"THE CHRONICLES OF REPRO"
AN OVERALL COMMENT ON THE
FANTASIES & REALITIES OF MAKING PINBALL PARTS
Reproducing Pinball Parts for all the games we know and love is
no easy task. There are a myriad of issues to deal with. Many more than most people
ever could or would expect. The process of reproducing a single item is
complicated enough at best when every single one of the surviving
examples are the same. BUT - what if every surviving example was
different? That would mean that everyone is thinking that their
own unique part (in their very own machine) is what CPR should be reproducing. This adds
a whole new issue we have to deal with. Perception.
we'll try to demonstrate here is that there really are no
absolutes when reproducing parts for pinball. Yes, people have
used the terms right or wrong many times, but often it's
really just a matter of perception. Normally we gather several examples
of a certain part that we want to reproduce. From those, we then choose what
we think is the MOST original one. We often try to use NOS for
colors, figuring that these colors have had the least exposure
and handling. But, contrary to popular belief, we try NOT to use an NOS piece for sole measurements and CAD work.
After all, there must be some reason, large
or small, that a "holy" NOS part sitting idle today was pulled from
the production line and set
aside. We try to pick the best surviving part that
actually spent time in a game (non-NOS) hoping that one will have the
least amount of fitment issues - since it proved itself in
real-life usage. We compare all the parts
we have, and try to determine what each difference is, and
the probable reason for the difference. Pinball parts were
made by several suppliers. Sometimes one of the suppliers
did things slightly different, and sometimes those differences
were big enough that you have to wonder what was going on.
- yapping on endlessly about how difficult reproducing pinball
parts can be is boring and useless. Someone will always come
back and say, "Come on, stop whining, grab a PinBot
playfield and reproduce it" . . . BUT, what if we show you that's it's
not that easy. What if the the item we are trying to reproduce
has so many variations and differences between surviving
examples of itself, that no matter what we reproduce, some people
will look at it and state that what we just made is wrong. Again,
this may seem absolute to them, but we want to show you that it's
really a perception...and that perception and the lack of a real
definitive target makes comments like "That is wrong" well,
a wrong statement :-)
trying to nail down exactly what were are trying to reproduce is
a task in itself. Take for example two PinBot playfields we recently
received from Roger Hord (a donor in Ohio) to help us reverse-engineer a
CAD file for our CNC programming. By the way, Thanks Roger. We have NEVER
seen two more different playfields that are actually supposed to be
same pinball :) A perfect example for this
FIRST, SOME COMMON MYTHS
MYTH: Original parts found on a machine can automatically
be deemed "correct" in shape and design. Why wouldn't they
be, considering they are original parts?
ie: "The repro part
is designed slightly different than mine. It therefore
contains a mistake."
REALITY: Individual original parts are only
one example of
one piece of one run (of dozens of runs). They will never
the same in appearance or design, as the same part found on
another machine. One can't consider their original part
the absolute paradigm,
nor expect that what their part looks like is what was
ultimately decided for the entire reproduction run.
colors found on a machine can automatically be deemed "correct".
Why wouldn't they be, considering they are
original parts? ie: "The repro part has different colors than
mine. Therefore an error was made in the reproduction
REALITY: Colors you
see on original parts may be 20-30 years old, and to varying
degree have faded or muted with time and exposure. Light
exposure can cause color variances so great that you can't even
recognize a certain color after a long enough period. Even when
they were all brand new there could be major variations in color
because there were often many suppliers making the same parts.
Many guys hand-mixing ink in small batches, and sometimes even
many companies. There were always many production lines, and
many guys mixing ink, making the same part, all for the same
game. Parallel production was key to getting 5000-10000
games out in 3 months!
