Quoted from Joey_N:
This is inspiring. I’ve been in the hobby for nearly 20yrs, but have only stenciled several vid cabinets. Used oil based, and quite pleased. I feel like there’s no way I’ll replicate the old process exactly, probably lacquer on barely primered wood, metal stencils, etc. at this point, and especially after this, I think I’m moving to lacquer automotive paint, like the Duplicolor line. I have several classic Bally’s to restore and repaint, incl Future Spa, SBM, Playboy, KISS. Since so many with white base coat, will make more sense to buy enough to do several cabinets. Your cabinet may not be exactly the original process, but this seems like a great compromise using modern paints. I appreciate you sharing your tips. I look forward to my Future Spa project, but kinda wish I just had THAT cabinet!
Thank you so much! Yes, they used metal stencils in the factory, which had some great advantages for sure. That being said, their process back then was anything but exact. If you look at two of the same title from that era you'll often find subtle differences. Maybe that's a good thing!
Actually, as long as I'm at it, let me dump here our lessons learned during this automotive painting experience...while it's still in my head. With our BoP, it was a totally different type of challenge. This was really a whole new level.
*** I'm just going to rattle on for a bit, so feel free to skip unless you're really into the idea using automotive paints with stencils. I'm not trying to convince you not to do it! The end results are really beautiful. Since we're amateurs, we had to basically learn all this stuff on the fly...now we know way too much about paint. ***
- *Same chemistry.* You have to keep your paint choices consistent. Once you're committed (i.e. going with rattle cans, or auto paints), you should really stay on that path.
- The sanding vs. direct application Catch-22. Whenever you re-coat or apply a different layer on top of an existing paint, you've got two options:
1) You can recoat or add another color or clear coat quickly according to the label, so you don't require sanding. For example, these automotive paints usually said on the label you can do it within 24 hours without sanding (depending on the paint, sometimes they said within 3 hours!).
The problem with this approach is that if you do it too soon, the next stencils or masking will leave a mark when pulled off. There is a term in the automotive paint literature that says "Dust Time, Tack Time, Tape Time." Meaning, when dust won't stick, when it won't be tacky to the touch, and when it's safe to be taped (or sticky stenciled).
2) You can wait, in theory over 24 hours, sometimes 72 for clear, and then hit it with 600 or 800 grit to prepare it. The problem with this approach is that with stencils, you're not painting over EVERYTHING, that's the point, so if you sand everything, you need some kind of clear to restore the sheen. Most folks don't clear their cabinets, so you're pretty much stuck in option 1 unless you're cool with clear coating, as we were. (Well, cool is a stretch, we wanted to use clear, but we never had before so we found it terrifying.)
Once you decide to use clear, it liberates you from this Catch-22, and sanding becomes normal between layers.
- The stencils themselves (I really enjoyed the precision of Pimball Pimp's stencils) are a recreation of what the artist thinks was the original stencils. They aren't exactly the same. You often find yourself moving the stencil back and forth before sticking them down and wondering "why doesn't this look exactly like the photo of my cabinet before I sanded the paint off?" and you'll drive yourself nuts! Partly this is because not all machines were the same. Another issue is sometimes the stencils have been improved from the originals. They look better. Just chill out and go with it. OR, do like @high_end_pins does and fix the stencils to what you want. If you do that, you're going to need some talent.
- When a stencil has little pieces like with Future Spa's front of the cabinet, when you're laying them down, you might miss a small piece that stays stuck to the backing. Just relax, it's probably easier to manually place it down after then to try to go back with your squeegee and push it back down. I wish we had just applied it manually. If you get too anxious or fumble fingered during the stencil re-application, you might get a crease in the stencil. Not a horrible thing, mostly can be pushed out, but we found that a few couldn't and they would allow a tiny amount of paint to bleed through. These will then need to be corrected.
- Get ready to make lots of corrections, mostly from issues with edges pushing through. Look, maybe with rattle cans or small airbrushes you guys can be perfect on your first shot. However, I don't think I've read a thread on a single automotive paint restoration where they aren't fixing up things at various stencil layers. Some paint goes on wrong, something bleeds, a stencil got left on the backing, stuff happens. HVLP guns are weird. You've got pressure at the compressor. Pressure at the gun. Pressure when you trigger. Nozzle size. Atomization issues. Sweet lord. Anyway things go wrong but if you're doing clear coat layers they are easy to correct.
