What do the letters on my playfield mean? SP / TAG / ESC / LS


Bally / Williams / Gottlieb / Stern did not make their own playfields and cabinets.  The production of playfields and cabinets were subcontracted to other companies. So the letters identify what company has worked on the playfield.

Because there are several steps involved in making a playfield and not every company could create a playfield from start to finish, playfields were sometimes shipped from one company to the other. That explains why you find multiple stamps on the front edge of a playfield.

Most of the time game designers did not know in advance what company would handle the playfield production.  This was decided later in the production process by the purchasing department.  So for every game it could be different or even change during the production run.  Larger runs (like Addams Family, Twilight Zone, etc) often were made by several companies so Bally/Williams had enough quantity quickly to make a game.   This is why you will find some Addams Family playfields that are more purple than blue on some games.   Or a ‘hot pink’ playfield in a Creature From the Black Lagoon (because it was made by a different company). 

The necessary steps when creating a playfield are:

  1. 1.Routing (cutting the wood, drilling holes, adding inserts, sanding and sealing,..).

  2. 2.Screen printing (putting the artwork on the playfield).

  3. 3.Final clear coating (adding a 'Diamond Plate', lacquer, clear coat or other protective layer).

  4. 4.Stamping the dimples into the completed playfield.  Most of the pinball companies had the dimpling presses.

Where to find these identification marks?  Playfields are usually marked at the front edge. Other information about the companies involved can be found in the outlanes (Diamond Plate logo), or usually at the left side underneath the apron.

LAST UPDATED 2/11/2018

Churchill Cabinet Company (CCC): Churchill Cabinet Company started in 1904. They produced cabinets for the coin-op industry. Churchill made a lot of cabinets and playfields for Williams pinball.   In 1996 they bought out Lenc-Smith and moved into the old Lenc-Smith building.  After Williams left the market place in 1999 Churchill supplied Stern Pinball with cabinets and playfields.   They also made the playfields and cabinets for Gene’s reproduction Capcom Big Bang Bar pinball machines.  Churchill merged with Chicago Gaming Company.  The new remake of Medieval Madness pinball machines are made at CGC in the Churchill building.  They also made a remake run of Attack From Mars.   Monster Bash will be the next remake and most likely will be announced at the TPF in March of 2018.  Game #4 will be Cactus Canyon and is scheduled to be released in 2020 (according to an employee at GCG).  Game #5 will be a remake of a Bally/Williams John Popadiuk title so most likely CV, TOTAN or TOM.

Reproduction Company: Along with Ad Posters they made all USA made artwork from the early EM games up until the late 1950’s when a fire destroyed all their silkscreens and equipment.  The fire caused them to loose the Gottlieb contract and Gottlieb switched to Ad Posters in the late 1950’s. 

Ad Posters:  Founded by Thomas Grant in 1932.  Ad Posters (or sometimes called Advertising Posters) worked with Bally, Williams, Chicago Coin, Gottlieb, Sam Stern etc in the early days of pinball.  Ad Posters and Reproduction Company made almost all the artwork for every pinball machine produced in the USA until the late 1950’s.  In the 1960‘s, Ad Posters did almost all printed artwork (playfields, backglasses and plastics) until the 1970’s when companies like Bally started their own art departments.  Ad Posters also did playfields for Sam Stern and Gameplan in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Ad Posters was taken over by TAG, see below.

Thomas A. Grant (TAG): Thomas A. Grant is the son of Thomas Grant who founded Ad Posters.  TAG made playfields and plastics for Williams in the 1990‘s.  They also made the backglasses for No Good Gofers.  TAG was bought in 2001 by Gene Cunningham (of Illinois Pin Ball). All the assets of the company moved to IPB. Until then Stern Pinball used TAG for their playfields (Stern’s Austin Powers was the last made made by TAG), but after this sale Stern switched to Churchill (who already delivered their cabinets) as playfield supplier.  Gene, from IPB, never really did anything with the TAG equipment.  I am unsure of what happened to all the TAG equipment that Gene got from the sale.  I do know that it was missing from IPB when James from Pinball Inc bought all the remaining IPB stuff.

Electronic Sound Corp (ESC): Electronic Sound was a contractor for multiple pinball companies but Gottlieb/Premier was their biggest account.  Gottlieb used ESC for all their playfields and cabinets between 1978 until they stopped making pinball machines in 1996.  The last playfield ESC made for Gottlieb was ‘Brooks N Dunn’.  Bally/Williams used ESC mostly for WPC speaker DMD wood panels and some playfield routing.

Lenc-Smith (LS):  Probably every Bally cabinet and playfield since around 1968 was made by them. In 1988 Bally sold their pinball division, including Lenc-Smith, to WMS Industries. Lenc-Smith made almost all the cabinets for Williams / Bally pinball machines and Midway arcade games. What they did exactly to a playfield changed over the years. In the beginning they created the complete playfield, starting from bare wood. After the failed clear coating attempts with their LS Topcoat they did not do any clear coating and sublet that to Sun Process until 1996 when LS moved into the CCC building.  Lenc-Smith did produce plastics for some games, which can be identified by the -LS extension of the part number. Williams sold Lenc-Smith to the Churchill Cabinet Company.  Churchill moved into the Lenc-Smith building in 1996.

