Of the many parts of an arcade cabinet, control panels definitely take the most abuse. Gamers mashing on buttons, kids randomly pulling on joysticks and the general passage of time are just some of the hazards that can contribute to control panel wear and tear. Fortunately there are many companies out there that print reproduction or brand new control panel artwork for arcade games. This type of artwork is typically known as a control panel overlay or CPO. In this post, we will discuss how to remove and install an adhesive-backed control panel overlay on your arcade cabinet for restoration and conversion purposes.
Replacing A Control Panel Overlay
Our first step is to purchase a new control panel overlay for our arcade game. If you are planning on restoring a cabinet, you will need to find a retailer that sells reproduction artwork for your arcade game project. In this case, you will probably not have to worry about measuring the control panel as most dedicated cabinets all use the same size overlay. If you are planning to convert a cabinet to another title, you will need to measure your current control panel and make sure that the artwork you are ordering will fit it. Of course, it’s a good idea to buy your control panel overlay from a reputable company that provides high quality artwork. We have a list of artwork suppliers we recommend on our resources page under Arcade & Pinball Artwork Suppliers.
Once we have received the control panel overlay for our project cabinet, we can begin the process by removing the control panel from our game. You will need some tools for this process such as a screwdriver, a nut driver or socket wrench and a button wrench for removing the push buttons. Start off by removing any screws or bolts that are holding the control panel to the arcade cabinet. All control panels are different and you might have to investigate to find where the control panel actually connects to the cabinet. With the control panel removed from the cabinet, start removing the various parts that are attached to the control panel such as joysticks, buttons, screws, bolts, plexiglass, etc. If you are not very familiar with the wiring of the cabinet, you might want to label where the controller parts go to make it easier to located them after you install the new control panel overlay. You might also find an empty box to keep these parts in so that they do not get lost in the shuffle of removing the overlay.
When all of the parts have been removed from the control panel, we can start removing the old overlay. Sometimes removing the old control panel overlay can be a difficult task but there are some tools we recommend. For removing the actual overlay sticker, we recommend using a heat gun, pliers and hand scrapers. The heat gun will help loosen the adhesive while the pliers will allow you to pull on the overlay while it is still hot. Hand scrapers or razor blades can really come in handy if you are having trouble getting a particular piece of the overlay off with your hands. Of course, make sure you are very careful whenever you are using sharp objects such as these. We highly recommend trying to get as much of the overlay off as you can with your hands before resorting to other tools. Once most of the original overlay sticker is removed, use the WD-40 (which is a cleaner, not a lubricant) or Goo Gone and a hand scraper to remove the rest of the adhesive. Some other tools we’ve found handy for removing the adhesive include putty knifes, wire brushes, scotch pads and sandpaper. Don’t worry about getting all of the adhesive off. Just try to remove as much as you can.
Just as a note, some people have had success removing the old control panel overlay by soaking it in lighter fluid and setting it on fire. We don’t recommend this as it might damage your control panel (especially if it’s wood) and cause some unsafe working conditions. Of course, the choice to go this route is completely up to you. Always practice good safety techniques regardless of the method you choose to use.
Now that we have removed most of the old overlay and adhesive, we can install our new overlay on our control panel. Start off by removing the protective backing from your new control panel overlay. You can use wet application method that we talk about in our post on Installing Artwork On An Arcade Cabinet if you wish but since this is a smaller, more manageable piece of artwork it’s not necessary. We recommend aligning your overlay with one of the top corners of the control panel. By doing this, it will ensure that the important parts of the control panel are covered even if the overlay is shorter than we expected. Use your hands to press the overlay against the control panel. We typically start from the center of the overlay and work our way to the outside as we go. Make sure that you pull the overlay tight around the curved surfaces of your control panel so you don’t end up with air pockets. Once the overlay is in place, you can use a small, sharp knife to cut out the holes for your controller parts (such as joysticks, buttons, etc.) and trim the excess off the sides of the overlay. If you are converting this cabinet to another game, you might apply some putty or bondo to the holes so you can drill new holes for your conversion game.
While replacing a control panel overlay can be a fairly involved process, it’s can restore a worn control panel back to it’s former glory or revive a cabinet with a new look. Just remember to take your time, be careful, exercise some patience and you’ll be rewarded with a nice looking control panel. Please leave any questions or suggestions in the comments section below.