Important Information about LED’s
Any pinball machine can be converted from incandescent bulbs to LED’s.
Reasons to convert:
- They are brighter.
- LED’s last much longer, draw less current (connectors don’t burn) and generate a lot less heat.
- Playfield plastics are less likely to warp.
- Less heat behind the backbox / head may mean longer life for the backglass.
- They look great.
Reasons not to convert:
- Expense. It can cost $100 and up to convert a game.
- Not easy. Many of the bulbs are difficult to get to.
- Brighter is not always better. Many people go overboard. Making a 30 year old pinball machine as bright as a new Stern looks silly.
- Not all machines do well with LED’s. May need new boards, extensive modifications, or special bulbs.
- Even with the correct bulbs and adapters in the right machine, LED’s turn on and off faster than incandescent bulbs and it can lead to an undesirable strobe effect. Adapter boards can fix that problem.
Suggestions of what to do and what not to do:
- Always use ‘Warm White’ or possibly ‘Sunlight White‘. ‘Daylight Bright’, ‘Cool White’ or ‘Natural White’ is just, well, unnatural. Other color temperatures are too blue for older pins. Note that the names used to describe color temperature are confusing. The best is to find the color temperature number and compare it to the color scale.
- Stay with frosted. They diffuse the light like regular bulbs.
- 5050 SMD (surface mounted device / diodes) – single SMD is a good choice. New pinball games likely use 2 SMD 5050 and are bright. We think that does not look good on classic games.
- Some companies offer various ‘levels’ of LEDs. Be careful about ‘Economy’ LEDs as they might not be bright enough for some applications. Yet they might be bright enough in older games. Get a few and compare.
- Flashers do not have to be converted. Flasher bulbs are bright, last a very long time and do not use much power. If you want to save some money, skip those. The one exception are Data East (DE) System 3 games. These pins can lock on a flasher and it can burn the playfield. Always change DE System 3 flashers to LED. It is also a good idea to change flashers to LED under the playfield as if they lock on they can burn the playfield.
- We color match. It makes color inserts look ‘richer’. Yet orange LED’s are not as bright and we sometimes use white there. An alternative is to use brighter white LED’s (2x 5050 SMD) on darker colored inserts – but they do not look as good as matched colors. Comet reports that pink bulbs work for orange inserts and sunlight works for yellow inserts.
- Spot lights / flood lights can use brighter LED’s and can work out well. Because spot lights usually light up broad areas of a playfield, sometimes brighter is better.
- Kits are great, especially if doing one game. But they are more expensive.
- If the bulb under the insert is not pointed up directly into the insert, a regular LED might not be bright looking. Install a single LED on a flexible wires so it can be pointed into the insert.
- Make sure your LED’s work on AC circuits. All but the least expensive do. DC LED bulbs are becoming rare, so not much of an issue anymore.
- Use right boards / adapters for the correct machines (see below).
- Don’t listen to the fanatics that love to make their games blinding bright. They are idiots.
- Stay with white for GI’s (any color temperature).
- A well done brightness comparison.
Where to purchase LED’s:
- Cointaker – A pioneer in pinball LED’s. Perhaps the best selection of kits with exactly the right type and color of LED’s for a specific game.
- Comet – Perhaps the largest selection of LED’s. We have used their lower priced LED’s in non-ghostbuster applications.
- Pinball Life – Great LED’s at slightly lower prices. We use their bulbs extensively.
- Titan Pinballs – A good selection and good prices. Great non-ghosting LED’s.
- Action Pinball – They look fine but we do not have any experience with them.
- Pinball Blubs – A nice selection. We have no experience with them.
- Yoppsicle – A pinside marketplace store that sells the revolutionary LEDs for early Bally / Stern SS.
COB LEDs – COB LEDs are the next generation of LEDs, and may someday replace SMD LEDs. Brighter and cheaper to make. 3rd generation of LED lighting – it is coming.
Color Temperature – When shopping for home LEDs, color temperature is used to describe the color. With most pin LED’s, the color temperature is not specified. Warm white, sunlight white and natural white (or cool white) are frequently used instead. Generally, warm white is closest to the color of incandescent lamps. A color comparison.
DIP – Direct In-line Package . Traditional LED where each LED is clearly separated from others, with two leads attached. Not used in pinball much anymore, except in opto switches.
