Clearcoat & Restoration

The Restoration/Clearcoat Process

Playfield restoration and clear coating are two distinct functions. Many playfields such as NOS or reproductions need little to no restoration. Used playfields, particularly older electromechanical games can require us to respray all the playfield art and restore or simulate the woodgrain areas. Most playfields fall somewhere between these two extremes. Clear coat is used to lock in color and protect the underlying art. Our clear coats employ UV inhibitors to protect from fading. Clear coating is done in our temperature controlled spray booth. There are many internet discussions regarding these processes and what products work best. HSA spent the better part of 15 years perfecting this process and based on our experience, there is no better way to do this playfield work.

Initial playfield preparation: The first step is surface cleaning and documentation. We clean it up with appropriate solvents, remove any mylar, photograph everything and put your name on the back. This gives us information to refer back to because some of the original art will be sanded off in the worn areas, around inserts, etc. PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE YOUR OWN MYLAR OR SAND ANYTHING! Even if you are sending us a playfield with amateur painting on it, let us do the prep work. Just clean it with Simple Green and send it in.

Initial sanding: We sand both sides of the playfield, clean out the holes and make sure there is nothing on the playfield that will inhibit paint adhesion. Any mylar is removed. WE DO NOT USE STICKERS, DECALS OR OVERLAYS IN OUR RESTORATIONS. Every playfield is a little bit different and that will determine what sanding products are used and what techniques are necessary. NOS and reproduction playfields in only for clear coat are only sanded on the art surface. Older lacquer playfields are very delicate and require special techniques. Special attention is given to inserts. We often have to remove paint over and around inserts due to separation issues.

Initial clear coat: Once a playfield is properly prepared, it will be clear coated to protect existing art and provide a stable surface for repairs and art restoration. After another light sanding, we repair wood damage around outholes, shooter lanes, fix cracks and other blemishes. After we repair physical defects the art is then restored. Art restoration can be a multi-step process involving several layers. Most of the artwork is done at this stage but some may be applied between subsequent layers of clear. Woodgrain is a difficult thing to deal with and every playfield will be different. We try to preserve the natural woodgrain as much as possible but some playfields will require us to simulate the wood finish. If you have a preference, let us know.

2nd clear coat: After the playfield has been restored, we apply another layer of clear and assess the work. Often there will be some touch up necessary at this stage.

3rd and subsequent clear coat: From this point on, the art is essentially complete and we are just applying enough clear to finish the job. We do look for blemishes between each coat and repair if necessary. Every playfield will receive at least 4 coats of clear, sometimes more. Urethane coatings take substantial time to harden. Part of the time we have your playfield it is simply in a rack, allowing the coatings to set properly before we sand and apply the next coat.

Final sanding and buffing: After the last coat of clear is applied, the playfield must sit for at least 30 days, allowing it to harden enough to be buffed. It actually takes urethane about 6 months to fully harden. The playfield will be sanded with 1000 grit, aged again for a few days then sanded with progressively finer paper before buffing. The finished product will be non glare for EM playfields and mirror finished for all others, unless a customer has a different preference.

Bally Williams SYS9 – SYS11 and some early WPC (1985-1991)

Restoring these playfields is problematic due to the manufacturing methods used during their production. They were drum sanded in a fashion that creates adhesion issues now, mostly around inserts. These problems often become worse with clear coating. Its a shrinkage issue, not a chemical problem. We can restore these playfields but they often take a lot of extra time and require a different skill set. Unlike others, we do not use stickers or decals in these restorations. Expect the cost to be higher.

The list of these games includes: Comet, Sorcerer, Space Shuttle, Grand Lizard, High Speed, Road Kings, F14, Fire, Millionaire, Pinbot, Big Guns, Space Station, Cyclone, Banzai Run, Swords of Fury, Taxi, Jokerz, Earthshaker, Black Knight 2000, Transporter, Police Force, Elvira and the Party Monsters, Bad Cats, Mousin Around, Whirlwind, Bugs Bunny, Diner, Pool Sharks, Radical, Riverboat Gambler, Rollergames, Game Show, Funhouse, Harley Davidson, and Bride of Pinbot.

Reproduction Playfields

There are several companies producing playfields. We can restore just about anything but in many cases, it’s not cost effective for you. Funhouse is a good example. Most are lacquer playfields with some complexity. They are often faded and worn. A decent reproduction is available for a reasonable price. Restoration of a rough Funhouse could top $1,500. We appreciate the availability of these reproductions and have no problem recommending them when they are available. We do think these playfields benefit from our clear coat process.

Reproduction Playfield Clear Coat: Most of the reproduction playfields currently available have been minimally clear coated by the manufacturer. These coatings have improved over the years and do offer substantial protection compared to past work. In our view, it is better than nothing but not great. This is not a dig on the manufacturers. They are producing dozens of playfields at a time and only have so much time and space to work with. Our clear coat process involves at least 4 separate spray sessions, wait times of at least 10 days and sanding between coats, aging at least 30 days after the final coat then sanding and buffing. They simply cannot offer that level of quality. Our clear coat offers significantly more protection with a more level and polished surface.