- In our amateur spray booth, overspray happens, period. Maybe if we had chosen to use more powerful exit fans or something it would have been better, but I doubt it. That's fine, you deal with it, but you have to spend 10x as much time masking everything perfectly. A small hole in the mask is too large. Paint vapor or clear gets in, and may alter your surface.
- Layers and clear coat order. We regret not using clear between stencil layers. We chose to do it like this: Primer, base color layer, speckle, gloss clear, stencil layer 1, stencil layer 2, gloss clear we could then sand and flatten, matte clear to finish. Here are two reasons I see why you should use layers of clear between stencil coats, now having used these paints ourselves.
1) The clear gives you something to sand down, filling the valleys, allowing your surface to be flat. Remember, when you go to stencil layer 2, you want to lay it down on a flat surface. Auto paints can lay down very thick! Single stage even thicker (you really shouldn't be using single stage, because the whole point of single stage is it has it's own clear in it, so it's thicker. Avoid this. We had to for color reasons that I won't bore you with here). You can see the issue, because if you keep layering up without flattening, you get really high edges and you can get some bleed in the transitions where new stencil pieces go over those edges.
2) The clear is very forgiving, paint is not. If you screw up glossy clear, you can sand it and buff it and you're good. If you sand too far on a stenciled paint, exposing the paint beneath it (base coat or previous layer), you then have to correct that mistake before the next layer. IMHO, you shouldn't be sanding on your color. Remember, auto paints are expensive and are 2 or 3 part mixes. Some have a pot life of two hours, sometimes, properly stored, it can last infinitely. Our purple paint, for example, if we made corrections, we had to mix more...and that starts to add up quickly. Hell, if you sand your color, and it's not something that is covered up by the next stencil layer, that scuff remains unless you clear over it.
For this reason, putting a layer of clear over your paint "locks it in" and lets you sand it without hitting the paint. It also provides a good surface to paint onto! It has to be glossy clear though, so you can sand it and manipulate it.
Then, you're probably wondering, once the stenciling is finished, how do you get that eggshell level of matte finish like the original Bally cabinets had? The answer is that flattening agent.
- Flattening agent. Oh my $@^%&#! is flattening agent a pain in the ass. You add it to your clear, and it cures with a lower sheen, depending on how much you add. It's also really expensive. You don't want to waste it. I've heard you can buy pre-mixed stuff for even more money, but if you want to stick to your chemistry rule above, it's nice to use the same clear coat. Your measurement needs to be precise for each coat or session, so they all have the same gloss level. If you are a pro like @high_end_pins, my guess is you have a paint scale that lets you measure portions precisely. We used mixing cups. The instructions for the flattening agent include things like "437 parts clear coat to 454 parts flattening agent to 144 parts hardener." Seriously!? We ended up getting lucky and using a 3:3 (clear:flattening agent:hardener) for eggshell. Ok, that you can use mixing cups for, but if you want to get fancy, you need better measuring tools.
- If you lay your flattened/matte clear down and make a mistake, you can't sand/buff it out. You have one option: Sand and re-apply the flattened clear...and because it might be a wee bit different the next session, you really can't "spot spray" it over a mistake, you have to sand it out (like a run, which we had on one side) and then apply to the whole side. For a run, you'll need some lower grit (like 320) to get it flat then hit it with 600 before re-coating. For something else, YMMV. Don't make mistakes with the final clear layer.
- If you get overspray at the flattened clear stage, it sucks, because you can't really sand it. (For reference: If you get matte clear coat overspray on something, something that already had a matte clear coat, it will look the same, but lose its smooth texture. Try not to do this. A trick that can work (if you do it within a couple days) is a clay bar with lubricant. We had this handy because I use it to detail my car, but we fortunately masked things pretty well.)
- Clear coat is expensive and *toxic as hell.* When @vid1900 tells you to have proper safety gear, holy crap, even with California's VOC standards, it's some nasty stuff. You ABSOLUTELY need a P100-rated organic vapor respirator cartridge! This is the one:
amazon.com link »
- If I could do this all again, I'd probably get a full face respirator to use it with instead of my half-face respirator. You end up with a clear coat triangles on your face. This is not healthy. The whole thing blows my mind that people do this professionally! Yeah, I can TOTALLY see the appeal of working with rattle cans after having spent a couple months in a Tyvek suit.
What's the punchline here? When @bryan_kelly talks about getting good performance out of rattle cans, listen to him, unless you want this challenge. It sure does look pretty though...