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The Art of Clear Coating a Pinball Playfield


Staff member
Oct 5, 2012
South Wales
EDIT - Taken from another site - these are NOT my personal experiences!

I use a professional painter for all of my clear coating. His name is Larry. Larry has been a professional auto body painter for 17 years, and has repainted such renowned automobiles as the Ford GT cars (they list for $145,000, or approximately 22 Medieval Madnesses). I asked Larry if he would explain his techniques and show me how he clear coats my playfields and cabinets.

He starts at his prep booth by laying the playfield face up and sanding it with an 800 or 1000 grit sand paper using a D/A sander.

What’s a D/A sander? It is a sander that not only spins the sanding pad, it moves it in a circle. Hence its other name, an ‘orbital’ or ‘random orbit’ sander. This is the only kind of sander to use, as its random pattern tends not to leave scratches. The sanding process does the following, 1) it flattens the surface getting rid of the ‘washboard’ waviness; 2) it removes any clear coat scratches and fish eyes (a paint defect that looks like a…fish eye); 3) it creates a surface that the clear coat can grab tightly. He then blows off the surface with compressed air

and does the edges by hand using a red Scotchbrite pad.

If he used the D/A sander near the edges and large holes, he could burn the paint at the edge because of uneven pressure (not that I have ever done that). He then blows off the playfield again. He flips the playfield over and sands the bottom of the playfield and blows off the bottom surface. After each sanding Larry feels the sanded surface with his hand- he can judge the smoothness of the surface better with his hand that his eye.

Now into the paint booth.

This is a professional paint booth large enough for big Ford trucks (…and maybe big Chevys and Dodges, but who really cares about those?). The booth is temperature and humidity controlled, with a forced down draft of filtered air. He wipes both sides with a Tork “Crystal Premium Tack Clothâ€. The tack cloth is resin impregnated cheesecloth- it’s tacky- get it?

This step removes any remaining dirt. He then blows the top surface off to remove any lint left behind from the tack cloth. Then he wipes down the playfields with a degreaser to remove any hand oils left behind. Larry then grabs his DeVilbiss “Plus†spray gun (about $400). He uses BASF clear coat products. The clear is R-M “Daimont 5300†(3 parts) mixed with DH46 hardener (1 part) and UR70 reducer (1 part). He stirs up about 20 oz which is enough for 3 to 4 coats. He sets the gun to 30 to 35 psi and sprays the playfield.

This is the point where Larry earns his pay. Now you realize that Larry is an artist with skills acquired through long, hard effort; where all of his experience comes in to play. The playfield is laid perfectly flat (art side up!). He puts on 3 to 4 wet coats using alternate spray patterns.

This means right-to-left followed by top-to-bottom, then back to right-left. The spray pattern of a professional gun is not the cone shape of the spray cans we use, it is more of a fan. For example, if the gun is held vertically, the spray pattern would be up and down and only a couple inches wide at the middle. This fan shape allows greater control and the tapering top and bottom of the fan helps with the overlap of the passes. There’s another pro trick all wannabe clear coaters need to learn. Larry “pedals†the gun at the end of each pass. That means his strokes are straight across the work, maintaining a consistent distance from the surface of the playfield. As the spray fan gets about one inch or so past the edge of the playfield, he releases the first stage of the trigger which stops the paint from flowing but allows air to flow while he keeps moving straight. Then he lines up for the next pass, with some overlap, and triggers the gun about an inch before he hits the edge.

He then lets the playfield sit for 5 to 10 minutes and then bakes it at 125 to 130 degrees- did I mention the spray booth is also an oven?- for 20 minutes. I then take the playfields and leave them sit in my basement for 7 days laying flat, pretty side up. Larry recommends that the playfields be allowed to cure for 4 weeks before you reassemble and play on it.

Since you are wondering, yes, I talked Larry into letting me try my hand at clear coating a scrap playfield. Let me just say that the results were not pretty, and my business relationship with Larry is secure!

If you are wondering how much would it cost for Larry to do a Clear Coat on a playfield it would cost $100. Thats only for playfields that are purchased through us on Ebay.
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