The Overlay Installation Procedure
This procedure comes after having a horrible result installing a Classic Arcades- Bally Star Trek overlay on my playfield. Strangely, the manufacturer supplied zero information. So prior to starting, I researched it a bit, and felt I understood the process well enough to proceed. I put the overlay down, and initially it looked fine. Then as I started reassembling the playfield, it twisted and bubbled where stand offs got screwed down. I finished the reassembly and the playfield progressively worse over the next few months. It slowly puckered and bubbled up to the point where it was no longer useable. Classic Arcades, to their credit, supplied me with a free replacement overlay. Reluctantly, I restriped the entire playfield. But before starting, I performed some more detailed research. I placed a forum topic here on Pinside to get additional information and to document what other Pinheads had done. There is much good information there. Be sure to read through prior to starting an overlay installation. See: https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/classic-arcades-overlay-disaster-and-solutions/page/2#post-4809855 With input from the community I eventually felt I had enough solid information to install my second overlay. It turned out at a 9 out of 10. Not perfect, but damn near. So now, here is the procedure I used to install my overlay. It's a real good starting point.
I advocate putting the overlay down dry. NO soapy water or other wetting agents. I believe application of these agents severely affect the final adhesion, i.e. glue line. I know, I know.... I've read all about how the pros use these types of things in the sign business, but this is a pinball overlay it has to be perfect! Use them if you must, but I strongly advise against it. Of course it's riskier, because if you don't get it down perfectly, you lose the overlay and have to repeat it. So, if you don't have the confidence and mechanical dexterity, and a friend to help you, maybe don't risk it.
Preliminary Overlay Flattening:
The overlay must be perfectly flat. It ships rolled up and not particularly flat. When you receive it in the mail, hang it with blue painters tape to a wall somewhere so it will get really flat. It will take a week or so. Also, keep it out of excess heat and direct sunlight.
Overlay Installation Procedure:
1. Move your play field to a rotisserie.
2. Take LOTS of pictures before you start stripping it down. Take close ups of everything.
3. Strip the top side of the play field so nothing is left on the top.
4. Overlay Preliminary Check: Prior to starting this check, the overlay must be perfectly flat- see Preliminary Overlay Flattening Step. Put the overlay down on the play field and tape it down. Shine a bright light through the inserts from below. Verify the overlay will line up almost perfectly. It should line up on top inserts and bottom inserts almost perfectly. I suggest a 1/8" error isn't terrible and is tolerable- but not much worse. If the overlay is worse than this, consider NOT using it and stopping the job at this point.
5. Template: Make a Template from a clear, thin sheet of hard plastic (hobby stores carry it). Don't skip this. This allows transferring all the screw holes, nail holes, and other penetrations back to the finished play field. Cover the play field with a clear thin hard plastic sheet. Tape it down securely so it cannot shift at all. Align flush the top and left sides of the plastic sheet with the edges of the play field. That way it's easy to put it back exactly later on. The other two sides can run long over the edge- doesn't matter. As long as the left side and top are perfectly flush with the edges of the play field, you will be able to put it back exactly later on. Take your time to be sure you can put the template back in the same EXACT place before you proceed. Once the plastic is securely taped down, drill a small 1/16" hole in every play field hole. Drill deep enough to punch through the plastic. Don't miss any! It's a bitch if you do miss any; you'll have to “fish around” to figure out where to drill later. Take notes and/or draw pictures (take pictures) with a sharpie marker as needed to clarify for yourself.
6. Secure the Inserts: Before sanding the paint down, Make sure all inserts are in solid. Epoxy down all loose inserts. They must all be glued down solid. If they aren't flat, it doesn't matter since they will be sanded flat later. I also suggest cleaning the underside of all the inserts at this point. May as well verify your sockets don't need to be replaced either. Better to do all this preliminary work first. I replaced every darn socket on my Star Trek. There were just too many marginal sockets.
7. Sand the Playfield: Sand your play field down bare with 220 grit. I would NOT use a belt sander. It' too easy to make ruts with a belt sander. I suggest a 6" random orbital sander. Nothing rougher then 220 grit. Go slow and keep the sander moving to keep the sanding even. Don't push; let the tool do the work. Have a friend hold a shop vac. Better yet, have a fan blowing it out the garage door. Wear a mask and do not breathe that crap. Old paint can have lead in it.
8. Vacuum the Playfield: Vacuum the playfield and inspect it. Verify that all the paint is gone. Verify no weird bumps or other imperfections. The playfield should be perfectly flat. Check the inserts, they should be smooth. Tap them to be sure they are still glued down solid.
9. Final Sanding: Sand to smooth with 400 grit. Vacuum and inspect.
10. Inserts Extra Credit / Over Achiever Step: Polish the inserts with Novus 3, then Novus 2, and then Novus 1. Carefully draw a black 1/8" circle with a sharpie around the perimeter of each insert- don't get ink on the insert, just the surrounding playfield. If the overlay isn't perfectly registered (lined up), the black circle around the insert will help hide the error.
