Build an arcade machine: Decorate your cabinet

By KG Orphanides. Posted

Most arcade cabinet kit suppliers print pre-designed or custom vinyl decals to decorate your cabinet. Third-party printers can produce vinyls to your specification, but make sure that you provide accurate measurements.

Our vinyl decals, bought from Omniretro, arrived on a roll and had to be cut out, but some firms will die-cut vinyls for you. We’ll use a wet application process, which makes it easier to remove and reposition decals for a short while after initial placement, to help you get a perfect alignment.

01: Flatten your vinyl decals

If your vinyls all came on a single roll, the first step is to cut each of them out. First separate them, if they’re on a single roll, but leave generous margins. Spread them out on a table or on the floor and weigh them down – coffee table books and textbooks are good for this. Leave them for at least an hour or two: 24 hours is better.

02: Cutting out

Now they’re flat, it’s time to cut out your vinyls. Try to get rid of all white matter on straight edges. The easiest way is to line up a long metal ruler so that it just covers the edge of the printing, and run a scalpel down the outside of it. Curved sections for the cabinet side panels are trickier, but you don’t need to worry about these as they’re easy to trim down once fitted. For now, trim them freehand and leave as much white overmatter as you feel comfortable with.

Mark up in chalk pen and use a metal ruler to help cut your screen decal to size

03: Partial disassembly

Depending on the design of your cabinet, you may need to remove a side panel to take out the acrylic marquee and screen panels. Before doing this, use a liquid chalk pen and ruler to mark the edges of your LCD display on the acrylic, so we can accurately hide the bezel.

If you’ve previously fitted joysticks and buttons to your control panel, this is the time to remove them too. Apply steady pressure to the rear of snap-in style buttons to pop them out of the cabinet. People with large fingers may find a ButterCade Snap Out Tool useful for this.

04: Applying vinyl to your marquee acrylic

Two acrylic parts require individual application of vinyls: the marquee and the screen that goes in front of your monitor. The former is easy: remove the backing from the vinyl marquee decal and any protective film from the acrylic. Spray both the acrylic and the adhesive back of the vinyl with two or three squirts of application fluid. You want them to be damp all over but not awash.

Pick up the vinyl decal in both hands and, starting at one end of the acrylic, line it up with the edges and paste it down. If you’re not happy with the positioning, firmly hold the vinyl and snap it back up – the application fluid will help it release easily.

Once it’s positioned, use your applicator and a cloth to smooth it down, drive out any excess water, and remove any trapped air bubbles under the vinyl. Trim any excess vinyl spilling off the edge of the acrylic with a knife.

05: Measuring your screen acrylic

Cutting your screen decal to size is awkward. Before removing the screen acrylic from the cab, we marked the inner position of our monitor’s bezel on the acrylic using a chalk pen. If your cabinet has a detachable VESA mount, bring the monitor with you to help line everything up.

Measure the distance between the edge of the acrylic and the chalk line you drew on it. Measure in multiple places to be sure of distances. Our 24‑inch monitor’s positioning and bezel size means that we cut 35 mm in at the top and sides, and 65 mm from the bottom – yours will differ.

A join between this bartop cabinet and its stand is rendered invisible by a large vinyl decal

06: Cutting your screen decal

Once you’ve taken the measurements, grab your screen vinyl and mark up the area to cut out. Mark on the side showing the picture, paying particular care to the corner positions. Double-check these by placing the acrylic on top to make sure both sets of marks line up.

Grab your metal ruler, place it along your marked line, and cut a rectangle out of the middle of the vinyl decal with a blade. If in doubt, err towards leaving too much vinyl rather than too little. To check positioning, put the acrylic over your monitor, and your vinyl over the acrylic: they should all line up.

07: Screen decal application

Now, turn the vinyl upside down, remove its backing, spray it and the acrylic with the application solution, and stick it down using an applicator and cloth. Residual chalk marks can be wiped off using a bit more of the application solution.

Use a vinyl applicator and a cloth to stick down, remove excess moisture, and eliminate air bubbles from your decals

Allow both the marquee and screen decals to dry for a day, trim them if needed, slide them back into your cabinet, and reattach anything you removed. This will probably be the last time you do this, so make sure the side panels are on securely and are correctly lined up and bolted to your stand, if you have one.

If you plan on back-lighting your marquee, this is a good time to put in your light. We used adhesive tape and supplied clips to mount a 50 cm USB-powered LED light on the underside of the marquee, just in front of the speakers.