THE DILEMMA OF CHOICES
So when it comes time to make a reproduction part, what do we
do? We have to make decisions. Decisions about what
will appear on the repro. Decisions about what final colors
will be used on the repro
to provide the closest approximation to the colors on
original source (and we mean original source - as in 1980, not
2011) This is not an easy task because in almost all cases
we don't have the original source and even if we did it will
likely have 30 years of exposure, handling, and fading etc. So,
often we have to attempt to turn back time and decide what tonal restorations
will be made
when mixing the new inks (going back in time to what the color
looked like 20-30 years ago) and not automatically mixing to
current colors look like on the parts today.
There are also decisions on final measurements, shape, appearance, etc...
as compared to the variations on the original source. The people involved in providing/donating the original
sources, or the artist who
spends hundreds of hours doing the artwork preparation, become the
most intimate experts on each and every part. For example
have had several hours of exciting conversation with one of our
artists who will remain anonymous (not Jim Heck) about how the
colors on his nameless playfield, (not Flash Gordon) interacted with
each other to give some rather fascinating effects when observed
at varying light angles. Without a doubt this nameless artist
(not Jim Heck) knows more about the colors on this playfield (not Flash
Gordon) than probably ANYONE alive today. Certainly more than anyone
ought need to know! Of course we'd be willing to bet that
he's spent maybe even hundreds of hours with his nose close to
or even up against this playfield ( not Flash Gordon). So if you ever
see this nameless artist up close, shake his hand, and
thank him for his fanatical level of commitment which will
ensure you get the best (not Flash Gordon) reproduction
can be made, period.
Since the Art Team
CPR are making the parts, there has to be a way to choose how they will end up looking. Even
though it seems like everyone is an expert, there is truly only
one in our books - our artist themselves. We all try together to
come up with colors that have a high likelihood of being the
original colors. Sometimes it's easy, but usually it's not, and
sometimes it's nearly impossible. Blacks and whites were
standard colors, but often the other choices are much less
obvious. In the past we have looked at a known color, like
white, measured it's actual yellowed color shift from base white,
and then subtract that same amount of yellow from a less obvious
color. This method helps but it's not foolproof. Of course,
nothing is. Sometimes if
internally unsure, or deadlocked on a choice either way, we'll
reach out to the hobby at large and ask for personal opinions.
If people wonder about our color, artwork, or design
decisions, there is no bible for this stuff. We must bite
the bullet and make a decision.
In the end, the final reproduction product will be based on a
concert of several decisions - which may not be agreeable
with every single customer, but of course nothing ever is.
THE AUDIENCE IS LISTENING
If you stepped behind the curtain as a source provider, an
artist, or worked in CPR's production stages themselves, you'd end
quickly becoming aware of your audience. When your
resulting repro product goes available to the hobby at large,
all of the previous
decisions you and others internally made (and are now final and
the product is made) - are put out there on the chopping block
As confident as you were in your decisions before the product
was made, you'll sometimes end up surprised by your audience.
The vast majority of the time, and with the majority of your
audience, you'll discover they're pleased to install the parts
Sometimes there will be folk who compare the parts directly
to old originals (usually ones they personally own) and wonder
certain appearance differences. Most will understand them.
Most will adopt them. But a few will hate them.
Some will consider the product as treading on holy ground, and regardless of being
99.9% right across all those square inches
of work, you will be
crucified. However, most will put their originals away, install your reproduction
and be happy. Very happy.
After all, as we'll look at below,
the concept of a single example of what is correct as set by
the factories of
2-3 decades ago
is a myth. There isn't a
single right or wrong...as we are about to
Bally, Williams, and
Stern didn't even hold themselves to a single standard...and in reproduction you learn
you can decide on
only one final look, and go with it.
With that final look, you hope that the audience gives you the
same leeway we so easily
gave Bally, Williams, and Stern in their yesteryear.
THE UNEXPECTED MISTAKE
On rare occasions a genuine mistake will pass all the way by
everybody's eyes - including our own. It will likely be
tiny in comparison
to the scope of the entire reproduction project (one 10 second
miss out of 200 hours of prep). It may be the result of a bad scan
a layering flub, a dropout missed, 1% too much tint in an
ink, a missed hole, or something unique.