Ghosting – This is an LED that may appear as faintly on, even when it is supposed to be off. A pinball machine with ghosting will require the use of non-ghosting LEDs in the switched lamps.
Non-Ghosting Pinball Machine – A pinball machine that does not exhibit ghosting and can use standard LED bulbs.
Ghostbuster or non-ghosting LED’s are required on newer Bally / Williams (WPC), Sega/DE and Stern pins for the switched lamps only. If using regular LED’s on those pinball machines, the LED’s may glow faintly when they should be off. These have a resistor in series with the LED to keep it from glowing. Even on some EM’s, ghosting might be an issue for switched lamps. GI lamps can use regular (not non-ghosting) LED’s. Note that Williams changed the code for WPC95 pins so most of them should not need non-ghosting.
GI – General Illumination. These are on all the time (some machines may dim or turn them on or off). Any cheap AC LED will work just fine in the GI circuit.
LED’s – Light Emitting Diodes. Diodes are DC and allow current to pass in one direction only.
Lumen – A measure of brightness. The higher the number, the brighter.
SMDs – ‘Surface Mounted Device’ or ‘Surface Mounted Diode’. LEDs are mounted on an aluminum substrate and enveloped in an epoxy resin. Replaced DIP LEDs. Second generation of LED lighting.
Switched lamps – These are lamps that are turned on and off during game play. These may require special circuit changes or non-ghosting LED’s. Or not. See notes on the specific games, below to see if you must use anti-ghosting bulbs.
Most, but not all, inserts are switched lamps. Most of the rest are GI. The best way to tell is to go into your service menu and select testing lamps. Have all switched lamps turn on and off. This will identify which are and are not switched lamps. Or check your manual.
Note that some pins use a relay to turn on and off GI lamps. They are still GI lamps, not switched, and never need special anti-ghosting bulbs. Another way to tell is to look at the wiring. All GI lamps use the same two wires and are ‘daisy chained’ from lamp to lamp. Look at the back of the wood inset in the backbox to see the difference in wiring of GI vs. switched lamps.
It does not hurt to use non-ghosting bulbs in GI lamps. It can be a bit more expensive. But non-ghosting should not be used with most lamp LED aftermarket boards.
Strobing – Incandescent bulbs glow and slowly get brighter and dimmer. LED lamps turn on and off very quickly. This leads to a strobe effect that some find unnerving or even upsetting. If this happens in a game, the only way to get rid of it is to go back to incandescents or put in a lamp board designed for LED’s.
DC vs. AC LEDs – All LEDs run on DC (direct current). GI circuits are AC (alternating current). When hooking up the original LED bulbs, these DC LEDs flickered, like bad fluorescent lights. To solve those problems, manufacturers installed tiny circuits in the bulbs to convert AC to DC so the bulbs would work on AC. Almost all LEDs sold now contain those circuits so DC vs AC is no longer an issue. But always check with the seller to insure you are getting AC compatible LED bulbs.
SMD LEDs – Brightness – What do those numbers mean?
SMD’s may also be referred to by an ID number. The most common are 3528 and 5050. Those numbers refer to the size. A 3528 is 3.5mm x 2.8mm. 3528 contains one 3.5mm by 2.8mm (9.8 sq. mm) LED per chip. 3528 are somewhat comparable in brightness to the traditional LED (although they can be a little brighter).
5050 SMD’s contain a larger LED at 5.0mm by 5.0mm (25 sq mm or 2.5 times larger). Therefore, they are much brighter than 3528 or regular LED bulbs. 5050 SMD’s are quite useful when installing multicolor lights as each LED can be one of the three primary colors.
We used to prefer the single SMD 3528 lights but they are getting harder to find, so we are buying single 5050 SMD’s. Double 5050 SMD’s are also available. These brighter LEDs work exceptionally well in darker inserts, but mixing single and double 5050 SMD’s on one playfield can cause problems.
While generally, the larger the SMD the brighter, but that would be too easy. Example of SMD numbers are: 2835, 3528, 3020, 3030, 3535, 3014, 4014, 5050, 5060, 5630 and 5730. With new technology, some newer smaller sizes can take more power and get brighter than just their size would indicate. For example, 3528 can handle just 0.06 watts. But the newer designed 2835 could handle up to 1 watt and be up to 15x brighter. More information from LEDlighslighting and saving-star.com.
