The original cabinet is decent overall—above average, I would say—but it still has some assorted scrapes, scratches, and graffiti. One of the fish has JAWS carved into it. Another has a large rectangular section of paint missing. It’s just bare wood. I can’t let those things slide when the game is getting a shiny new playfield.
So I’m going to feather these blemishes away. This is a technique I’ve come to favor over doing a total repaint because it preserves most of the cabinet’s patina. But feathering is only feasible if you have a really solid base upon which to build. If too much of the base paint is missing or what’s left is fragile and flaky, forget it. This Atlantis, however, is an ideal candidate for this treatment. The original base is solid overall.
Using a Flip-Pal handheld scanner, I capture the stenciled areas of the game. Because of its small size, I needed to make many, many scans. It took over 40 to capture all the detail on the side of the lower cabinet.
All those images go into Photoshop, where I stitch them together. Each image is in a different later. One layer overlaps the other, with “multiply” as the color-mixing mode. That way you can see both images at the same time. To get correct alignment, the speckling serves as registration marks. One dot is chosen, the top layer is moved until both dots overlap, then the image is rotated (on that dot, like it’s a fulcrum) until all the other speckles line up.
Once all the stencils are stitched together, I trace their outlines. The outlines go into Illustrator, where they are converted to paths. The paths are then exported to DXF files, which are imported into Silhouette Studio, the software used by the Silhouette Cameo, which is a $300 plotter for hobbyists. I use it to cut masking stencils on 4mm mylar from StencilEase.
These masks are now faithful replicas of the original stencil shapes. They’re used to respray the damaged colors on this game. I do this with craft acrylic paint from Michaels. Color options are abundant and cheap. It’s easy to mix colors to get the match you need. Mistakes can be cleaned up and fixed because the hard finish on an intact cabinet is like an etch-a-sketch you can keep resetting.
Before spraying the paint, I touch up the bare wood because these inexpensive acrylics don’t have a lot of pigment to them. After watering them down to spray them with an airbrush, it would take 50+ coats (seriously!) to get the bare wood to disappear. So I fill in the bare wood with a brush. It looks terrible at first, but the airbrush will fix that.
The mixed paint goes gets diluted with distilled water until it can be sprayed, which is basically the the consistency of milk. You can use airbrush medium to dilute the paint, but it costs a lot more than water.
I prop up the cabinet at 45 degrees so it’s facing me like an easel. It’s a good angle to do the airbrushing and keep the stencils in place, which I do with pieces of cardboard and my hand. I avoid using any spray adhesives because they risk taking up paint when you remove the mask. Because the stencil material is so thin, you have to be certain you are applying pressure on the mylar edge where you are spraying. The air will easily lift it and too much overspray will be the result. Some overspray is fine, but too much is unwelcome.
I keep a running heat gun nearby, which I used to heat-set the paint after a light coat. You can’t spray heavy coats because the solution is water-based. It will bead and run very easily if you spray too much. With a heat gun, however, you can set a light coat in a handful of seconds. Then it’s ready for the next coat. I usually put down 5-6 coats. After that many layers, the touch-ups will have been effectively blended away.
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