for a high-quality image.

Unfortunately, there are some surfaces that projection mapping simply will not work on without very special modifications. Projection mapping will not work on:

• Any surface in direct sunlight/daylight.
For the same reason car headlights are not turned on during the day, direct sunlight overpowers most light sources, including projectors.
• Untreated glass and windows.
The projected light will pass through the glass instead of holding.
• Very reflective or shiny surfaces.
The projected light will reflect off the surface instead of holding.
• Black or dark grey surfaces.
The projected light will be absorbed by the deep color.
• Buildings with excessive exterior lighting.
Ambient light can “drown out” the projected light.

For unusual cases, or to inquire about the viability of a particular surface, contact the team at Chicago Projection Mapping for a free consultation! Our group specializes in fast turnarounds and simple checks for projection viability – please contact us via email at, or via phone at 630-620-0000.