Glare can affect your experience with a game to the point of making it impossible to play. It can cause intense visual discomfort or deny your vision of the playfield. Glare is, therefore, one of the major problems pinball owners face.
The best ways to eliminate glare from the backglass or dot-matrix display are:
- Installing anti-reflective glass on the playfield
- Using bent plastic on the DMD
- Installing dimmable translite LED panels
- Applying screen privacy filters
What Causes Glare and How to Deal With It
Light glare is basically a bright, hard spotlight. It can appear from a direct source, such as an intense LED, or by reflection of a light source.
Aside from the immediate visual discomfort, glare can obscure your vision. That occurs because our eyes adapt their light sensitivity to the brightest light on our field of vision.
Any solution to glare involves scattering or diffusing the light, be it from the source or on the reflection. You must also balance the lighting in your game room to prevent spotlights. The problem is more prevalent in game rooms with many machines and dim general lighting.
In case your gameroom receives much natural light, consider applying some of the solutions to the windows, too. Even if you don’t want a permanently blacked out room, remember there isn’t a light glare stronger than the sun!
Solutions to Glare from Backglass or DMD
The section of your machine that should avoid reflections at all costs is the playfield. Even if direct light from the translite doesn’t bother you, a reflection on the playfield glass can disrupt gameplay.
A plain tempered glass sheet costs around $35, and that’s the default playfield glass most games come with. However, it might surprise you that the main options in anti-reflective glass cost up to 10x more.
Stern HD, Invisiglass, and PDI Optical are the three most widespread anti-reflective glass brands. The difference in quality or price in them isn’t huge, but PDI Optical offers the best anti-glare properties. It also has better color accuracy.
However, PDI Optical is produced in Germany, so the shipping costs can get higher. Overall, Stern HD is the cheapest option and still provides great quality. You can buy one for about $250, whereas PDI costs $300, shipping not included.
It should be noted that anti-reflective glass can’t be cleaned like plain tempered glass can. You should avoid using cleaning products with ammonia, as it can corrode the anti-reflective coating on the glass. It’s also advisable to use a microfiber cloth on the glass sheets to avoid damage.
Finally, take care while handling playfield glass. Stern HD glass is particularly sharp and you can hurt yourself while installing it. Conversely, PDI Optical has beveled edges to help avoid accidents.
- Pros: Minimal interference with the machine’s lighting systems, prevents glare from any source
- Cons: Expensive, may affect the color accuracy of the playfield lights
You can install dark bent plastic beneath the dot matrix display to eliminate glare on your playfield. It’s a cost-effective method as the same piece of plastic, also called glare guard, can be used in multiple games.
Glare guards can be installed inside the playfield glass or outside it. Newer models are cut to be installed outside, which makes them far easier to handle. However, if you put them too far away from the light source, they might generate glare on the display.
Make sure you get a quality bent plastic that absorbs enough light. It’s worth the extra investment since glare guards are generally very cheap. You can buy one for $10 and it’s easy to buy them in bulk.
Not all dark bent plastic is created equal, however. Every model is cut for a specific cabinet body. One guard may work for many different games, but it won’t work in all of them. Check out which games are supported by the glare guard you’ll purchase.
- Pros: Arguably the best dollar-for-dollar modification for pinball machines; can be used in multiple games
- Cons: One size does not fit all; doesn’t help to eliminate glare from your DMD on other machines; can produce glare on the display itself if can’t absorb light well enough
A very reliable way to prevent problems with light glare is to dim the lights of your pinball machine. Some games have backbox replacements with dimmable LED that let you adjust the lighting for the game.
Not only that reduces glare, but it also allows a multitude of lighting patterns and behaviors. You can dim the lights down only while playing, for example. Another benefit is the possibility to adjust the coloring of the translite lighting.
If you have many games, this solution can prove itself very expensive. After all, each game needs its own backbox replacement. Your favorite game may or may not have an enhancement kit made for it.
The price of a backbox replacement with a dimmer ranges from $100 to $150. Stern backboxes are the easiest to find, and its catalog of tanslites with dimmers is increasing.
There are homemade solutions available to you if you just want to dim the translite as a whole. You must take the appropriate safety measures: electricity is always dangerous! This is a very cheap solution: less than $10 for less glare on your playfield and your other games’ backglasses.
- Pros: Dynamic lighting prevents glare from the source, especially during play; allows more color animations; has an accessible DIY alternative
- Cons: Each game must have its own panel; Not all LED replacements are dimmable
Do-It-Yourself Privacy Film
You know those protection films that make it impossible to see a screen at a certain angle? Although the film is most used in office computers for privacy, you can use it to reduce glare. Just buy a privacy film, cut it and apply it do the dot matrix display.
Privacy filters are made of micro-louvers that reduce reflections and glare — sort of like windows blinders, but for screens. Computer filters are oriented side-to-side, so you can use them to reduce reflections on the windscreen.
However, if you rotate the filter 90º, it’ll prevent reflections on the playfield glass. This makes it a flexible option to reduce glare from your DMD.
There is an obvious downside to this method, especially if you rotate the filter: it’s sure to darken the display. It can reduce glare up to 95% for about $20, so it’s a good deal. However, you’ll need to make sure you can still see the scores and animations properly.
To that end, you may need to adjust the height of the cabinet. It may be a hassle, but it’s worth it for a cheap and effective solution. Depending on the size of the film you buy, you may be able to cut up multiple screens, too.
- Pros: Can be rotated to prevent glare in different places; it’s a cheap solution; may be used in multiple games
- Cons: Will darken your DMD
What About Glare on the Backglass or the DMD?
Being unable to see the back of the playfield is bothersome, but so is being unable to see your score. The lights and flashers from other games reflected on the backglass can be distracting, even if the playfield is clear.
Thus, it’s very important to avoid glare from reflections, too. There are two main ways to achieve zero glare on your backglass and DMD. Anti-glare sheets will diffuse and haze your translite, whereas polarizing filters will practically disable glare from and on the backglass.
Glare Elimination Sheets
Anti-glare translite and dot matrix display glass is actually made of acrylic with an anti-reflection coating. This is a bonus since acrylic doesn’t break as easily as glass. It can not only reduce glare but also increase the brightness of your translite.
Only Stern games have sheets made for DMD and translite. For Williams/Bally games, you’ll only find translite sheets. And, unlike anti-glare film, you can’t simply buy a bigger sheet and cut it up for your machine.
One of the main aesthetic advantages of the anti-glare glass is that it brings the translite image to life. The hazy effect is countered when it’s lit, so it looks like the translite was directly printed on the backbox.
While this is also true for DMDs, the haze is more apparent in most cases. Of course, the fact that any reflections are greatly diffused makes up for that. The translite sheet costs $35 and the DMD sheet costs about $20.
Polarizing filters work by filtering out polarized light according to the angle of view. Unlike privacy screens, they don’t darken your display as much. As a bonus, they can reduce reflections both on and from your translite or DMD. By absorbing polarized light, the image from a DMD will be a lot more focused.
You can buy pre-cut filters for your DMD for $20. However, buying a film sheet that can cover your entire backbox and display will cost you no more than $25. It also peels off easily, so you can test the angle of the sheet until it feels right.