Hard cyc, solid wall, paper roll, cotton / muslin fabric, collapsible / flexible background… what is the best chroma key background material? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these popular green screen options.
There are quite a few different options for physical chroma key background materials available on the market today. Depending on your application and budget, anything from a 100′ wide by 30′ tall studio hard cyc, to a green sheet on the dining room wall can work. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular options out there.
Hard cyc / solid wall construction chroma keys are popular for large studios and permanent installations. It’s a great option for a studio that does frequent chroma key work. If you need to shoot a multi-person scene, this is probably ideal. Hard cyc studios are also ideal for virtual set technology where you may need to paint or stick tracking points onto the wall.
- Can incorporate curves in the cyc wall to blend perpendicular walls or walls to ceiling, allowing for wide and/or tall subjects.
- Can be built with custom dimensions to accommodate large size shoots for vehicles, large groups of people or smaller subject matter.
- Durability. Can easily be cleaned with soap and water.
- Flexibility. Color can be changed – blue, green, white, black, etc.
- Color Fidelity / Sheen. Paint your hard cyc or wall with any paint you’d like from cheap Home Depot paint to high end, vinyl acrylic, specifically formulated for visual effects. Paints like Rosco Chroma Key Video Paint deliver very high saturation and very low sheen. The results can be impressive compared to cheaper alternatives.
- Cost. More expensive per square foot than others for smaller applications.
- Portability… well, lack thereof. Not movable.
- Space. It permanently consumes an area of studio space, unless it is just a flat painted wall. Other options can be taken down, folded and stored, saving space.
Green paper rolls are a popular option, especially in photo studios already equipped for paper backgrounds. It’s a good semi-permanent solution. Roll it out for a shoot and then roll it up and out of the way when you’re done.
- Portable. A roll of green paper is more portable that a solid wall. It should easily fit in a storage closet or a grip truck or trailer. Some of the larger rolls wouldn’t easily fit in a car or small SUV though.
- Easy Care. If it wrinkles, folds, gets dirty, tears, etc – the solution is easy… rip off the damaged portion and roll out some new green paper. This is a time saver over permanent and fabric green screen materials.
- Durability. Paper is less durable than other options. It can fold or crease while using, which can make that portion unusable.
- Color Fidelity / Finish. Finding the perfect chroma key green or blue material can be challanging. Some green paper rolls aren’t as saturated in color as you’d want and sometimes the finish is more satin than matte. The more sheen / shine, the harder pulling a key will be
Fabric chroma key backgrounds are a great choice for flexible sizes when portability is key. They are commonly made from heavy cotton muslin fabric, which is very durable. You can hang it off background stand and drape it down onto the floor for a full body shot if you need. You can shape it to cover almost anything you need. You may need to wash or replace it if you plan on walking on it though.
- Color Fidelity / Finish. Color dying and sheen on muslin fabric is generally better than paper and often rivals high end painted solid hard cycs. The woven cotton construction of high quality fabrics, produces a flat, sheen-less appearance.
- Portability. Fold it up and take it anywhere. Fabric is very portable. The stands, clips and sandbags you need to rig it, take a bit away from the portability, but it isn’t more than a normal production grip package.
- Wrinkles. Everyone’s first complaint about fabric green screens is that they can wrinkle when stored. Add a portable steamer or iron to the list of equipment you need to travel with when setting up a fabric chroma key background.
- Setup Time. Getting the screen set up, stretched without folds or creases, and de-wrinkled takes longer than other methods.
Collapsible / Flexible type fabric backgrounds are ideal for smaller applications on the go, such as medium shot & closeup interviews. They are the fastest to green screen backgrounds to deploy in the field with minimal support gear and back up in a very compact package.
- Portability. This is the most portable option. It travels in a thin small case and pops out to full size like a flex-fill reflector. It can even be rigged with little or no stands, sandbags, clamps or other heavy grip. They also come in various sizes.
- Setup Time. These are pretty quick to setup. The flex frames stretch the material so you don’t need clamps or support. They may occasionally need to be steamed to remove wrinkles, depending on the model being used, but wrinkle resistant fabrics are sometimes used.
- Color Fidelity / Finish. These blue and green screen backgrounds are usually made by specialty video equipment companies and the colors and finishes are pretty good. You can even get a reversible model that gives you green and blue in one tool.
- Size. The sizes available are more limited than paper or fabric. Paper and fabric are usually available at sizes 10-12 feet wide by 15+ feet long. Flexible backgrounds are typically much smaller.