11. Clear Coat:
* Temperatures: The playfield should be kept in temperatures between 70 F to 90 F for the remainder of the job. Curing of clear coat will be adversely
* Dust in Your Shop: The area should be very clean in preparation for spraying. Dust will cause bumps in the surface and will cause imperfections in the final
clear coats. There are lots of posts on YouTube about how to clean your shop in preparation for spraying clear coats. However, for this undercoat, dust does NOT matter.
* Handling: Do not touch clear coated surfaces with you bare hands. They will leave oils that will affect adhesion of next layers. Always wear latex disposable gloves.
* Spray your Clear Coat: Automotive clear is best. However, if you don't have a compressor and all that- you can use Spraymax 3680061 2K Clear. It comes in a spray can. It's still a good quality (2 part activated) clear and will work just fine. You can get it on Amazon. Don't go crazy- spray three medium coats, 30 minutes apart.
12. Preliminary Cure: Wait a week and give the surface a very light sand (to smooth) with 600 or 800 grit sand paper. It should go from fairly smooth to perfectly smooth- not at all gritty. Wipe it down with IPA and dust free cloths. You can get dust free cloths on Amazon: “Guardsman Wood Furniture Dusting Cloths” Set it aside for another week to cure.
13. Smell Test: (Thanks to Vid1900 for this) After 1 more week, smell the surface. When fully cured and ready, the clear coat surface will not have any more smell. Wait until it passes the smell test before proceeding. If the clear isn't fully cured, it can out gas and screw up the bond line of the overlay to the playfield later on.
14. When fully cured- inspect surface. The inserts should still be solid. Nothing else strange should be going on. Just give everything a good inspection.
15. Overlay Placement and Trimming:
* Placement: Put the overlay down over the play field and begin establishing alignment. At this point it should already lay perfectly flat. Use a bright light (very bright LED, avoid halogen work lights) from below shining through the inserts to help align the overlay. Hold in place with Blue Painters Tape- it's easy to lift for re-positioning.
* Trimming: Before getting too far along, consider trimming off the overlay in the ball shooter area and below the flippers- where an over lay is not needed. However, be careful about removing much more than that. Areas trimmed out in the center of the overlay will be challenging to lay down flat during installation. The larger any cut out areas are, the more difficult it will be to get that area to go down flat and not cause wrinkles. This is especially true in the center of the overlay. This is because the edges of cut out areas will tend to NOT move together and as the overlay is going down and will make it more difficult to lay it down flat. For that reason, I suggest you remove as little of the overlay as possible. I suggest just removing the ball shooter lane and the area below the flippers.
* Final Tape Configuration: Once the final placement is set, and placement is as close to perfect (check inserts with light from below) as possible, the
overlay's bottom half, mid play field to the bottom should be securely taped down. The top half is free to flop backward.
* Final Alignment Verification: At this point again verify alignment is still perfect top and bottom as before. Even though the top half is no longer taped down, it should be sitting in the exact correct alignment.
16. Overlay Installation:
* Apply the overlay DRY DRY DRY! Unless you wimp out, then you can wet it- pick your wet poison. I would use Rapid Tac if I used anything.
* Tools: Scissors and credit card for squeegee. Smooth the edges of the credit card with 800 grit sand paper so it won't scratch up the overlay.
* Rehearse with your partner who will hold what and move where a few times.
* One person holds the corners at the top while the other peels the paper backing down to the middle. At this point, dropping the corners will cause huge
problems- NO DROPPING. Cut off the paper backing. The entire top half is ready to go down now.
* The person holding the corners has to hold the overlay so that it's tight and within a couple of inches of coming in contact with the play field.
* Using the credit card, the other person evenly presses the overlay a little bit at a time. Work evenly from right to left.
* Once down, use your hand (not the credit card) to rub over the entire top half and press it down. It should be perfectly aligned and down.
* Repeat on bottom half.
17. Clear Coat: Again, I suggest using automotive clear coat. It will harden and make game play similar to a new play field. If not coated, the game play will be sluggish. clear coat will also protect the soft overlay surface from wear.
* Suggested Coats: 30 minutes in between coats. First coat: very light. Second coat: very light. Third coat: medium. Fourth coat: regular Fifth coat: regular.
NOTE: Some people may opt for heavier coats later on. I’ll leave that to you. Additionally, some people may opt to do some sanding of the clear coat to flatten and improve ball play. This will introduce a lot of additional sanding and spraying which is outside of the scope of what I’ve outlined here. Not a bad idea, just a lot more work. Once you sand, it takes a lot MORE sanding to get the finish perfectly smooth and clear again.
* Allow 2 weeks for the clear coat to harden before reassembly the play field.
* Allow 1 month for clear coat to harden before playing on it.
* Apply a very light coat of wax.
1. This is the type of information that the overlay manufacturers should have provided all along. They don't.
2. I believe heat is like Kryptonite to these overlays. They don't do well left out in hot garages or in the sun- don't do it. They may pucker up and be destroyed.
3. I swapped all my playfield lamps to LEDs to eliminate heating below the inserts.
4. I've done two of these now, and I suggest you avoid using one of these if at all possible. Go hardtop!
5. Please provide your thoughts and suggestions for improving this procedure.
Here are a few pics of the first and second overlay installations.
First 3 pics are of the first Overlay (Failure):
The last three pics are of the Second Overlay (Success):