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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

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

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 five of a six part series on doing a high-end playfield restoration.  This article covers decals and airbrushing.  For an overview of the process see the Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide.

  1. Decals and Airbrushing
  2. Painting White Areas
  3. Painting Fine Lines
  4. Repairing Planking
  5. Questions and Answers

Decals and Airbrushing

Sometimes you have an area of the playfield that can't be cleaned up with the Magic Eraser.  Normally, the ME and 99% alcohol cleans out the cracks, leaving the cracks behind, but because they are clean, they fill nicely with the clear coat.

If you have to clean too much with the ME, the actual paint will wear away.  Or sometimes there is too much printing to clean around (see Image 1).  Or sometimes the cracked area is close to the flippers and draws the eye to the cracks, where higher on the playfield it would go completely noticed.

First scan the area with a hand scanner or one of those HP 4670 scanners.

Sand any keylining off of the insert, and leave it roughed up to 500 grit.  We want that rough area so the clear coat has some tooth to hold on to.

Image Gallery

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

Shoot a thin coat of clear over the playfield to lock down any loose paint and seal the surface.  Lightly sand it back to flatten out the cracks that telegraph through the clear.

In Image 1 note the planked surface.  The ME could not get it clean without removing the black printing.  Also note the poor kiss of where the red meets the other paints.

While your clear coat is hardening, open your favorite photo program and examine your scan.  Using the "Channels" function, kill off any color other than the black and white and make a jpg of the font.

Go to What the Font and upload the jpg of the font.  What The Font will tell you what font is it.  If your jpg is crappy, it may ask you to clarify a few characters.

Download the font and open it in your photo program.

Overlay the new font letters on top of the playfield scan in a new layer.  If the letters are arched like this example, you can Rotate each letter or use the Warp Text function.

Remember that font size can be fractional, so your font might be 28.6 size rather than just plain old 28. Take your time a get it exactly right.  This font was identified as: Omnibus.

Next, draw the keyline that goes around the lighted insert. Hold  the SHIFT key down as you use the circle tool and overlap the outside of the original circle (this makes a perfect circle).  Then hit the subtract button and draw the inner circle.  This cuts out the center of the first circle.

Un-view the background image and check your work (see Image 2).

If it's your first time, the above will take you 20 minutes.  If you've used photo programs in the past, it will be less than 5 minutes of work.

Next, you have to print your art.

You need clear waterslide film, and a Laser Printer.  Get the thinnest film they have, if offered a choice.  Ink Jet printer inks quickly fade, don't even think of using them.

Most high end hobby shops have really good decal printers that can print opaque white, and gold or silver metallic.  If you need those kind of decals, don't be afraid to use their services.

Trim off the excess film around the printing, leaving clear tabs to connect the keyline to the letters.

Using Frisket film, lay it over the sanded clear coat area to be repainted.  Cut out the Frisket any place that will be painted white (see Image 3).  Clean up anywhere that the colors don't kiss correctly.

Pull the Frisket off and clear over the paint (maybe the whole playfield if you are efficient).

Remember, we never want to apply a waterslide decal to the bare paint, or directly to a plastic insert.  The reason is that you don't want the tension of the clear coat to be different on the topside of the decal than it is underneath.  You run the risk of ghosting if you just stick the decal to the insert plastic.

I've never had an insert decal ghost that has been applied on top of clear coat, then coated over.  Don't take a shortcut here - do it right.

Painting White Areas

Most playfields have lots of reflective white areas that are lit by the General Illumination circuits.  Even though you often don't directly see these areas, it's important to repaint them bright white.

My light meter says that by repainting these sections, you are gaining 30-40% reflectance - that's a lot.

Not only are you getting a brighter reflection, you are getting a pure reflection, rather than one tinted beige or yellow.  The old paint has yellowed, the old Lacquer on top of it has yellowed, but at some point these areas were indeed a nice white.

These areas are mostly out of sight of the player, so you can do them without a bunch of leveling and patching.  Because you can do them so quickly, there is no reason not to do them.

Sometimes these areas are just clear wood on one version of the playfield and screened white on another, latter production run.  It's a judgement call if you want the extra light reflection (and color purity) by painting the clear wood white.   Some purists frown upon it, many customers insist on it.

