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For an idea of what might happen to poorly stored games check this link for failed computer gear at a museum

Backglass Restoration (and Pinball Playfield) service
Last update June 14, 2013

Before/After picture


Backglass/Playfield Restorations
By Paul Midtdal and Barbara LeBlanc
(Dedicated to the memory of our late friend Paul Midtdal) 
Our dear friend Barb has also passed away (April 23, 2011) - she will be greatly missed!

Playfield, cabinet, and backglass restoration is now handled at
the shop by Kaeli.

The most difficult aspect of pinball restoration is backglass repair. If a game has electrical or mechanical problems, it can be fixed, but if the backglass is shot, it must either be replaced or restored. It's great if a replacement can be found, but if restoration is required, watch out. So far there has been no guidance for the collector who wants to fix his glass, and we have all seen the results of poor touchups... some repair jobs are worse than no repairs at all. This article outlines a method of backglass restoration that allows the average (ie: fanatical) collector to do touchups that are unnoticeable to the naked eye. The techniques discussed here are experimental. Before you retouch a valuable game, we strongly recommend a lot of practice on plain glass and on junkers. Only when you have mastered materials and techniques should you approach a game of any value. To repair a backglass, one must first understand how it works. A backglass consists of inks silk-screened on glass. Simple. Areas that light up on the backglass are back- printed with a thin layer of opaque white that diffuses the light from the bulbs. Areas that do not light up are back- printed with a dense layer of solid silver or black that prevents the transmission of light. A good restoration job should restore the inks that are missing from the glass in such a way that light is transmitted through the glass correctly. To achieve this we must first duplicate the missing inks, and second, apply them so that they transmit light in an identical fashion to the originals. A good repair or restoration job is apparent only upon close examination and should never be noticed by the casual observer. Standards vary with one's level of critical expertise, but for a restoration to be considered successful, it must pass a minimum level of notability. Blobbed on model paint just doesn't make it. Backglasses can be restored if the proper materials and techniques are used. To achieve good results, materials as close as possible to the original components must be used. Materials Our backglass paint box contains the following: white enamel paint, brushes, a rubber roller, paint thinner, a sturdy easel, a Pantone Matching System (PMS) book and the following PMS inks: Pantone Warm Red Pantone Rubine Red Process Magenta Pantone Yellow Pantone Reflex Blue Process Blue Pantone Green Pantone Purple Metallic Silver Metallic Gold Process White Transparent White Note: Pantone 'Pen Ink' can be obtained from PANTONE This is
NOT Printers Ink, but 'Pen Ink' has the same colours used in the Pantone Colour Matching System.. These are transparent lithographic printing inks that can be purchased at great expense in one pound cans from ink suppliers, or, if you know a printer or pressman, can be scrounged from any reasonably well stocked press room. Two inch pill bottles with snap-on lids make ideal containers for scrounged ink. The kit also contains miscellaneous Q-tips, toothpicks, rags and jars. CAUTION: These inks are permanent and indelible. If they get on your clothing they will NEVER come out no matter what you do. Always wear old clothes and an apron. Keep out of reach of children and idiots! Surface Preparation The area to be painted should be cleaned with a damp cloth and all loose or flaked paint should be gently removed. This will make the glass look worse but is mandatory as your touchup paints may run under lifted or loose areas. In lit areas it may be advisable to remove the paint right back to the black keyline that surrounds each letter or shape, but experiment first. Color Matching The heart of the color matching system is the PMS Book. This book is not unlike a book of paint chips that you might find in a hardware store. It shows hundreds of colors and gives formulas for mixing these colors. The PMS system is used throughout the printing and silk screening industry. Matching color on a backglass is relatively simple with this system because this system is in fact used in the manufacture of the backglass. Color should be matched in a strong, indirect light (ie: north-facing window). It may be helpful to block off all but the area to be matched to minimize interference from surrounding colors. Compare the color on the glass to the colors shown in the book, and record the number and formula. Color Mixing The formulas given in the PMS Book break the components into a number of equal parts (ie: 3 parts Rubine, 4 parts Reflex Blue) and are also given in percentages. These formulas are designed for mixing large volumes of ink, but can also be used for mixing minute quantities. The formula is used to begin the mixing, but the final match must be done in comparison to the original paint remaining on the backglass. Because the inks are transparent they must also be mixed into a base of white enamel paint to make them opaque. Darker colors require much less base paint than do light colors, and colors mixed for lit areas have very little white base paint. These are extended with transparent white ink and thinned with paint thinner for spreadability. We mix colors on disposable squares of coated card stock. Only very minute quantities of ink are required. Note that PMS inks do not mix well with latex paints, and acrylic paint does not adhere to glass. Semi-gloss enamel is the best base paint for these mixes. Be careful not to contaminate one ink with another. Always use a clean utensil (ie: a toothpick) when taking ink from its storage container. Application A systematic method should be used for applying the mixed paints. All of the black keylines should be done first, followed by each color in succession and finished with blockout silver or black where needed. Keylines The black keylines are perhaps the most important part of the job, as they define the shapes and outlines of each