Pinball Rehab

pinball repair and restoration

Paint Masking Paint Masking Hot

When touching up cabinets or playfields with an airbrush, LPHV or rattle can, half the battle is masking off the area you don't want to paint.  There are several options available and depending on the task at hand you can pick the one that works best (see Image 1).

Note: Although these solutions have light adhesive (other than static cling vinyl) they can still lift paint on older games, so be careful.


The first thing you need is an X-Acto knife or scalpel with a fresh blade (always use a new blade for each project).  In addition you will need a metal straight-edge, several circle templates (I use both SAE and Metric), and I will also commonly use a French curve.

Although hard to find, metal templates and French curves are the best choice.  It's easy to cut into the plastic versions with your X-Acto and mess up your line (and your template).

Painters Tape

Many times you won't need more than the old standby, painters tape.  It works best for straight lines and simple shapes.

Image Gallery

Paint Masking
Paint Masking

For curves or circles, temporarily stick the painters tape on some wax paper and use your template to cut the shape you need.  Then put it in place.

You can use multiple pieces of tape and overlap them, but be careful at the point where the two pieces come together.  If the second piece of tape is not tight against the playfield, or cabinet, at the point where it meets the first piece of tape you can get paint leakage.

Frisket Film

For those with a gentle touch, Frisket film is a great solution.  It is transparent, has a light adhesive, cuts cleanly with a knife and will not leak paint.  It's good for larger areas and where there is a lot of detail.

Just place the Frisket film onto the area, press down to get a seal and then cut out the area you're going to paint using an X-Acto knife.  Just like you're tracing, but with a knife.

It takes a light touch, and the key is holding the knife loosely and letting it almost float in your hand.

You can also place your fingernail against the blade tip and use that as a depth gauge.  Also, some people find it easier to use a round-tip X-Acto blade rather than the pointed tip.

While a lot of people worry about cutting into the wood, just practice a little on a piece of plywood and you'll be amazed how quickly you'll get the hang of it.

Liquid Frisket

This liquid is available at most craft stores and can be applied with a paint brush and then peeled off when done.  If you've got a good painting touch this is a great technique for small areas with complex shapes.

You will still need additional masking around the liquid Frisket, but that's easy once you've done the detail work.

Scotch Artist Tape for Curves

3M sells an artist tape that is flexible and can be shaped into curves.  This product works best when doing small areas with odd shaped curves.

The tape is very narrow (about 1/8") so additional masking will be required.

Static Cling Vinyl

If you've got a cabinet that is at high risk of paint lifting, this is your best choice. Note: It can still lift flaking paint, it's just less likely to do so.

Use it in the same way as the Frisket film, but be aware it does not provide as good a barrier against paint leakage and will not cut as cleanly.  If you're putting down light coats with an airbrush leakage should not be a problem.

Combo Solutions

Sometimes a combination of the previous options works the best.  For example, an area with mostly straight lines, but a small section with odd shapes.  In this case I could use painters tape for most of the area and finish up with the liquid Frisket.

Secondary Masking

Frisket film is expensive, so you want to use as little as possible, and liquid Frisket and trim tape only provide a narrow border around the area you're painting.   So once you've outlined the area you may want to use additional masking to protect against overspray.

Static cling vinyl, or Cling Wrap, work well as a secondary masking. You can also use oil paper or Kraft paper and masking tape.