So which to pick? What to look for is the output in Lumen, which is a measure of brightness similar to wattage as a measure of power. 3528’s output is 6 – 9 Lumen, 5050 output is 18 – 24 Lumen, and 5630 / 5730 is 50 – 63 Lumen. Unfortunately, few pinball LED vendors specify which SMD is in the bulb. At least one, Comet, does spec the power consumption. Generally, the higher the power, the brighter the bulb.
It is also important to look at the light spread and the cap. A clear cap can mean a more focused bright dot, while a frosted cap spreads out the light more. Some bulbs have all the SMD LEDs on the top, while others have them spread around for better dissipation. Which to use depends on where they are mounted. In most cases, the traditional shaped lamp with a frosted dome is the safest choice.
Game / Manufacturer Specific Information:
EM (electromechanical) machines can be easily converted. If you feel the need, be sure to use single SMD LED or ‘retro’ LED’s.
Connectors do not burn. And incandescents do not burn out often enough in home use to make conversion of EM’s a priority. Yet we have seen EM’s with subtle LED’s that look great and we have recently converted a Grand Prix EM and love it.
Putting LED’s in the backglass would be smart. The heat from regular incandescents might lead to peeling the backglass. And the brighter LED’s can make the backglass ‘pop’. Whether that is a good thing is up to you.
There are reports that ‘non-ghosting’ LED’s might be required in switched lamps in EM’s – we have noticed a slight flicker if regular LEDs are used. This is curious as, in theory, the lamps are completely disconnected when off. However, enough power could be induced into nearby wires from higher voltage circuits and arcing, enough to light LED’s to a dim level.
Early Bally Solid State and Stern:
Note: There is a new, rather amazing product that was released in 2021 that makes the requirement of adding a resistor or a new lamp board on early Bally/Stern pins all go away. Simply “remove the old socket and slide the stick under the original braided wire, use the original screw to secure, solder the two wires to the pads and forget about it forever. No more flicker and no more dim bulbs… just bright, solid light! Want to use your original lamp driver board? No problem! These work right out of the box without the need for any adapters, LED driver boards or added resistors.” More information…..
If you have an early Bally SS pin and it is a AS-2518-17, AS2518-35, AS2513-133, Stern M-100 or M-200 MPU (go here and select the list under ‘MPU’), you have a challenge. The lamp circuit design will not work with LED’s. You have three options:
* Or, install a special adapter on your current lamp board.
* Or solder a 470 ohm resistor (1/4 or 1/2 watt from GPE, or 1/4 watt from Marco) across every single switched lamp on the pinball machine. Note: switched lamps are those that turn on and off with game play. GI lamps stay on all the time and do not require any special modification.
Once one of these modifications have been made, you can slap in any AC LED in there. They do not need to be ‘Ghostbusters’ or non-ghosting LED’s.
Non-ghosting LED’s, alone, will not work here. One of these three options must be followed for the switched lamps to operate properly. Otherwise, most of the switched lamps will continually flicker when on.
Early Williams Solid State:
To the best of our knowledge, early Williams solid state – system 3 – 7, 9 and 11, do not require any modifications nor do they have to be ‘Ghostbusters’ non-ghosting LED’s so any AC LED can be used in these games. To soften the ‘strobing’ effect, a special board is available for Williams System 11.
Gottlieb System 1 and 80:
These early Gottlieb pinball machines can use any AC LED’s. It is not necessary to use non-ghosting LEDs.
Williams WPC, Gottlieb System 3, Sega, Data East and Stern:
We used to have a simple answer for this:
* Williams / Bally WPC89 and WPC-S – you need to use non-ghosting LEDs.***
* Williams / Bally WPC95 – Can use regular bulbs.***
* Gottlieb System 3 – Need non-ghosting.
* Data East/Sega/Stern* or Stern** from 1989 until Stern** started using LEDs, need non-ghosting.
However, it appears that there are many games in the WPC89 category that may not require non-ghosting bulbs. And the information out there may not be reliable. We converted a WPC89 Hurricane which required non-ghosting bulbs. Yet this is listed in some accounts as being able to use standard bulbs. And the terminology can be confusing. A pinball machine labelled ‘ghosting’ requires ghostbuster or non-ghosting bulbs. A pinball machine labelled as ‘not-ghosting’ can use standard bulbs.