08: Applying flat vinyls

If you have a full-height cabinet or a bartop and stand, you’ll probably have a number of flat, front-facing areas to decorate – in our case, the front cupboard door of our stand, its base, and the front of its foot. Do these next to get your hand in.

The drill is the same for all of them: place the vinyl decal face-down on the floor, remove its backing, spray both it and the surface you’re applying it to, position your decal, and smooth it out with your applicator. Use a scalpel to trim off any overmatter. For the door, we applied the decal with the door in place – knob removed, starting at the top. We had to open the door to flatten and trim the vinyl in places.

09: Control panel decals

Most control panel decals wrap around the top and front of your panel. Buttons and joysticks should not be present during application. This is a relatively easy section to apply, but watch your position if there are decorative patterns designed to surround specific buttons or joysticks.

We marked the inner position of our monitor’s bezel on the acrylic using a chalk pen

You may need to trim overmatter from the sides with a scalpel to get the decal to fold over the front face properly. Be careful when smoothing the vinyl on this fold, as it can be prone to both trapped air bubbles and damage from the join beneath.

10: Cabinet positioning

Side panels are the largest pieces of vinyl you’ll be applying, but they’re less intimidating than they seem. For a standalone bartop, one person can mount them in a vertical position with little fuss, as shown in Omniretro’s video at magpi.cc/omniretrovinyl.

Full-height cabinets present more of a challenge due to their height and the size of the vinyl - a second person is useful here. You can apply long vinyls in an upright position, but we’d already attached rubber feet to our cabinet, so we used these to help pivot the cab down to lie on a sheet of cardboard on the floor.

11: Apply side panel vinyls

Lying flat and sprayed down as before, it’s easy to line up the side-panel decal. Make sure everything’s covered – with two people, it’s easy to snap the decal back up if you make a mistake, then use a cloth and applicator to drive out excess moisture. Use a Stanley knife to trim the vinyl to size – its solid metal body makes it easy to follow the line of the cabinet’s curves.

Go around again to remove any air bubbles and ideally leave the vinyl to dry for at least a couple of hours before pivoting the cabinet back up and lowering it to expose the opposite side. Repeat the process.

If your cabinet has separate stand and bartop parts, but uses a single sticker, there will be a slight ridge where these join. However, careful application (and a sympathetic vinyl design) makes this effectively invisible. Just be careful smoothing around it.

You can leave some white-space overmatter on side panel decals before application, as they’re easy to trim with a knife afterwards

12: Moulding

We used U-moulding on our cabinet, with neoprene glue to hold it in place securely. First, measure and use scissors to cut two strips to go above and below the marquee – it’s better to cut these a few millimetres too long and then trim than it is to have a gap.

Use a spatula to help apply neoprene glue along the edge you’re working on, then use the tube’s nozzle to apply glue to the inside of the U-moulding.

To lock U-moulding into place, bend it backwards to spread the U-shaped section, push that onto the edge you’re applying it to, and then roll the moulding down along the edge, using a finger to push it into place.

Highly flexible, U- and T-moulding are used to give a clean finish to the cabinet edges

When applying it to a long section, such as each side of your cabinet, start at the front underside – rubber feet help access here – apply glue to the cabinet edge and the first 50 cm of your roll of moulding, and have someone else feed it to you as you work up and around the cabinet. When you get to the bottom at the back, cut off your moulding with scissors.

T-moulding locks into a pre-cut groove along the edges of your cabinet, making it more secure, but it’s still a good idea to apply glue to the flat surfaces for security. Either way, use a rubber mallet to gently tap down your moulding at the end.

You can use acetone to clean the glue off your hands and the moulding, but keep it away from the vinyl.

13: Finishing moves

Use a scalpel to cut out the vinyl above the button holes: locate a hole, pierce it with the blade, slice until you find the edge of the hole, and then follow the hole round to remove all the vinyl. Do this for all your joystick and button holes.

After spraying the vinyl decal, and the acrylic, with our homemade fluid, we applied it and smoothed down with an applicator and cloth

As described in The MagPi #105, screw your joysticks back into place from the inside. If you’re going to put protective acrylic panels over your control panel, this is the time to do it – they’re held on solely by the buttons.

However, because our cabinet is for home use, we’ve left the vinyl bare for a more comfortable and attractive finish. If your cabinet will see lots of play, acrylic will protect it and cut down on wear and tear. Whichever you choose, connect a DuPont cable to each button and pop them into place.

Follow the instructions from issue 106 to connect your buttons and peripherals to Raspberry Pi.

From The MagPi store

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