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Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started 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 one of a six part series on doing a high-end playfield restoration. This article covers removing mylar and evaluating the playfield. For an overview of the process see the Ultimate Playfield Restoration Guide.

So lately we have all been seeing these terrible "restored" playfields.  Decals lifting under the clear coat, dirt sealed into the shooter lane, too thick coats of clear, water based clear coats with clouding starting to appear, inserts bucking under the clear, no restoration under ramps or slingshots, faded decals under the clear; simply awful work done by some so-called experts that seem to be spamming the forums constantly.

When I mentioned that I was going to publish a "real" guide to playfield restoration, a few of the playfield restorers that I respect asked me not to do it.  They worried about the income loss if people start doing their own work, and they worried that some of the hacks that spam the forums would step their game up.

My logic is that the little information out there is more dangerous than if people were fully informed.  All these game owners who get a bit of info here and a bit there, are ruining a bunch of playfields because they are following too many leads, rather than having a single resource.

Also, I would be happy if the spammy "pro restorers" did step up their game. They are going to continue to get orders because nobody checks up on their work and they price their work cheap, so they might as well learn to do it right.

Image Gallery

Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started
Ultimate Playfield Restore - Getting Started

  1. Removing Mylar
  2. Evaluating the Playfield

Removing Mylar

You want to start by removing the mylar. At least once a month somebody asks in the forums if they can clear coat over the Mylar. Usually the clear lifts off after a year, so lets just say no to that idea.

There are about 100 Internet guides to removing mylar, but the system that works best for me is to freeze it with canned air (just turn a can of Dust Buster or Maxell upside down). The propellent will freeze the adhesive causing it to separate from the mylar film. Carefully peel the film back a section at a time (see references for additional information).

If the film lifts off the playfield paint, or even the top layer of wood, the playfield is not a good restoration candidate. Sometimes a game was stored in an unheated garage and went through many freeze/thaw cycles.

There is some risk, and there is often no way to know until you start. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, not every game needs to be restored.

After you get the Mylar off, use Goo Gone (never Goof Off!) and remove the left over adhesive. Keep the Goo Gone on the painted parts of the playfield and try not to let it drain down the holes. It will have to soak for 20 minutes or so, then scrape it up with a plastic razor blade or a credit card (see references for the flour method).

If the Goo Gone is evaporating too fast, cover it with plastic food wrap.

Evaluating the Playfield

Now with the adhesive gone, you will see your playfield in the harsh light of day (see Image 1). You will need to assess its needs but usually you will have:

  • Cracked Inserts
    Damage to plastic from air balls or trying to level raised inserts with a hammer and wood. Light up inserts from the front with a flashlight and check each one for damage (see Image 2). You want to look from the back because there will be less to distract your eye.
    You can sometimes reinforce a broken insert with epoxy and chopped glass fibers, but if you are putting a lot of work into a machine, you probably want to order new inserts from Gene at Illinois Pinball. Note: Most of their parts are not listed on their website, so email or call them.
  • Faded Inserts
    UV from the bulb and other light sources like sunlight, have removed the color from the inserts. Look how faded the insert is in Image 3. Note that the playfield itself, nor the cab art had any fading. All this fading can only be attributed to crappy plastic and UV light from the bulb for 20 years.
    Keep in mind that you can use an LED to help make a faded insert look better, but it will still look terrible when the game is off - and if you are going through this much work to restore a playfield, you might as well do the job right.
  • Paint Lifted From Inserts
    The paint has a harder time sticking to plastic than to the wood, so often the mylar lifts off the paint too.
  • Raised/Sunken Inserts
    The plastic has expanded at a different rate than the wood and is now below the playfield surface.
  • Cupped Insert
    Especially on old Ballys, the thin face of the insert has become cupped from age and heat from the bulbs. Inserts without the reinforcing facets on the backside seem much more susceptible to cupping.
  • Ghosted Inserts
    The paint and clear coat have partially lifted from the insert leaving an air gap between themselves.
  • Worn Paint
    The paint on the playfield or inserts have worn off.
  • Planking
    The paint has checked along the surface of the wood. This can happen to any game, but you see it especially when a game is stored in an unheated garage.