Reproduction Pinball Plastics:
by Kevin Steele
I bought my first pinball, a 1992 Bally “Doctor Who,” just this last December on eBay. I've since learned just how much of a risk buying your first pin on eBay can be, but whether through caution or chance, I ended up with a very nice pinball machine.
Good as it was, however, it did need some minor “fixing up,” including new slingshot plastics (the triangle-shaped bumpers right above the flippers that "slingshot" the ball back into play). Both of the original slingshot plastics were cracked around every mounting hole (someone was an enthusiastic nut tightener, I'm guessing), and the bottom of the right slingshot had already broken off.
Dissatisfied with the first replacement set of slingshot plastics I purchased, I ended up buying two full sets from different vendors. It seemed like a good idea to summarize the good and bad points I found in both products, hence this comparison.
This article will compare replacement reproduction plastics from both Pinball Universe and Marco Specialities. Both had good and bad points, but in the end one set of plastics was the obvious winner, in my opinion.
Pinball Universe Reproduction Plastics
When I received my set of plastics from Pinball Universe, I first sized up the plastics with the originals, and was pleased to discover a perfect match. The plastic was the same thickness, the edges were smooth, and the mounting holes were where they should be.
Once I peeled the protective covering off the front of the plastics, however, I immediately discovered that they were not NOS (New Old Stock, or original unused parts) as I had assumed when ordering from their site. It's a bit foolish to assume anything, I learned, although I do think that reproduction plastics should be advertised as such.
Comparing the original plastics to the Pinball Universe reproductions really highlighted the awful printing job. While the printing on the plastics does appear to be silkscreened, the colors were dithered (even gray), lines were blurry, and lots of fine detail was missing. Someone on the newsgroup Rec.Games.Pinball said that Pinball Universe's reproductions looked like they were "printed on an early 90's printer," and I've got to agree (apparently, the dot patterns are what happens when you use a 4-color art reproduction process instead of true color separation) From a distance, the images look okay, but up close it's an entirely different story.
Worse, as I swapped out the original slingshot plastics, I noticed that even the images printed on the new plastics didn't match. In fact, not even the part numbers matched. (See numbers 1 and 2 on the main comparison graphic).
Basically, it looks like someone had taken a bad scan of the left slingshot plastic, filled in a section at the bottom (that was originally supposed to be gray) by duplicating another area of the image and pasting it in, and then later just "flipped" the image to create the right slingshot image.
Marco Specialities Reproduction Plastics
Shortly after I received my Pinball Universe plastics, Marco Specialities added Doctor Who slingshot plastics to their site, and so I went ahead and ordered some.
Once again, these are reproduction plastics, although this is not mentioned on their web site. I noticed one difference in the Marco Specialities slingshot plastics the moment I picked them up — they had sharp, rough-cut edges, with lots of burrs. It felt and looked like they had been quickly cut. (See number 3 on the comparison graphic).
Even stranger were the surface ridges and bumps — the front surface of the plastic had uneven bumpy ridges along the edges, and there were raised bumps around the mounting holes. To me, it looked as if the plastic was made in a mold, using an impression from the original.
Update: A helpful post by Ray Johnson of Action Pinball pointed out that the ridges were most likely caused by a warping of the plastic from the heat of the cutting process. He also mentioned these plastics may have been produced by Alan Meyer, who has developed quite a reputation in pinball collector's circles for his high quality pinball plastic reproductions. I'll try and get a confirmation of this, and will update the review once I know for certain.
Luckily, the rough edges (and even the ridges) were fixable through careful, semi-controlled use of a Dremel with a cloth polishing head attachment (I love my Dremel ;-) Still, I would have appreciated not having to do the final plastic finishing.
Another inconsistency in the plastic was the mounting holes (See number 4 on the comparison). The original slingshots (and the Pinball Universe reproductions) had a longer mounting hole on the bottom of the plastic to allow for adjustment in fitting. The Marcos plastics did not. As it turned out, they fit perfectly, but it could have been a problem.
While the plastic was not perfect, the printing job certainly was. The colors were great, the line detail crisp and clean (even better than the original in places — see number 5 on the comparison), and the images actually matched the original slingshots this time (although the part numbers still didn't match!). Even better, there was no dithering at all — colors were bright and solid.
The printing looks very much like the original silkscreened graphics on the original plastic, even down to the protective plastic film on the back. Even from the back the printing looked very much like the original, with subtle raised areas where there had been printing. In fact, the colors are pure enough that I feel confident in saying that the printing job may, indeed, be a silkscreen job just like the original. (I'll check into this and update the review when I find out more).
I have to say I was not completely satisfied with either reproduction, but really all that was needed on the Marcos Specialities reproductions was some time and work to (literally) polish them up to “arcade perfect” status.
The Pinball Universe plastics, on the other hand, were not “reproductions” — more like imitations. The plastic was perfect, but the artwork was awful. Of the two (artwork vs. plastic), the artwork is much more important (after all, who except Tommy plays pinball by sense of touch? ;-)
If I could have combined the flat, smooth edged plastics from the Pinball Universe repros with the excellent bright, clean printing of the Marco Specialities repros, I would have had an absolutely perfect replacement set of slingshot plastics.
Both companies need to specifically state on their site that these are reproduction plastics. Pinball Universe even advertises their plastics on eBay as NOS, an outright lie.
Pinball Universe charges $21.95 for their set of slingshot plastics, while Marcos charges $35, and you get what you pay for, both in quality and in service — it took two weeks and three emails to even get an initial reply from Pinball Universe, and three more email requests over the space of a week to get confirmation that my order had indeed been received.
In the end, for my machine I chose the Marco Specialities reproductions. I've dealt with them before for other parts, and they're a class operation, well worth considering when you succumb (like I have) to the “Pinball Collecting Addiction.”