I have always recommended clearcoating a playfield after touching up a playfield with acrylic paints. But it got me to wondering if the advice was any good. What would happen if I didn't clearcoat after a touch-up? Clear coating a playfield is a laborious process and unless you are going to do a two part automotive type of clearcoat, there are no perfect options that I have found. If I could skip the clearcoat step, I would be more inclined to make a playfield look better by doing just the touch-ups.
Since I had some games on route, I knew this was the perfect environment to test how well touch-ups with acrylic paint would last. The touched-up pins got lots of play!
Pinsiders recommend Createx and I finally broke down and bought some on eBay. Createx paints mix well and dry to a hard finish.
Here are the steps I used to touch-up a Williams Travel Time and a Bally Wizard!:
- Clean the playfield thoroughly and multiple times with 91% Isopropyl alcohol. WARNING! Using any chemical on a playfield can damage the playfield. Test all chemicals in an inconspicuous spot on the playfield before going whole hog using it. Pinsiders swear by Novus 2 and that might work as well, but I have no experience with it. 99% Isopropyl alcohol is better if you have areas that have been worn down to the wood.
- Mix the Createx paints until you get the right color.
- Put the paint down. Some colors, like white, yellow and orange may require multiple coats. Let the paint dry before putting on another coat of paint. If you make a mistake, and you will, you can easily remove the acrylic paint while still wet. I use my fingers or a damp Q-Tip.
- Normally, if you are going to clear coat, you would have to test the dried paint with Naptha VMP (Varnish Makers and Painters). Some colors will be darker after applying the Naptha. This is how the color will look if the playfield is clearcoated. But I haven't noticed an appreciable change in paint color after waxing so you can skip the Naptha test.
- After the paint has thoroughly dried, wax the playfield. I use Mother's Carnauba wax. Let the wax dry completely, usually at least an hour. Remove the dried wax with a clean cotton pad and apply a second coat of wax.
That's all there is to it.
There have been a few issues that have been discovered. The biggest problem noted occurred on the white sections of Travel Time. To get proper coverage using white, I had to put down three or four coats of white. Some of the white paint was chipping off near the pop bumpers. I vaguely remember, thinking that I was done, waxing the playfield and then deciding to add another coat of white paint to some of the white sections. That might be why some of the white paint chipped off. I have had no paint chipping problems on any of the other pins I have used this method on.
I used this method also on Firepower and Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man. The dark colors, especially black, would leave some wax in the nooks and crannies of the touch-up. I used a brush to put on my paint and this left small crevices where wax could hide. After drying, wax is white, so bits of white wax in black areas stood out like a sore thumb. I pressed harder to remove the wax in the nooks, crannies and miniature gorges. After multiple coats, the small canyons in the paint smoothed out and I no longer have this problem when rewaxing the playfield. You shouldn't have this problem is you are air-brushing the paint on.
Here's the catch. There's always a catch when you take a shortcut. It's one of the universal laws!
- I haven't tried any cleaners, but I wouldn't dare try water, Isopropyl alcohol or other cleaners on the touched-up areas. I have only put more wax on top of the touched-up areas. The good news is that if I put a good amount of Mother's Carnauba Wax on a cotton pad, use a little bit of elbow grease and repeat with more wax and another clean cotton pad, I was able to clean up the ball dirt and grime on the playfield, leaving the touch-ups untouched!
- You will need to wax more often. The Createx paint, when dried, is hard and stands up well to pinball abuse, but keep the playfield waxed, every 500 plays or so, to keep the touch-ups protected.
- Keep a fresh, bright and shiny pinball in the game. When you begin to see nicks in the pinball, it is past time to replace it!
- There hasn't been tens of thousands of games played on my touched-up pins, so long term wear is unknown.
The Bottom Line
These results have really surprised me. I am going to continue to use this method because it allows me to get games out on route to be played instead of sitting in my Project Pin queue waiting to be cleared. If you are doing only one or two pins and want the protection that a clear coat offers, then, absolutely go ahead with the playfield clear. A good playfield touch-up and clear is the gold standard. This method I am presenting is, what, the copper standard? The lead standard? It's NOT the gold standard!
I have done some playfield touch-ups with clear coats and gotten good results. Here are the Web pages showing how I did a playfield touch-up and a clear coat afterwards:
Well, there it is. What you do with this information is entirely up to you. I am not recommending this method nor am I trying to steer anyone away from a good touch-up and clear coat. There is no substitution for a good touch-up and clear, but this method is a viable alternative. Worst case, if you don't like the results, you can remove the wax and acrylic paint and start over and finish with a nice, beautiful coat of clear.
Bally Wizard! before touch-ups.
Bally Wizard! after touch-ups.
Bally Wizard! after approximately 700 plays
Williams Travel Time before touch-ups.
Williams Travel Time after touch-ups.
Williams Travel Time after approximately 2500 plays. Please note that the scratches in the image are from scratches in the playfield glass.