Space Shuttle Pinball Machine
Playfield Overlay Project
A picture from Karl's playfield auction on Ebay. It turned out really great.
This is my playfield, post-restoration. I think the artwork is really beautiful,
and worthy of saving.
More pictures of my playfield post-restoration.
The first scan was at 200 dpi and saved as JPG. Note the pixelated grid lines.
Total playfield file size is about 12 MB.
Increasing the resolution to 300 dpi (JPG) causes a large increase in quality.
Note the better grid lines and the fine lines in the white bar at the top of the image.
Total playfield file size is about 62 MB.
Resolution increased to 600 dpi (JPG). Slightly visible improvement.
Total playfield file size is about 151 MB.
One more test at 300 dpi (TIFF).
Total playfield file size is about 256 MB.
Thumbnail pictures of all the scans.
Now came the step of combining the scans and removing defects. Karl's playfield has an overlay over the middle star base medallion that is slightly different from the original. There was also a fair amount of fine alligator cracks in the finish as can be seen from the test scans above. These will be removed during this step of the project.
The scans arrived in ten files, and I started to combine two of them. The resolution was 600 dpi, and I quickly found this resolution to be impractical. The Photoshop file grew to 344 MB, and I had only combined two of the ten segments! Also, rasterising and saving the image took several minutes. To overcome this, I cut the image resolution down to 300 dpi. Merging two segments resulted in a Photoshop file size of 93 MB, a more manageable size.
The merged set of ten scans from Karl. Note that the center medallion is a decal, and is why it looks brighter.
Test Print 1 overlaid onto the junk playfield. This playfield
will be the first target of the overlay.
Example of the redrawing of the playfield in progress.
The original scan of the playfield along the left outlane. Note the gradual change from yellow to red using coarse diamond shaped dots.
Reproducing this proved more difficult than I thought, and it took several days to develop the technique.
The redrawn playfield using the gradient dots as a back layer. This allows me to replace it later if needed.
Note that the blue is solid. The grainy texture is due to JPG compression in this excerpt.
Note that the holes in the playfield have wood texture. In the finished
overlay, they can be cut out, or left in place to cover the wood.
I ordered a full-scale test print (TP2) on the same translucent backlit material that I used for the translites. The colors were a little muted as a result of the medium, but still very vibrant. The intention of using a translucent material was to be able to most easily check the registration of the artwork. Overall, the colors were the right hue, except the background blue sky was too dark (lower part of playfield background), and the dark gray was also too dark.
Test Print 2 next to the junk playfield. The dark colors are a bit muted
because of the choice of translucent medium.
soup cans, and then inserting a large fluorescent shop light underneath.
As you can see, the inserts shine brightly through, and I can
check the registration much more accurately than with Test Print 1.
April 2011 update. This test print now hangs in the window of my NASA office and functions as stained glass.
Afternoon sun lights the print up very nicely.
Test Print 3 turned out real beautiful. The colors were very vibrant and
matched quite closely. Only the blue background on the
lower playfield needed to be tweaked.
Application of 476MP adhesive to the back of the print to make it self-adhesive.
E-mail from a recipient of Print 3:
Hi Ed, sorry for the delay. I got the poster, many thanks. You have done some excellent work there.
Thanks again Mick
Now that I was confident that the artwork file would line up with the playfield, it was time to take the next step, and to print onto vinyl. One problem with playfield overlays is that they have areas that are transparent, yet have color and black and white in other areas. After lots of searching and phone calls, I found a printer that was able to prepare an overlay to do that. The print proof is shown below, with the parts in pink signifying the clear (transparent) areas.
As one can see, there are certain challenging areas. For example, at the top of the playfield, the letters "U-S-A" are in white color. They float in the middle of an insert. The next example is in the center of the playfield, where there are six circular inserts with the white words "Space Shuttle" crossing ink/clear boundaries. The printer needs to be able to print white ink on clear, or use a multi-layer process, where white vinyl is first used, and then the clear areas cut out and removed. Afterwards, a protective clear layer is applied. In the case of Test Print 4, the latter process will be used.
A major step forward is printing on vinyl. The parts in pink will be clear to allow the inserts below to show.
The advantage of using vinyl are two fold:
- It allows the use of a liquid to 'float' the overlay while it
is drying so that it can be precisely positioned to align with the
inserts. See a link below for such a product. If paper were
used for the overlay, it would probably absorb this liquid, and swell
- The clear parts would not have a 'ridge' that could affect ball
movement. In addition, the clear areas will allow the inserts to
be visible with their full brightness.
Here is another overlay for High Speed that is of inferior construction. It was on Ebay in August 2009, and sold for about $190.
Print 4 on adhesive vinyl with clear and color parts.
Close-up of the center of Print 4. Compare with this view of my restored playfield.
Test Print V corrected most of the issues above. The size was perfectly aligned with the test playfield, and the insert text is applied separately. An important benefit of that is that the user no longer needs to sand the entire playfield to bare wood. If the inserts on the subject playfield are reasonable, they can be preserved, and after proper sanding to smoothen out the old paint, the overlay can be applied. The user can also apply the insert text only on the inserts that need them.
Test Print V. The insert text is now separate.
Color sample with the blue Pantone colors and their RGB values printed
with the same printer on the same substrate. This is much more accurate
than the color wheels I was using in the corners of the artwork.
Betcha can't tell which one is the real playfield 8-).
I got it today! I will be sure to sent pictures. My playfield is sanded, just need to get some 1000 grit for the final sanding then I will coat it and go for the install! The mylar, then re-assembly, testing and ....cabinet next summer.