All GI lamps can use cheaper regular LED’s. Non-ghosting are nearly double the price, so this is quite a cost savings.
Note that many of these games have an auto dimming selection for the GI’s, to turn them down when the game is in standby. Turn off auto dimming (leave GI at full brightness) when using LED’s, or else LED bulbs may flicker.
An alternative to purchasing non-ghosting bulbs is to purchase a newly designed lamp board specifically designed for your model machine. These are available for Bally Williams WPC, and Stern SAM, Stern Sega Whitestar. Those boards are made to work better with regular (NOT non-ghosting) LED’s. The added benefit is that these boards are supposed to ‘soften’ the on / off of the bulbs so that it is not as harsh and does not cause a strobe effect. We converted a Lord of the Rings and found that we just had to use an OCD board or it was irritating.
There is also an unofficial software code update for Bally / Williams WPC machines with code that fixes the ghosting problem. You will need to ‘burn’ new EPROMs or purchase EPROMs to use this code. Note that EPROM burning services are not allowed to offer EPROMs with this code for sale. But they may burn custom EPROMs if you supply the code.
* Data East / Sega pins from 1989 (Version 1 through 3b) plus Sega / Stern Whitestar may require non-ghosting lamps (unless a new lamp board is purchased – for Whitestar pins, not available for DE/Sega V1 – 3b). There are reports that Data East / Sega V1 – 3b might not require non-ghosting.
** Stern ‘SAM’ systems require non-ghosting LEDs in machines that were manufactured with incandescent lamps (unless a new lamp board is purchased).
*** WPC89 includes WPC Alpha Numeric, WPC Dot Matrix, WPC Fliptronics 1, WPC Fliptronics 2, and WPC-DCS. The exception to this should be Williams/ Bally WPC95 pins. Somewhere around 1996, Williams changed their code to get rid of the ghosting problem so later Williams / Bally pins should not require non-ghosting LEDs. Some earlier Williams pins incorporated this change, including: Attack From Mars rev 1.13, Whitewater rev LH-6, and Twilight Zone rev 9.4H. These have the update in their EPROMs and do not require non-ghosting LEDs.
GIs (General Illumination Lights)
Converting Existing GIs
Putting LEDs in for GIs is pretty straight forward. You do not need special bulbs like ‘ghost-busters’. We recommend warm white or daylight color temperature. We don’t like color GIs in the playfield, but that is up to you. Sometimes, in the backglass, they can work, but most of the time they don’t.
The biggest challenge is getting to the GIs. Many of the sockets are stapled in place underneath. In that case, the plastics will usually have to be taken off. Other times, the sockets are held in place by a simple wood screw and those maybe easier to remove underneath the playfield and inset.
All GIs are AC, so insure that your bulbs are AC (almost all are these days).
If the bulbs are pointed straight up, a standard bulb can be used. But if it is turned sideways, use a bulb on flexible wires that can be aimed in the direction where the light is needed.
If a playfield is too dark, it may pay to experiment with 2SMD or brighter LED lights. The problem with using brighter LEDs is it may lead to a localized bright spot on the playfield without making it brighter overall. Experimentation is a must.
Adding GIs and Switched Lamps
Some playfield maybe too dark and the only solution maybe to add GI lights. This is pretty easy.
It can be fun to add a second switched lamp to an existing lamp. We have done this to accent a shot in a game, or just to make it look more exciting.
In the first photo, we added two spotlights on The Thing hand. These switch on with the motor. The correct voltage is set using an inexpensive DC to DC converter.
In the second photo, we have taken off the lamps on either side of the ‘electric chair’ on the scoop in The Addams Family and placed them under the playfield. The scoop then lights up dramatically with either the yellow or red color, or no light at all if the shot is not available. The photo is shown with the solenoid and VUK removed.
We have made this addition to several different games (The Getaway, Funhouse, etc.) and plan on doing it more frequently in the future.
Some playfields already use spotlights. Adding more is easy. Purchase spotlight kits from Comet, Pinball Life, Marco, or other sources. We are in the process of doing an Addams Family playfield transfer and the owner wants a brighter playfield. We are going to add spotlights and will post photos as to how it all comes out.
