Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting Hot video

Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide

  1. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started
  2. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Repairing Inserts
  3. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Advanced Repair
  4. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
  5. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Advanced Touch-Up Painting
  6. Ultimate Playfield Restore - Clear Coating a Playfield

This is part four of a six part series on doing a high-end playfield restoration.  This article covers paint selection, color matching, using an airbrush and frisket film.  For an overview of the process see the Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide.

  1. Paint Selection
  2. Airbrushing
  3. Color Matching
  4. Frisket Film
  5. Questions and Answers

Paint Selection

We never use Sharpie pen, Paint Pen, or those little bottles of Testors enamel that you have left over from your Dungeons & Dragons days.  All of the these will run into the final Clear Coat, making a smeary mess (for you or the poor sucker that buys the game after you and tries to have it restored).

Editor's Note: For more information on paint pens see this article.

We don't want to use those cheap $1 acrylics from the craft store, because they fade so quickly, making our repairs more apparent over the years.

We don't want to use cheap paints because they don't contain enough pigment to cover in a single coat (especially expensive pigments like Red).  Add a little thinner so you can run it through the airbrush, and you find there is almost nothing there.

Image Gallery

Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Touch-Up Painting

We don't want paints that dry darker than they look when wet.  We don't want paints that become darker when they are clear coated.  We don't want a paint that permanently sets until heated. This gives us an "out" if we spill, mix the wrong color, or simply make a mistake.

So what paint can we use? Createx air brush colors.

  1. It's already good to go in your airbrush, no thinning is necessary (unless you are doing shading)
  2. It covers in a single coat.
  3. No waiting for it to dry. If you like your work, you hit it with a heat gun (use a hair dryer if this is your first time - safer), and go on to the next color.  Tape will not lift it.  This saves you hours of time.
  4. It does not react with auto clear coat.
  5. It dries the color you mixed it.
  6. It is almost the exact same shade when clear-coated.
  7. The colors mix properly. Many cheap paints just turn brown when mixed (blue + yellow = brown).
  8. It's fade resistant.
  9. It sets so fast with heat that even when using white, old colors do not telegraph through the new paint.

Yes, it's $4 a bottle, not .99 cents, but once you try it, you won't ever go back to cheap paint again.

Editor's Note:  The following information is from another source other than Vid.

I have extensive experience with high end painting and clears.  if you would like a paint pen that is 100% compatible with auto clears, you need to check out the Posca products.  Water based with good coverage.   Myself and others in the custom bicycle industry have used these for fine line work with excellent results for many years.

You can also use the Kemper Fluid Writer Pen, which works with the Createx paints.  This allows you to use the same paint but is released in a controlled finite manner.


Now I just said the word that scares the beginners - Air Brush.  Don't worry, you can get a perfectly serviceable brush for $12 at Harbor Freight (see Image 1).

You could try to thin out paint and manually brush it on, then try to sand it flat to remove the brush strokes, then touch it up again - but you are not going to do that.  Your time and your playfield is more valuable than that.

You have spent $200 on LED lights for your game, you can certainly buy yourself an airbrush.

Now if you "get good" at this airbrush stuff, you can certainly buy a $200 Iwata brush, but I'm telling you that there is no playfield I could not restore with the HF one.  I sometimes have 4 HF brushes filled with different colors at once, so I can keep my pace up.  Spray, heat set, and on to the next color - that is how he pros do it.

You can use a regular shop air compressor (like a Pancake or 120 gallon garage monster), a dedicated air brush compressor, or even just canned airbrush air.

If you use a regular shop air compressor, put a simple water separator on the front of the air line to catch the moisture.  Don't ever drip oil into the hose you are going to use for painting. If you have already done this for your other air tools, buy a dedicated painting air hose.

Color Matching

You always read somebody asking, "What color paint matches the blue on XXXXX game?". 

And the real answer is "The one you mix yourself".

Even if you had a can of the actual Williams paint, your playfield has faded in the last 30 years.  Even if you knew what the color mix was at the time, those colors were mixed by eye at the silk screener, and thus varied from batch to batch.  Even if someone found a match "Blood Moon #666" for their XXXXX game, it would not match yours, because different games have seen different amounts of UV light.

Now many people have tried to mix their own paint and found it did not create the color they thought it would, or it just turned brown.  That is because cheap paints don't have the pure pigments and binders that mix well with others.  Good quality paints mix beautifully, creating the results you expect.

Editors Note: For those of us not as in-touch with our female side, a color wheel will help greatly in mixing colors (see Image 9 and video at bottom).  You can also use a second type of color wheel (see Image 10) for identifying the value (lightness or darkness) of a color.

Mix paint in a clear container that you can set on the playfield to match it up (see Image 2).  Try to use natural light, not a yellow incandescent lamp.  Use a flat container, so you are not looking down the neck of a bottle.

Women have much better color vision than men. Don't be afraid to ask your wife to match colors for you.  It will involve her in your hobby and make her feel important that she has a skill you don't.   Let her do the actual mixing, don't just ask if a sample is a match.

Mix up a little more paint than you think you need.  You will lose some in the air brush or you may have an unexpected touch up latter.  Store small amounts in contact lens cases (5 for $1 at the dollar store), or little artists jars.