Thank you!! It looks great!!! Nice Job!!!!
I no longer have a playfield to apply the overlay, but below are several users of the overlay that sent me their photographs.
Restoration #1 by Daniel C. The result is absolutely stunning. Click on the image for a full resolution photo.
I received your overlay a few months back…took me a while to build up the nerve to attempt the task.
As you requested in your custom overlay instructions, attached are a few photographs of the finished product, minus the glass, for clarity.
The overlay was perfect. Installation was not too bad. I used a soapy water solution for the placement of the overlay on the empty playfield. One thing that sorta threw me was all the clear mylar areas had moisture trapped behind them. But with time, approximately one week, that problem cleared up.
I am very glad that you
took the time in preparing your web pages with so much care. I
took at least 100 pictures of mine game while taking the playfield
apart, but I seemed to have missed a few areas that became important
during the re-assembly of the playfield. I must have at least 100
hits on your web site. Each visit answered a question or pointed
me in the correct direction to proceed…a thousand thanks!
Again..I want to thank you for your efforts with the overlay. I bought the machine sight unseen, and was very disappointed with the playfield condition. With your efforts and care, the look of the game is the same as I remember.
It is very gratifying to see another machine beautifully restored (Restoration #1).
Restoration #2: Here are pictures from Ken C., another person that installed the overlay.
Restoration #2: Note that Ken did a better job with the insert text.
This playfield looks really beautiful.
Restoration #3 courtesy of Andrew. Note the similarity with #1, except Andrew
repainted his bullseye targets for a very complete restoration. Click
the image above for an overall view.
Restoration #4 from Dana in Canada. Click image for full size.
#5 from Joe. He will be repainting the Shuttle and targets next.
It looks great already.
I put the overlay on and the game look so much better. I didn’t use the insert text since mine was in good shape except the space shuttle center inserts and I over sanded the stop and score insert. I sanded out the space shuttle text since your font was different than what my machine had. I left the partially missing stop and score as is. I leveled by clear coating my existing field. Almost all of the original paint is still on the board minus what was missing from the wear that necessitated the overlay in the first place.
I’ve got a cleaner unbroken shuttle in the house already, but I’m testing a protector under the old broken one before I install the nicer one. I also have the new T target, just not installed yet. The bullseyes are also going to get touched up. I just got it back together and fully working this evening. If you want to throw those pics on your overlay page feel free. There was also missing paint around the top of the pop bumpers. It looks great now.
Unit #6 from Greg B.
Another photo from Greg (time lapse).
Overlay #7 from Brian B. He writes:
Hello Dr. Cheung,
Well, should have paid more attention to the "making a template" for text placement but everything was SO CLOSE I just centered the text on the inserts.
I slid the overlay as far up as I could for the HEAT SHIELD hole (see pics) but it wasn't enough for the angled S-H-U-T-L-E letters.
Skipped the black painting around the inserts part, the original playfield had a few off center mistakes so this didn't bother me.
The overlay was easy for one person to do, used soap & water and it was so thin it didn't take much effort to flatten it out.
It's not perfect but I had fun doing it, thanks for sticking with your efforts to provide an affordable overlay
Thanks also for your ramp repair
section, worked well for me.
Overlay from Chris G.
To compare the size of your playfield with my reference unit:
- Place the zero mark at the center of the green "A" insert at the top of the playfield.
- Measure to the 'bottom' of the Heat Shield hole at the other end of the playfield.
- Mine measures 34 7/8".
Spurred on by his success in installing my overlay, and the instructions on this page, Daniel C. decided to make one himself for his 6 Million Dollar Man machine. The photo below shows the installed result. It looks amazing!
Photo by Daniel C. and the overlay he made for his Six Million Dollar
Page 2 of Playfield Page
- Star Base Overlay from Classic Arcades.
- Installing an overlay (Pinball Magic).
- Project with overlay printed on translucent material.
- Liquid to allow repositioning of an overlay while it is drying.
- Problems with clearcoating an overlay if there is an adhesion problem.
- EBD overlay project (L. Hammer).
- Restoration of a Silver
Skates EM playfield (a Photoshop lab).
- Applying this overlay (custom instructions).
- February 23, 2007 - 600 dpi scans received from Karl Ruehs. The ten JPGs total 151 MB in size.
- March 12, 2007 - Finished redrawing one fourth of the playfield.
- March 23, 2007 - Finished redrawing the
- April 20, 2007 - After a few weeks off from this project to get my Pinbot working, Test Print 2 is done.
- May 25, 2007 - Test Print 3 done.
- September 5, 2007 - Test Print 4 on vinyl.
- October 13, 2007 - Test Print 5 corrects the issues with TP4.
- November 3, 2007 - Test Print 6A and 6B.
- November 17, 2007 - Print 7 is done.
- February 6, 2008 - Installed pictures.
- August 10, 2008 - Installed pictures from Ken C.
- December, 2008 - Keith N. reports that his playfield is 1/4"
longer than any of the ones I have seen before. Fortunately, I
had a print that was erroneously printed too large that will fit.
As a result of this, the install
instructions are updated.
- July 2009 - Another user reports the same problem as Keith above. He too has the playfield with the 'kidney' shaped inserts in the middle.
- November 2011 - Added sizing information.
- January 2012 - Switch from calendared to cast vinyl. The latter is more expensive, but is more stable in size and thinner (from 7 to 5 mil).
(c) 2007 Edward Cheung, all rights reserved.