Overview & Options to Consider
Adding graphics to your cabinet can transform it from an oversized PC case into a functional piece of arcade artwork. It's the final touch that can make or break a great cabinet. The right choice of artwork and details can make a generic cabinet look simply amazing, while poorly done artwork options can make the most inventive cabinet design look dull. Though it's easy to overlook this area of cabinet building, it should be considered a crucial final step in creating your personal piece of arcade history.
There are generally 5 main approaches to designing the look of your cabinet that you may want to consider early in the planning phase of your cabinet. Each has drawbacks, and each requires varying degrees of skill to execute. Find detailed descriptions below.
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One of the most straitforward methods of adding some pizzaz to your cabinet is to use reproduction artwork based on your favorite game. There are many distinctive cabinets that have been released over the years, Pac-Man, Galaga, Defender (all of the Williams cabinets, really) for which artwork is still reproduced by reputable dealers and readily available. If you choose to use repro art there are a few things you need to consider;
1. cost of reproduction graphics
Usually bezels, marquees, and control panel artwork are usually fairly inexpensive and easily available, usually in the range of $10-$50 each. Side art is usually more expensive, running from $50-$300 for a complete set.
2. availability of repro artwork (if you are interested in something a little more rare it may be difficult to find everything)
If your favorite game is Ms. Pac Man you can easily find the art for sale online, at an auction or on eBay for a reasonable price (not necessarily cheap, though) If your favorite game happened to be Defender 3 chances are you're not going to easily find repro or N.O.S (new old-stock) to use on your cab. If you're really restoring a cabinet, it may be worth the wait to find something to complete your rare vintage cab. If you aren't restoring, just pick something else cool... at least that way your cabinet will look good while you're trying to find the rare stuff.
3. accuracy of available reproduction artwork
While most reproduction houses have high quality artwork available, you may want to investigate the quality & reputation a little bit before you lay down your hard earned cash. Ask questions about the vendor & about the specific piece of repro art at places like RGVAC or in the artwork section of BYOAC. In my past experience of dealing with repro art I have occasionally been dissatisfied with the material thickness, detail, and color of various pieces from various vendors. In many instances you will have a tough time getting your money back, so it's best to ask your questions first. If you really know what you want, you may find that repro art does not accurately capture proper color, appliqué (foil, embossing) detail, material (smooth, rough, textured,) thickness, strength, or opacity (in the case of marquees or bezels.) Many repro dealers and repro artwork sites may not have access to pristine NOS art to sample when they create repros and their printing method may not capture the original color (like Pac Man yellow) so you may have to settle for "pretty good" in some cases unless you are looking for absolute restoration style accuracy. In that case, buy NOS if you can find it.
4. difficulty of application of the artwork.
In most cases adding artwork should be fairly simple for the average person. Most of it involves the use of adhesives and patience. Many Williams machines use stenciled paint for side and front art, however, and accurate reproduction requires some skill, equipment, and practice. If you don't have the patience to spend days doing the necessary prep & execution required to paint with stencils, you may want to purchase repro stickers instead. If you have absolutely zero patience, you may want to avoid buying large pieces of full side-art stickers (like Centipede) as well. Applying very large stickers requires some skill to reduce bubbles and wrinkles when applying the art. Marquees, correctly sized bezels, and CPOs are fairly easy to apply and the average person should not have a problem.
Resto-mod is basically anything that is based on a classic design, but does not fully reproduce the original design. There are a few reasons to choose the resto-mod route;
1. Cost. It's cheaper to just put a Defender marquee and control panel on your cabinet than it is to add bezel, side and front art as well. A marquee and CPO might cost a total of $70, while the full kit might cost $200 to $300.
2. Personal touches. "Dee Fender," "LeeVious," "Jim's Pac Man," marquee titles all of questionable taste... but real examples. Each display a little of the personality of the owner.
3. Making a statement. Many people want their machine to be seen as more than a just a box for ONE game. Defendercade, Pacmamea, Hyper-Galaxian. Each marquee title implies that the cabinet is more than just a simple arcade classic.
4. Physical differences. Different sizes of cabinets, different shapes, different configurations of controls on the control panel are a few reasons that physical differences may require you to modify the art of a classic design. For instance, If you love the art from Galaga, but have a generic Dynamo cab, you might have to alter the art a little bit to fit the different cabinet shape. If you are building a Defender shaped cabinet, but want to use a trackball and spinner in addition to the standard defender buttons, you will have to make a few changes to the original defender CPO design.
Resto-mod can be a great shortcut to making a cool cabinet, without some of the cost and complexity involved in fully reproducing the original design. If you aren't careful though, your cabinet can also end up looking cheap and boring, with the art obviously a silly afterthought. Slapping a Galaxian marquee on your cabinet won't in itself make your box look great. A well thought out theme based on a classic design, however, can have some striking results. Great resto-mod designs capture the spirit of the original theme blending the changes perfectly with original art, while adding a dimension of uniqueness, rather than looking like pale imitators.
More to come.
Original theme graphics
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