Don't get paint in the light sockets, or try to put balls of foam or tape in them.  Just put some old bulbs in the sockets and paint around them (see Image 4).

Painting Fine Lines

Sometimes you have a fine line to repair.  If you have a bunch of fine lines, make a water slide decal; but for just one line here is a big time saver.

Don't make this kind of fix over rough wood. Be sure you have a solid foundation, or your first clear coat down.

In Image 5 you can see where the ball has worn through the line.  It is in a very noticeable place from the player's point of view.  It needs to be repaired.

The line is thinner than a 000 brush, so how can you paint it without making a mess?

First we gently cut a path with a X-Acto knife (see Image 6).  Use a fresh blade, of course.

Now load the tip of the X-Acto with your paint (see Image 7).  Use a little less than you think you need.

Make a pass in the guide you cut (see Image 8).  Notice how the pre-cut guide perfectly takes the paint.  Make as many passes as you need to match the thickness of the original line. Most thin lines need 2 passes.

You could not do this freehand with a brush.

Once you have mastered this technique, you will be quickly fixing playfield details you never though were possible.

Repairing Planking

Using Magic Eraser dampened with 99% isopropyl , I cleaned out all the planking (those little cracks in the clear/paint that run parallel to the length of the playfield).   Under magnification the cracks looked clean, so I shot my first coat of clear to fill in the cracks and lock down the existing paint.

Many times, the planking fills with clear and no further painting is necessary.  This was not one of those times.  The light color of the area (yellow) and the fact that this section is right under the player's nose meant that the planking stood out like a sore thumb (see Image 9).

I color matched the paint by eye, put a drop down on the original yellow paint, dried it with a heat gun and then wiped over the area with Naptha.  My second try matched the color exactly; so I was ready to mask the area off.

Using Frisket, I masked over all the surrounding yellow (see Image 10).  Don't try to "spot" repair, it will stand out if the two paints fade at a different rates in the future. Paint all the way to the edge of the art.

I used a X-Acto knife and a metal straightedge to quickly cut out the masked areas.

There was no worry about the Frisket lifting the playfield paint upon removal because the playfield already had a layer of clear on it.

Here I shot my first coat of yellow (see Image 11).  Because this is Createx opaque yellow, note how much coverage I got from a single coat.  You would not see results like that with the cheap, $1 acrylic paint from the craft store, especially on a light color like yellow.

I set the paint with a heat gun and laid down a second, final coat.

Don't sit around waiting for cheap paint to dry.  Always use paint that you can heat set.  Your time is certainly worth more than a $1 bottle of paint.

After heat setting, I pulled the Frisket off.  I, of course, noted that there is an edge you can feel between the playfield and the new paint (see Image 12).

Using some 500 grit sandpaper, I gently knocked down the painted edges so the threshold was much smoother.  This will make the next coat of clear flow over the edges rather than causing them to stand proud.

Because I used paint I could heat set, I had no worries about sanding 5 minute old paint.  Again, you can't do that with the cheap stuff....

Questions and Answers

Question:  I am going to be attempting my first play field repair/touch-up and wonder what the best way to go about it will be (see Image 13).  The rest of the play field looks mint, it's just this one spot at the bottom of the playfield.  Can I mask everything off and clear just the exposed area before making touch ups?  Then clear the whole play field after touch-ups?  I also have the HB decal (it doesn't quite cover the damaged area), would I be able to clear over the decal as well?  The gouge looks very prominent, but you can barely even feel it with your finger, so it's only thru the ink and not into the wood.

Answer:  Yes. You want to lock those wood fibers in place before painting. 

If the decal is safe to be coated, then yes. The manufacturer of the decal should be able to tell you that.  If info is not available, use some scrap of the sticker (like the model number or color bars), stick it to a piece of metal and clear it to see what happens.  Make a scan of the decal before you start. That way if hell breaks loose, you can print another on more suitable stock.

Auto clear coat is "hot", so make your first pass over a decal a fine, almost dry mist. Wait 10 minutes (assuming you are using a fast hardener), make a second slightly heavier coat.  Again wait 10 minutes and then make a normal light coat.