Sun Process (SP): They printed and clear coated playfields, but also made playfield plastics (SP- is printed in the part number on plastics like slingshots of some games).  They invented Diamond Plate as a playfield protection in the late 1980‘s.   Diamond Plate clear coating started to be used on pinball playfields by Williams around 1990. (see below for more information about DP).  Sun Process only worked for Williams. Ron Baum, who did the sales for Sun Process, told me the cooperation started in the early 1980’s when Williams searched for a new company to provide them with decals and playfields.  The first thing Sun Process did for Williams were the artwork for the Defender video arcade game.   Space Shuttle pinball machine was the first SP/Williams project. They used a 4 color printing process for the backglass. Sun Process was able to deliver Williams every type of screen printed plastic part used on a pinball machines and arcade games: the backglass, translites (subcontracted to another company), cabinet decals, playfields, dmd insert panels and playfield plastics. In the early nineties when there was a lot of demand for pinball machines (like Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Getaway’s), Sun Process delivered up to 200 playfields a day to Williams.  Sun Process playfields tend to hold up better and the colors are preferred to by most collectors.  Example:  The hot pink colors on the CFTBL (Creature From the Black Lagoon) playfields (these are all SP made playfields).  The brighter red colors on TZ (Twilight Zone) playfields or the purple colors on the Addams Family playfields are all made by Sun Process.  The only real exception to this is the Sun Process made Theatre of Magic playfields.  They are terrible and most collectors prefer the Thomas A. Grant (TAG) made TOM (Theatre of Magic) playfields.   The Sun Process made Dr Who playfields have a higher resolution printing than the TAG made Dr. Who playfields.

Diamond Plate: Diamond Plate is a clear coat coating that was developed in the late 1980‘s by Sun Process and Dupont.  Ken Fedesna, Vice President at Williams, asked Sun Process to develop a coating to make pinball playfields more durable. Their answer was Diamond Plate or basically an automotive urethane clear coat. Diamond Plate clear coating added several years to the commercial lifespan of pinball machines, taking away a bit of the need for operators to buy new games.  Diamond Plate was initially named XR-7 and a few prototype Banzai Run’s, Earthshakers, Funhouse and Bride of Pinbots were coated with Diamond Plate and are stamped (usually handwritten) XR-7 on the front edge of the playfield.

Lenc-Smith made their own version of clear coat and named it L.S. Topcoat.  It is not uncommon to find sample Funhouse pins that are stamped with the ‘LS Topcoat’ logo.  However LS Topcoat was found to be not as durable as Diamond Plate.

The first game that had Diamond Plate on its non-prototype games was Bride of Pinbot, Whirlwind and Dr. Dude but issues happened with colors so it was not  applied on the whole run.  About 200 BOP and Whirlwind factory Diamond Plate playfields were made and 100 Dr. Dude playfields were done in Diamond Plate.  By the time Getaway was in production it was perfected. Terminator 2 was the first game to have Diamond Plate on all of its playfields.  These games all have the DP logo somewhere near the right outlane.

TAG also clear coated playfields but these do not have a Diamond Plate logo.  Games like Twilight Zone that were made by TAG were also clear coated by them. After a few years (around 1994) Williams dropped the Diamond Plate logo from all playfields. They could still be made / clear coated by Sun Process, but as competitors also had a hardcoat clear coating on their playfields, there wasn't a marketing advantage anymore by labeling a clear coated playfield as such.

Shortly after the introduction of Diamond Plate by Williams, most other pinball companies (Data East and Capcom) also started to clear coat their playfields. Data East named their clear coat 'Stealth Coat' (or Stealth Hardcoat) and started to apply this as of their Star Trek 25th Anniversary pinball machine. Gottlieb (or Electronic Sound as they made the playfields) never made the switch and continued to still use lacquer.

Gottlieb however did experiment around 1988 with something completely different that they called Vitrigraph. Used only on the games Victory and Diamond Lady, the artwork was printed onto the mylar sheet that was applied to the playfield, instead of being screened to the wood itself.

CPR / MIRCO / IPB / B&T:  All these companies make new reproduction playfields.  (Updated: March 2018)

CPR has been making reproduction playfields the longest but they make very small runs of playfields, sell out, and usually they never re-run them again.  They operate off a ‘pre-order’ system and usually only make enough playfields for people who have pre-ordered them.  CPR has been promising some playfields for several years (Joust, Banzai Run, etc) but they never get made.  CPR does make some plastic sets and backglasses.  The plastic sets are decent but some of the blackglasses that they do have colors issues.  CPR also farms out their playfield clear coating to a 3rd party.  I can write a book on what I know about CPR but I am thankful that they do try to make at least some playfields.  CPR needs to really up their game soon or Mirco will just force them out of the playfield market.

Mirco, in Germany, makes enough playfields to satisfy the market.  The latest batch of the 2018 Mirco playfields have an improved clear coat on them but due to lack of adhesion his playfields suffer from clear coat issues.  Mirco is a nice guy and will be adding several new playfield titles in 2018.  Mirco (personally) will come to the USA and have booths at the large US pinball shows (Pinball Expo, Texas Pinball Festival, etc). You can contact him on his Facebook page.  Mirco’s website (highclasspinballs.com) tends to be outdated most of the time.

IPB (Illinois Pinball) had unrealistic production dates but usually made the playfields that they promised to make.  IPB really never made playfields, they just found someone else to make them for IPB but IPB did clear coat all the playfields themselves.  IPB is now out of business (2014). 

B&T Automaten makes excellent reproduction playfields.  They are the new guy on the block and I think they make some of the best reproduction playfields on the market.   So far B&T only made a few titles (like: Bride of Pinbot, F14, Getaway, T2, etc.)