Backbox Decals - The Dry Method

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Backbox Decal Replacement Using the Dry Method

Playfield Teardown Pictures

If you've seen my Cactus Canyon restorations, you've seen me describe the "Wet" method of applying decals.  I highly recommend the Wet method for first-timers.  The dry method is a little cleaner, but it doesn't allow for mistakes.  So proceed at your own risk.

On most of the cabinets I do, I put on 3-4 coats of clear before applying the decals so the surface is ultra smooth.  On Fish Tales, I didn't do that and there's a reason.  On later WPC games, WMS applied a vinyl sheet to the bare wood before the game's artwork was screened on.  This made the finish much smoother and decal-like.  But on earlier games such as Fish Tales, the artwork was screened directly on the wood.  Because of this, you see more of the wood grain than with later era games.

I decided that the appearance of some slight wood grain under the decals wood give it more of an authentic look so I just sprayed 3 coats of Satin Black onto the cabinet (any imperfections or damage was repaired prior with wood filler).  Once the final coat was applied and had dried sufficiently, I finish sanded it lightly with 220 grit, then finally with 400 grit.  The resulting surface was very smooth.


After sanding, I wiped down the area with a slightly damp cloth to remove any dust or sanding particles.  After it dried in a few minutes, I then used a tack cloth to remove any further dust bits and followed up with a quick blow off with compressed air.  Cleanliness is key here.


The decal to be applied is laid face down on a soft surface (a packing blanket is used here).  The decal had been laid flat under weight for a couple of weeks prior to application so it remains flat and is easier to work with.  

Use a tack cloth and compressed air to remove any dust from the backing paper.  Peel back a small section of the backing and cut it off with a pair of scissors.  It should be at least 4-6" long.


Immediately re-apply the backing paper onto the decal.  A slight overlap at the cut is preferred.


This next step may look a little unconventional but it has worked extremely well for me.  Place the decal onto the cabinet (backing paper still in place) and align the decals.  Once it is aligned, put a heavy object (25-40 pounds) on the end opposite where the small piece of backing paper was cut.  Make sure you put a soft cloth under the object so you don't mar the decal.  This weight will keep the decal in place for the next few steps.  Once the weight is in place, double, then triple-check the placement of the decal until you are positive the positioning is correct.

Some people use a similar approach but have a helper hold the decal instead.  Since I normally work alone, I don't have that option.  I also wouldn't want to rely on someone else to hold the decal perfectly still for the next few steps.  This assures that the decal will stay in position.


With the decal in position and weighted, lift the end that has the backing paper cut.  Hold the decal away from the cabinet and remove the small backing paper piece.


Hold the end of the decal and pull *slightly* so there is no slack between the end of the decal and the weight.  The decal should still be held above the cabinet.  Take a soft cloth in your other hand and start rubbing the top of the decal onto the cabinet.  You should start at about where the backing paper was cut.  Rub back and forth and slowly move toward the end of the decal.  This works best if you hold the decal as close to the cabinet as possible, maybe 1-2".  Don't hold it straight up.


Once you've reached the end of the decals, check the alignment once more for good measure.  When you're sure everything is still in place, rub the decal firmly with a soft cloth to help adhesion.


Remove the weight and cloth that was on top of the decal.


Now at the opposite end, you will repeat the process.  Since the opposite side is attached to the cabinet, it now acts as the "weighted" end.

Lift the opposite edge of the decal and peel off the backing paper starting from where the cut was made.  DO NOT REMOVE IT COMPLETELY YET.  I usually peel it back until the cut end is at the lifted end.  This way I can hold both the end of the decal and the backing paper.  By not removing the backing paper completely, the decal will stay semi-rigid and will be much easier to work with.

Start rubbing the decal onto the cabinet with a soft cloth, starting at the end that is already applied.  DO NOT try to start rubbing where the backing paper was cut since you could introduce air bubbles if you're off a little bit.  Keep applying the decal until you reach the point where the backing paper is still applied.  Remove the remainder of the backing paper and continue applying the decal.


Now the decal is fully applied.  I like to rub the decal a few more times to assure adhesion.  I usually make long passes starting down the middle and working my way outward.

To trim the decal, use a straight edge and a *sharp* razor.  I use a new single-edge razor for every cabinet.


Before trimming, you may wish to remove the premask as I did here.  It's much easier to find the edges of the cabinet this way, although you need to be a little more careful so as not to scratch the decal.


Put the straight edge along the edge of the cabinet.  Triple check the position *before* you cut.  If in doubt, cut the decal further out as you can always cut more away if necessary.


Here's the cut edge.  Continue for the remaining edges and you're done!  I use a small Exacto blade to cut out the bolt holes.