If the product remains useable in its originally intended form,
then it is up to the customers to choose whether to buy it or
We always try to make it right, but that seldom means tossing
them all out and starting over. It can mean returning the part
and refunding your money, which by the way, CPR will always do if you're
unhappy. On occasion, we have even refunded money and let the
customer keep the parts! It can mean living with it if it's not
too bad. We have remade missed or incorrect pieces and shipped
them out to individuals. We have sent out replacements parts for
scratched, broken or missing parts. All you have to do is ask us
directly and we'll do whatever we can. We're not going to make
your next mortgage payment for you in compensation, or pay for
you to rent a car to drive to the post office to pick up that
free sling you asked for, but we're pretty open to making it
If the product is somehow unusable, then a decision must
be made to its fate. Luckily we have never faced a "throw everything out and start over"
scenario. But some people in our audience will always
think that's what should be done - either based on
some principle of the holiness of pinball parts, or a
100%-or-not-at-all mentality. To
each their own.
The scope of the importance or irrelevance of any mistake will
be weighed against the reality of the current state of the
itself. Is the repro product significantly nicer/better
than what everybody's got? It that one small mistake
crucial? Can we spend thousands
of dollars to fix said mistake, if only 15-20 of the parts
will sell whether the change is made or not?
Important factors. So absolutely, there will be at times
logic, economics and common sense factors that reflect if a small part of a run will be remade or not. For example we
once made a set of plastics that had one part that was the wrong
size in a set of 19 pieces. The remaining pieces were fine and quite
nice, but that one part was unusable. We had public calls to
remake the set by nearly 50 people, however we had only sold 6
sets in the months since they were made. Rather than wasting
thousands of dollars on remaking a set of plastics that no one
wanted, we offered refunds and slashed the price of remaining
sets. After all, they were mostly good parts!
JOIN US ON A CASE STUDY
The Decision-Making Process on Just One Playfield
For this example, we're going to use a Pin*Bot playfield.
Much like any playfields we face, variations board to board are
Jump into our shoes right now and let's go. The
determination of what is "correct" will be a burden of final
decisions placed on YOUR head.
You will find the choices you make will be based on seeing two
paradigms - both factory original, thus both technically "correct".
You are doing a run of identical repro playfields, so it can
only be one choice per difference!
Keep in mind, some of your audience who owns the OTHER style
will deem whatever they see on your repro as a mistake!
So what do you do? You make decisions. Sometimes you
split the difference. Sometimes you go all-in on one
style. Regardless, this is on your head. You throw
potential critics to the wind, and you forge forward doing what you think
What would you do?
Our decisions may differ from yours at one point or
another. That is OK.
Just remember, the alternative choice is not blasphemy! :)
To some, however, it is! No matter what choices we make, some
will not agree with us even a little bit.
We'll eventually post our decisions at the bottom of this page. So
take note of your personal choices (if it was you) and see how
match up to our "CPR decisions" in all of these cases...
CNC Tooling of Arrow Inserts
You are making the CAD cutfile for Pin*Bot. You are faced
with two different types of openings (for the same type of
Do you go with the wider more rounded-style cut, or the narrower
pointy-style cut? Keep in mind, there will be those who own the other style, and
will consider your CNC programming to be incorrect.
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
Choice of Wood
Do you use 5-layer or 7-layer wood? Both were
used by Williams. So which is "correct"? We'll
give you a hint on how we'll choose this one. One is made on a
custom made 17/32 maple plywood, the other is crap which you can
buy at Home Depot.
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
White Under Plastics
Williams had different areas under certain plastics where they
had white fill, or left it bare woodgrain.
Which do you choose for your reproduction run? Keep in mind,
there will be those who own the other style and will consider
your choice blasphemy - changing historical art!
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
Williams had PinBot playfields with both bare woodgrain (urethane
sealed) backsides and grey painted backsides.
Some see bare as a little more "modern" and prefer it.
Others like the classic greyed look of yesteryear.
What do you do with your reproduction run? To grey
or not to grey! Keep in mind, if you choose bare, some will
claim you FORGOT to grey the backs or are just cheaping out and
cutting costs by not painting them.
