Quoted from sethbenjamin:
Tell us more about your process…when you say you made the hardtop yourself, what did you print on? Is the graphic underneath the plastic?
Really interested to know what you did here. Looks great!
First, thanks for saying so! I am NOT an artist by any means, so this all trial, error, sweat, and maybe seeing what others have done...
I have a flatbed scanner that I can lie down on a playfield and connect USB to my Mac, so that makes getting a scale basis of the playfield going. It is not perfect, and scale errors show up, so I have to get creative with test prints and identifying landmarks so I can test and adjust. I might make 5 to 25 black and white lo-res examples and I mark each one up with bright ink pens on where I'm wrong.
Once I have the scans in, I often need to assemble them from several scans around the area - so, say hello to PhotoShop layers! Each one comes in and is lined up with the other scans for a composite. I usually spec a fresh blank image to the exact scale (I use inches) and then turn on grids and go to work. I use a Mac trackpad, and my daughter screams that I need to move to a digital pen. I'm 50 so I'm shakier than I used to be, but I make do.
When the working image is as true to the playfield as I can make it, I look to the damage. How can I recreate what's missing? Google has gotten amazing when I search for images, and while reaching out to other owners is always a sharp idea, most only have cell phone pics of their playfield under some lighting condition that's not mine at an angle that's not directly over the area. I have to collect as many as I can and I lay them out.
I have a 40" HD monitor, curved, semi-matte finish, running a display port interface at the highest freq I can get. This makes the process a LOT easier, since I can look at things at scale and any brightness I like. I pay for PhotoShop and it's worth every penny if one knows how to use it.
Speaking to that - Photoshop: layers, magic select, regular select, shape tools, clone stamp, import/export, scaling and skewing, image format, and more - I can manage all of these, so I can get creative on the process when I have imperfect images to bring in. For example, in this job, I fixed the man and creature by hand, and it showed, but it WOULD have been basically OK. A friend of mine found a terrific image of an example playfield, in very bright light, but it was perfect. It was close on a good angle and had great resolution so it took to scaling and skewing very well. After an hour or so, I had to admit that what he found was going to be perfect, not merely OK. I spent a lot of time isolating that sample and playing with its tones to get it close to what I had for a base image, and tune.
Printing was a disaster.
I need a local shop for printing this work, as I need to speak to the shop manager and discuss what works. Unless they have experience with the image format and materials, it's a waste of time. I hunted and found a shop that is a local franchise. I uploaded the 500MB PSD file so they could explore it, and they gave me a photo paper proof for testing. I went home, cut it up and dropped it in - it was too dark. Never mind this isn't Mylar, and that matters, but I lightened up the print and asked for the final. Due to supply chain issues, it took them almost a month to get Mylar sheets, and that also restricted the size of the print - I wanted to cover MORE real estate, but the width was capped.
They printed the final and I excitedly went in to get it - and it was handed to me by a tech who was frowning as he showed me. It looked bad. It had streaks, and was TRANSLUCENT. I wanted it on white-backed adhesive-backed Mylar, and they printed it to a Mylar sheet. I could feel a tear welling up, but I got an idea. I asked for a sheet of white photo paper and laid it on that, and it POPPED. THAT was what it took - the streaks could not be seen and all the colors went the way I wanted.
This complicated the process, because I would have to map the white backing first to the playfield, and mark and cut the inserts and holes. When that was done, I did a test for fit with the graphic, and when that was done, #77 spray adhesive was applied to the backing. I dropped the Mylar on it, and then cleaned the #77 from the inserts with rubbing alcohol.
After that, I sanded the playfield with a Dremel and sanding flapwheel tool I left a small margin and then sanded the spot with 400 and then 200 grit sandpaper to level it. I then used 2000 grit wet sand to clean and polish the inserts. #77 applied to the graphic and then placed on the playfield. I use a rubber roller to get all the adhesive to catch, then I let it cure. Once cured, I put the playfield back together.
Some of the pics in that post show this process. I was circumspect with up close and isolated pics as I am not interested in a copyright issue with Williams holdings or the Planetary Pinball (?) who have the hardtop license authority. A cease and desist under the DCMA, even if I give it away, isn't worth my time. So, I made this for me.
There's a lot of time in this - it's a hobby for me, not a business, and I enjoy the process. If I had to bill for this? Meh.