colored area. Inspect the glass and you will see that the printed black lines have an even width or weight that should be duplicated on the touchups. The clean edge of the line must also be maintained. This is next to impossible if done freehand, but low-tack tape and an exacto knife with a new blade can be used to make a frisket that defines the edge of the line. First, draw the line on the front side of the glass. Then, lay the tape down on the painted side where you see the line to be. Use the exacto to cut the image of the line out of the tape. Overlap the ends of the existing lines, being careful not to damage the old paint with the knife. Now apply the black ink mix with a small brush in the image area you have created, and remove the tape before the ink dries. The width of the black lines is very important to the overall effect of the finished job. Cartoon art can be freehanded with a good brush, but a frisket should be cut for all regular or geometric shapes. Opaque Areas Once the keylines are dry (overnight), proceed to the unlit or opaque areas of the glass. Matched colors are mixed and applied with a good brush on a well cleaned surface. Do one color at a time. Paint up to the edge of the keylines, and work from the center of the glass out to the sides. (This keeps your elbows out of the work). Should you make an error, remove the paint with a dry Q-tip or paper towel, and try again. When dry, opaque areas should be backed up with a layer of silver or black paint. Lit Areas Application of colors to lit areas is the most difficult aspect of backglass restoration. The key to success here is the even transmittal of light through paint. We have all seen amateur touch-ups done with opaque model paints that look fine until the lights are turned on, when they then show up as dark and blotchy spots. Printer's inks are transparent, and when mixed for lit areas they can be applied to a thickness or density that transmits light of equal intensity to the surrounding original areas. To maintain consistent density, evenness of application is critical. Uneven brush strokes show up as streaks when the lights come on. Crazed areas should be thinly touched with a fine brush. Where the old and new paints touch a darker line will be visible, but at least the lightbulb will not be seen. On larger areas (up to the size of a quarter) the touch up paint should be well worked on the glass for evenness of appearance when lit. For very large areas, such as the name of a game, it is advisable to remove all of the good ink right back to the keylines. When the clean edge of the keyline has been restored, use a small, soft rubber roller (brayer) to apply a thin, even coat of the correct color. If necessary, use a frisket to protect adjacent lit areas. All of this may seem quite daunting to the novice, but we know of no other system that allows the average collector to do adequate restorations of otherwise dead glasses. The biggest problem for most people would be to get the PMS book and the inks. It was easy for us to get involved with glass restorations because one of us works in the printing industry and the necessary materials were close at hand, but I don't know what a novice could do other than to impose upon an acquaintance in the graphic arts trade or to buy the inks outright, which could be prohibitively expensive. Ink is sold by the pound, but after doing a dozen glasses we have yet to make a dent in the original few ounces we scrounged from the pressroom. Find someone to get it for you free. Learning to handle the materials is the next main problem. Experiment! If you don't have a good eye for color, find someone who does. Do tests on plain glass, or work on junkers. If you have buy an N.O.S. glass for a game, experiment on the old original glass before you throw it out. A dead glass is still good for experimenting on. If you can get the ink and learn how to use it, the biggest problem could be resisting the temptation to retouch everything in sight. We firmly believe that any glass in good original condition should be left that way. Classic games shouldn't be screwed with, and minor flaws are perfectly acceptable in older games. Some aging is expected and desirable, and any game in good original condition is more valuable than one that has been retouched. Save your restorations for glasses that are otherwise beyond hope. A good touchup can turn a beater into a keeper. **** EXAMPLES The game 2 IN 1 has a scratch in the background area behind the titles. Using the PMS book we determine that the color there is close to PMS 293. Using the given formula of 50% Reflex Blue and 50% Process Blue, we mix these inks into the base paint until a near match is achieved. With a toothpick a dot of this mix dabbed onto the scratch and compared to the surrounding area. If the color is off, we go back to our palette and adjust. When a perfect match is achieved the scratched area is painted and allowed to dry overnight. When dry, the retouched area is opaqued with silver or black paint. When viewed from the player's position, the touchup cannot be detected. The 'R' indicator on the game CHAMPION has crazed and left cracks through which the light bulb shows. Using the PMS book we determine that the color is straight Pantone Purple. Starting with the pure ink color, we add enough transparent white to make the ink slightly translucent when spread lightly on a white card. This mixture is thick so we thin it with a bit of paint thinner. Thinner doesn't change the color, but it makes it easier to apply. Too much thinner will create a watery mess. We test the mixture by applying it to the area to be repaired, holding it up to a light, and checking the density. If it needs to be more opaque, we add white enamel paint to the mix in very small increments and keep testing until the correct opacity is achieved. If not enough light shows through, we add more Transparent White to the mix. The final mix is applied with a fine tipped brush. Some unevenness of color appears where the new ink abuts the remaining original ink, but this is unavoidable. When the indicator lights up, the old and new inks have a uniform appearance.

Pinball playfields are essentially the same except you do not need to worry about transparency. You use the same printers inks as in the backglass re-work.

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