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
Choice of Colors
PinBot was originally printed (as with every playfield) in
different waves of runs, even by different suppliers.
The subtle and dramatic differences in ink mixes are obvious IF
you own two machines with the two (or more) looks.
The biggest difference in this case is PinBot's blues. Do
you go Skyy Vodka blue, or denim blue? Light warm grey, or
dark cool grey?
For the light blue, do you go strong or more pale? See the
significant differences below. Keep in mind, color choices
beckon a wide variety of responses from your audience. If
they own the other style, some will consider your color to be
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
Again, two more looks at the dark blue in context on the
Clearout Areas / Positions
Aside from the small artwork difference shown here in how it
interacts with the cut of the board, the major decision here is
do you clear out this area? Keep in mind you have
micrometered both samples, and have a shallower and deeper
Which depth do you program for the entire reproduction run to be
made with? Also, do you position it to clear or cut into the
edge of the art?
Which is "correct"?
Make your decision:
CPR's DECISIONS & DETAILS:
CASE #1: Ours will look like something between the
two. Not as large as the first because a slightly too
large bit was used for those, but by using a smaller bit and
enlarging the holes a little we should be able to allow more
light in from the bulbs below the inserts and make a brighter
playfield, while still allowing the sides of the arrows to secure
properly in correctly sizes holes.
CASE #2: This is an easy one. Regardless of the
historical existence of crappy cheap 5-ply wood, more plys are always the
Plus, all of our current custom gameboard stock is 7-ply anyway!
CASE #3: We would go with using white. We would feel
the majority would think it is more pleasing in appearance.
CASE #4: We would likely go with the sealed bare
backsides, which give a brighter swap workspace and more
CASE #5: We would choose the darker blues. The are
more appealing in our opinion. Much more dramatic in
contrast. Also the deeper grey, more vivid yellow, etc.
More vivid (more color) is better.
CASE #6: We would make positioning land within the artwork
(so there is no cut into the edge of the border) and for depth
we'll ascertain why the hole is there, measure the part that
goes in the hole and allow for a reasonable thickness for
our clear coat. If that depth falls between the two we see on
these playfields, we'll probably use this new depth. But
obviously the depth wasn't critical as both worked in the machine.
HOW DID YOU DO?
Were we 6 for 6 with your choices? If you were in
the drivers seat, these are just a few of the hundreds of little
decisions & tweaks
you face when putting together a reproduction playfield.
Similar decisions are made with plastics & backglasses as well.
Especially with colors - which are a great debate out there in
the hobby, and always will be. Just like on PinBot shown
the final color choice you make may actually pain some people
who were used to something else for so long.
Examples of our past decisions such as Captain Fantastic
playfield blue, F-14 Tomcat plastics blue, or even all the way
to the 2004 Fathom playfield (considered totally wrong by some
at the time) involved disappointment for some, after the fact.
Until folks were educated with why their current original
playfield was greened or turned to a totally different tone, CPR
to have made color choice mistakes by a few people. There
will always be the few - and that's OK. The hobby is vast
IT'S NOT JUST A WILD-ASSED GUESS
Hopefully this editorial and gallery will illustrate a little
bit of the behind-the-scenes analysis that is constant at CPR.
No project is ever treated lightly and neither are any of the
choices we make when reproducing parts for our games. While we know that
pinball parts aren't necessarily "holy", we still strive to make
the very best reproduction parts, via educated final decisions
and lots of discussion, so there is something to keep all
of our games looking nice and worth keeping alive. We know
that an audience of extreme purists is out there, and we even
hope to make them pleased as well. But as you can see by
all of the choices illustrated here today, you're not going to
make everybody happy all of the time. Yes, other times you
may even make an unintentional mistake that had nothing to do
with an educated decision. As we remain regular pinheads just like everybody else, you can feel comfortable that our aim
to do better than the original factories did themselves.
That, we can truly say we accomplish!
END OF SECTION