Star Post Lights
The star post used in places like slingshots can be lighted using these cool little adapters from Marco (has different color LEDs), Pinball Life, Comet and others. Installation is also fairly easy in that it must be wired to any GI socket, then placed under the star post with the screw going through the center. The only issue we have had is if these get turned around at all, they can cause intermittent shorts and blow fuses. Also, they fit only under certain types of posts.
Putting in LED strips can be exciting and difficult. Kits are available for installation in the outhole (bottom of the playfield) and underneath the backbox. Pin Stadium has done a great job of making commercial kits for this application.
For those willing to DIY, there are great video instructions from HurryUpPinball and we are using his instructions on our Addams Family playfield transfer (see photo).
As we mentioned above, we don’t always change flashers to LED. Flasher bulbs are bright, last a very long time and do not use much power. This is especially true in ‘naked’ flashers located above the playfield. If you want to save some money, skip those.
There are exceptions:
- Flashers in a topper (top of the backbox) look great with flashers. An example is The Addams Family ‘cloud’.
- Flashers under the playfield. A LED flasher located under an insert can look better. Plus, if an incandescent flasher locks on, it can burn the playfield. Because of the circuit design, the locked on flasher and burned playfield are more likely to happen with Data East (DE) / Sega System 3 games – so at least put LED flashers under the playfield.
If we were just doing one pin and wanted the least hassle, we would just grab the kit at Cointaker or at Comet and be pleased as heck. If doing several pins, we would buy in bulk and make our own ‘kits’ – and this is exactly what we do.
If willing to work a little more and, perhaps, doing more than one pin, we shop around and buy in bulk to get a discount. We like:
* Comet single LED warm white frosted single 505o SMD domed bulb. A hundred pack is $59 as of 01/2022. We use them in all GI lighting and switched lamps where non-ghosting is NOT required.
* Terry at Pinball Life does a great job of providing quality products at reasonable prices. Their anti-ghosting ‘Ghost Buster’ are great bulbs. They have recently added less expensive standard (not non-ghosting) LEDs that work well. We buy these in bulk and use them extensively.
* For single 5050 SMD LED’s, it is hard to beat Titan Pinball’s frosted dome warm white, but these bulbs are not ‘ghost busting’.
* Cointaker has an extensive selection of different LEDs in bulk.
Color match. It is worth the hassle. Those color inserts will look better – richer colors. Yellow and orange LEDs are not bright. White can be used for those inserts with sometimes a better result.
Comet sent us a very nice note that stated: “If you’re looking for good color saturation and brightness I’d recommend trying pink bulbs for your oranges and sunlight for yellows. I’ve found this way of matching really makes the colors pop and differentiates orange from yellow really nicely. Actually, if you have yellow, light and dark orange I’d use sunlight, warm white, and pink respectively.” [Email from Comet Pinball on 1/26/2022]
The a higher of SMD’s does not necessarily mean brighter. Sometimes 2 SMD bulbs are brighter than 4 SMD bulbs, because the 4 SMD bulbs are smaller SMDs (see “SMD LEDs – Brightness – What do those numbers mean?”, above).
But if we were just doing one pin and wanted the least hassle, we would just grab the kit at Cointaker or, at Comet or Pinball Life and be pleased as heck. If doing several pins, we would buy in bulk and make our own ‘kits’ – and this is exactly what we do.
If you cannot stand the strobe effect, investigate the LED OCD boards. but these are better with standard (not non-ghosting) LED bulbs.
With the changes going on in this high tech market of LEDs, things will change quickly. None of the distributors of these products will steer you in the wrong direction – they are all great people. Make your decision and go with confidence with any of them.
The difference between SMD LEDs -For the geek who wants to know more about the ‘guts’ of SMD’s.
Brightness Comparison – Almost as good as getting samples.
Pop Number LED Review Part 1 & Part 2
LED Ghosting in WPC Pins & Software Patch – A detailed explanation about LED ghosting in WPC pins.
PinballBulbs.com – A list of pins that do and do not require non-ghosting bulbs. Accurate?
GitHub WPC non-ghosting code – This program will update the lamp matrix driver code for WPC & WPC95 pinball game roms to eliminate ‘ghosting’ when using LEDs.
HurryUpPinball – How to build Playfield Lights
Comments, including suggestions, improvements, errors, etc. are welcome (see below).
If you have a specific question about your game that does not directly apply to LED’s, please see our FAQ section.