Step by step matching (see Image 3):

  1. Take a drop of your mixed paint and put it on the playfield and see where you are at.  Adjust lighter, darker, greener, whatever and place another drop.
  2. If drop looks good, spread it out a little and let it air dry.  Still the right color?  Excellent. 
  3. No good?  Wash off with damp cloth (remember, it's not permanent until you heat set it).
  4. Once you have a good dry match, take some Naphtha on a rag and wipe it over the playfield and the paint sample.  Does the color still match while wet with Naphtha?
  5. If yes, you are ready to paint!   If not, adjust slightly until you get it right.  The Naphtha gives us a temporary clear coat to check our work.

The two hardest colors to match are Bright Orange and Gray (see Image 4).  On many Bally games, use standard orange and add a few drops of florescent orange.  It's amazing how a tiny amount of the florescent fixes it.

On Williams game with hard to match Gray, a drop of yellow or purple will usually make a frustrating match suddenly lock on.

Practice while seated. If you get frustrated, wrap it up for the evening.  "Fresh eyes" tomorrow will often get it on the first try.

If you were out in bright sunlight, give your eyes 20 minutes to adapt to the color tone indoors.

Frisket Film

What the hell is a Frisket?

If you are not from an art or auto background, it probably sounds like something you should have tried before you got married.  But nothing is more important in restoring playfields than your roll of Frisket (see Image 5).

  1. Frisket is a roll of masking plastic:
  2. It cuts super cleanly, so you don't get raged paint lines.
  3. It is clear, so you can see what you are cutting (It is available in opaque, for what reason, I don't know).
  4. It is self adhesive yet does not leave any glue behind.
  5. Although it is "low tack" and normally does not lift paint, it totally keeps paint from seeping under the edge. Much better than blue painter's tape or green "frog" tape in that regard.
  6. It withstands heat well enough to not shrink when we are setting a layer of paint.

If you can use tracing paper, you can use Frisket.

Cut a section of Frisket and lay it over the area to be airbrushed.  Run you finger along the outline where you will be cutting. You don't have to really press the rest of the frisket down.

Using a brand new X-Acto blade, trace the outline of your soon to be painted areas.  Don't press too hard, you should not be feeling the surface of the playfield as you work.

Use a metal straightedge to guide you along straight lines - giant time saver.  If you are cutting a circle for Key lining, you can use a circle template to again save time.

Cut exactly on your line.  You don't have to worry about bleed.

Lift the frisket film from any place you want to get painted. See how cleanly it lifts?   Press any air bubbles out that forms as you remove the pieces.

I used "oil paper" here for masking (see Image 6), but you can use Kraft paper or whatever you have.  Make up a bunch of masking papers with one leading edge with masking tape applied.

You will be reusing them as you move to the next area of the playfield, so make them large enough for the biggest section.

Now lay down your color.

Practice by shooting a little on the masking paper.  If you set the gun down without the cap over the nozzle for more than a few minutes, it may throw a glob out, known as a "booger".

Don't wait for the booger to dry and then sand it out, just wipe the area clean with a rag and spray the entire area again.  You are going to like using Createx paint, believe me.

Shooting on the paper lets you be sure that if any boogers are going to fly, it won't be into your work.

Catch the light on the wet paint and make sure your coat is even.  If it all looks good, hit it with the heat gun and set the paint.  Now you can change colors, or even put another layer of the same color without waiting around.

Note in Image 7 how the Frisket that was pressed down onto the playfield has stayed perfectly attached without shrinking from the heat gun- while the area not pressed down has wrinkled. It's good stuff!

Although there are times when you are blending different colors at once, normally it only makes sense to do all the same color at the same time (see Image 8).

Cut out all your Frisket at the same time.  Then move your masking papers around in an orderly fashion, from zone to zone.

Don't waste time masking off the whole playfield with little windows and miles of tape.  Just move your masking scraps around.  Once the paint is heat set, you don't have to worry about the tape or Frisket lifting the paint.

Do all your colors from light to dark, but save white until the end so it does not get dirty.  The Createx paint is flat finish, so the white can soil easily.

Often, once you think you are done, you will find black areas that still need touch up.  Be careful you don't get the black on the new white paint!

Questions and Answers

Question:   I know that the water-based clear will yellow over time, but will it yellow if it's covered with automotive clear?  Are they even compatible?  If someone didn't want to invest in the equipment needed to spray automotive clear, but wanted to lay down a light coat as per the above steps to do their touch-ups before they took it to someone to shoot the final clear, would that work?

Follow-Up Question:  I dont think from what I have read that water based clears yellow.  I too am interested in what one would shoot other than automotive clear..  I am looking to do it and have seen great results with Varithane and also Water based Polycrylic (which i have used on cabinets and is super clear and easy to work with).

Answer:   Water Based clear is nowhere near as clear as the auto stuff, nor is it as durable, nor are the colors as bright, nor can it be brought to as high of a shine.

Everyone (who does not have an auto refinishing background) starts by using the water based stuff, thinks that they have done amazing work, then one day *graduates* to 2 part ISO clear and NEVER looks back.

There are a couple of places you will be using spot repairs with regular oil based polyurethane, as you will see soon in this guide.

I have covered other people's Water Based spot repairs with auto clear, and they are chemically compatible.  Who knows what those repairs will look like when they start to yellow over the years, though.

Question:  If you're touching up a playfield and repainting an old section, what grit of sandpaper would you recommend such that the paint bites in a bit?

Answer:   I usually use 400 or 600.  Clean with Naphtha after sanding.  Don't get oils from your hand on the clean surface.