How do I preserve and save flaking arcade game artwork? (Ms. Pac-man)

Back in December, I managed to be the first in line to purchase an old Ms. Pac-man, sitting in a barn in Sagatuck MI. The game has great pink sideart, and is in really good condition overall, plus, I got it for a song.

Well, it sounds like the game will be making its way down to Indianapolis the week of the 21st – 27th. My main concern is that the artwork has some flaking. I don’t know how to preserve it and clean the machine. There is a good amount of dirt ground into the cabinet, like most old games, but I know that if I wipe the game down I will take some of the artwork with it.

Flaking Ms. Pac-man Artwork

Here is a photo example, the only one I have right now, of an area around the kickplate. I think I read somewhere about putting a clear coat on the stenciled sideart of arcade games to give them a shiny finish, and it also helps preserve the painted artwork.

Can anyone give me any suggestions on how to preserve the artwork on the Ms. Pac-man game, and keep it from flaking and peeling off any further? What cleaner, sealer, or other household product can I use to preserve the arcade artwork?

I did a search on the Klov and Google forums, and most of the flaking is related to glass marquee and bezel artwork, but not how to preserve flaking cabinet artwork. I also did a search on the pinball forums, which seem to have a more rich base of information, and the only tip I found there was “use a sealer”. Just like I thought.

Varathane Diamond Water-Based PolyurethaneCrystal Clear Glaze Krylon

Has anyone used either of these products to seal their flaking arcade cabinet artwork?

The product on the left is Varathane Diamond Water-Based Polyurethane, and the product on the right is Krylon’s Crystal Clear Glaze.

Looking at the website, the Crystal Clear Glaze is advertised as a hi-shine sealer. I imagine that is dependant on the thickness and the coats, but still, that may not work. Thanks to Leinhit for suggesting this to me as an option, whether it may or may not be appropriate for the cabinet artwork vs. glass artwork pieces. Still, my main concern is how I get the dirt off. I doubt that “dabbing” lightly with a wet sponge is going to get all of the dirt out.

Can anyone help me with ideas? Leave a comment with your ideas.

Here are my posts in the different forums about preservation ideas for flaking, if you are interested;

Here are some similar arcade posts

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So far, the general feedback I have gotten on preserving arcade game artwork that is already chipping is basically “good luck”. The idea with a lot of these products that are sealers are preventative only. You have to identify when a cabinet is starting to flake and apply a product at that point.

In terms of cleaning the dirt, a light application, and I stress light, of Goof Off, as well as a product called Mean Green. Mean Green was a little unsubstantiated, suggested just as a general cleaner not a cleaner that is specifically good for chipping artwork.

I got a great reply on the BYOAC forums from sstorkel;

If you really want the answer, ask Michael Dresdner. And you should pay him the $20 he asks for when helping people out.

There are a number of potential problems with trying to fix the flaking paint. In no particular order:

1. Some clear coats aren’t really clear; they’ll add a color cast that may make the paint look different. Oil-based clear coats tend to add a yellow or amber tint. Water-based clear coats, especially the Varathane products I’ve used, tend to add a bluish tint.

2. The clear coat may contain the solvent for the paint! This is the absolute worst-case scenario: you don’t know what is in the paint, you start spraying a clear coat over it, and the whole thing starts to drip and run! This is probably most likely to happen if you spray a lacquer-based clear, but I would suggest testing anything on a small, inconspicuous area before using it on the entire cabinet.

3. Fixing the flaking problem won’t fix the rest of the paint job. For your pictures, it looks to me like there are some waves and bubbles in the paint. Spraying a clear coat over those won’t fix them; they’ll still look damaged. And there’s a good chance that, even with a clear coat, they’ll eventually flake off.

4. Make sure you use a gloss level that is appropriate for the project. I’m of the opinion that a high-gloss finish is almost never appropriate. The surface must be absolutely perfect if you’re going to use a high-gloss product. Even the smallest defect will jump out and slap you in the face if you use a high-gloss finish. In addition, it will be nearly impossible to keep a high-gloss finish clean; fingerprints, in particular, seem to really stand out in the light. A Semi-gloss, eggshell, or matte finish might be better, especially if there are defects in the paint that you want to hide.

If you don’t get any better suggestions (e.g. from Dresdner), your best bet is to put down a de-waxed shellac to seal the paint, then clear coat it with whatever you like. I believe that Zinsser’s SealCoat is shellac-based, but I’m not sure about the color. Ideally, you want a “blonde” or “ultra-blonde” shellac, so that it doesn’t add any color to the underlying paint.

I took a look at Dresdner’s website, he doesn’t have an about page explaining why he would be an expert on preserving wood, including flaking paint. But he does have a book so I suppose that applies some credibility.

Not to discredit the reply above. A great reply, I am so appreciative that this information was left for me and what I should do with my flaking artwork Ms. Pacman arcade game.

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