Make a Better Looking Arcade Machine on a Budget




Given that advice on building homemade arcades is fairly easy to find, I'll be focusing on how to make yours look good. So maybe this is more, "How to Keep Your Arcade Cabinet off of Crapmame." Or sort of a "Martha Stewart Gives Advice on Arcade Machines," which I totally wish she would.

Step 1: Applying Control Panel Artwork

Though not the most robust option, printed graphics behind acrylic panels will look brighter and just pop more. I don't know the physics behind it, but clear acrylic just makes stuff look better. Printed graphics are much cheaper than vinyl decals, and give you freedom to design with as many colors as you feel like.

Cover the whole panel in double-stick tape, and leave one side unsticky.

Next, line up the graphics. Holding it up to a light helps with this. Tack down the sides with low-tack tape to keep them aligned.
-Tip: make sure to leave enough bleed to run off the edges, and enough gutter to keep your graphics from getting cut off (or close to it).

Peel back the waxed paper from the double stick tape, and carefully lay down the graphics. Move from one edge to the other, smoothing down the artwork as you go.

Now trim the edges. Poke a blade through the middle of a hole, and cut to the edge. Keep the blade pressed against the edge as you work your way around the cut. The edges are cut the same way, but they're less curvy, so you can relax a little bit easier.

Step 2: Applying Contact Paper

Contact paper adds plenty of style for relatively little effort, but it won't hide any nicks or flaws. Take care to sand and spackle before applying.

Make things easier for yourself by cutting out an inch wide, then trimming down. It's an old tip, but a good one nonetheless.

Use a light or sun behind the paper to keep it straight.

Press down the edges of contact paper to get a good visible crease before trimming. Keep the blade pressed against the wood, and try to trim contact paper in one go; don't stop and start midway.

Step 3: Roll Your Own Token Return Buttons

Token buttons help make your machine look that much more professional, but usually cost that much too. But if you have access to black spray paint, a laser cutter, and some scrap acrylic, you can make some of your own for much much less. (And since they're small, they make a quick cut for anyone who has to beg, borrow, or steal access to a laser cutter.)

For these, it's as simple as cutting out the buttons and etching the pattern in a mirror image.

Next, peel back the paper where you want the stencil, and mask off the edges of the plastic.

Give them a few coats of spray paint to get the stencil as opaque as possible.

Peel off the mask with a razor blade.

Step 4: T-Molding

T-Molding adds authenticity and style. It also uses vinyl, and is generally not something already in my shop. Black paint and varnish, on the other hand, seem plentiful around here.

Instead of vinyl molding, you can achieve a similar effect by rounding the edges of the panels with a router. Give them a quick coat of black paint, and protect them with a satin varnish. From a normal viewing distance the edges look pretty much the same, without one of the less friendly parts of the 70's.

Step 5: Reusing Joystick Bolts

If you're gong to use old joystick bolts, take the time to clean them up. I couldn't find joystick carriage bolts at the local hardware store, so if you're in a hurry you might not have much of a choice. After unsatisfactory progress from 20 minutes with a wire brush and a three-bold-holding-jig, I spent about ten seconds with a rotary tool and a sanding disk attachment. Afterward, I buffed them up with some 220 grit paper.

Step 6: Nail Down the UI

Spend some time customizing the user interface. If you've spent any time designing your machine, it's worth the time to make sure that the images on the screen match your style. Otherwise, whenever people come over to play it, they'll complain about the UI, and you'll have to make excuses for why it isn't done yet, and take it out over a game of Tetris. challenge

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    6 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Are the printed graphics done on a home inkjet printer? They look too good for that. If not, where could I get printouts like that done? We do not have Kinkos around here, but have Staples, The UPS Store, & some mom & pop type copy shops.

    Your cabinet really looks arcade authentic. It reminds me of some of the Atari & Kee Games cabinets from the seventies.

    1 reply
    Sam FreemanMrPapaya

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the compliment.

    The graphics were done at a local printer on glossy stock, if I recall. I'd see if any mom&pop type stores around you have any samples of their work and take it from there.

    Dream Dragon

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Some good tips here for making a lot of projects look good. Well done.

    One question, not owning a Laser Cutter I'd do the token slot the hard way, with drill and hand file, and lots of spares. If you are using a laser cutter could you not use the laser to "engrave" your print pattern and then paint the4 whole back surface, then polish the paint off of the high spots? It wouldn't be so "quick" a project, but would it work?

    2 replies

    It might work, I think I've heard of people doing something similar by rubbing in black crayon and scraping off the unetched spots.

    The easiest way would be to print stencils on transparency paper, though you may have to layer a few to get good opacity.

    DIY-GuySam Freeman

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The scrape it off technique may leave a rough surface. Then one would need to polish the tops flat. And after polishing the tops the valleys would be filled with polishing residue. Then the valleys would need to be cleaned out and the paint in the valleys might get scratched.

    Avoid frustration, avoid the scrape method. :)

    Clayton H.

    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is quite a good intructable. I'm curious where you got the plans for the initial cabinet. I've been looking into making one of these for a while and cant find any good instructions.