How to cosmetically restore your vectrex joystick controller

The label on my Vectrex joystick (also known as a "Controller Overlay" - NOT to be confused with a Screen Overlay) was severely damaged - caused by someone peeling up the edges to remove the screws in order to service the joystick, which apparently is quite a common cause of this style of damage.

Note: This is not for the left-handed controller, or the driving controller or the Milton Bradley artwork version! (Although it could be if you supply your own modified artwork, which you can probably do by following some of the links below...)

I wanted to make a replacement with the look and feel of the original, but none of the specialty printing papers I owned seemed appropriate (too thin, too glossy etc). Then I found a new one at Best Buy which I hadn't seen before: Burlington's Photo Silk paper. This has a rough textured surface which if your draw your fingernail over it is not unlike that of the real overlay. It's not the stiff plastic that the original overlay is made of - it has more of a cloth-like feel - but the surface feel is very close once it's stuck in place.

Here's how I made my overlay (which looks *very* nice)...

First I got the 400dpi scan of the original which Jeff at Adventurevision kindly put on the net at Spike's site (not the Milton Bradley overlay which I think is 300dpi). I cleaned it up in photoshop (tweaking the colour slightly to give a richer brown to match the original), and set the background to a dark brown, so that if I didn't trim the holes etc exactly right, the overlap would be less noticable that having a white ring round each of the holes; and I put a small 'X' at the center of each hole for aligning the circle cutter (see later). I also used photoshop to make sure that the print size was exactly right. You can squeeze 4 of these on a page. You'll probably need the first three for practice (esp. the pushbutton hole cutting), it's not an easy project!

Then I printed on the Photo Silk paper, telling the software to use premium grade photo paper (i.e. for highest resolution). Once it came out of the printer (a cheap HP722c) I sprayed it with Grumbacher's "Tuffilm Final Fixative" (something my artist wife recommended which she uses to stop smearing on charcoal drawings) and left it for a day. If you don't do this, the ink is almost guaranteed to smear as you work on the overlay.

Next day, I trimmed it square with a guillotine (these cheap sliding paper trimmers actually work better than expensive guillotines), and rounded off the edges with an exacto knife (I usually prefer a surgical scalpel for this kind of work as they're sharper but I was all out of those). Regular scissors will do at a pinch.

Now comes the hardest part: cutting the holes. Although cutting the large hole for the joystick is easy, cutting the small holes for the buttons is quite problematic. It was only after much trial and error, and help from the denizens of, that we finally found a relatively reliable way to cut these. Don't waste your time trying craft punches, even though they're the right size (3/4") - they mess up far to often and cost you too much in wasted materials. The best tool to use is a compass cutter - here's one not too dissimilar to the one I'm using. Practice on some cut-off material - mastering this tool takes about 10 minutes of practice.

Now the easy part: if you are satisified with your skills with the compass cutter, you might use that, but a more accurate and reliable method of cutting the large hole needs more custom equipment from the crafts shop. You need this circle-cutting template, and a special exacto knife with a swiveling blade (or custom 'swivel knife'), that lets you cut in a circle following the template, without getting stuck as a regular straight blade would do. This will give you two perfectly-sized semi-circles around the joystick hole. Just finish the cut with a regular exacto knife to separate the two halves and remove them. Oh - you also need a "self-healing cutting mat" to do the circle cut on. You might use something else which would solve the problem of not scratching your kitchen table, but it would also create a problem of blunting your knife far too quickly.

One last trick with the holes: get a black or dark brown thick felt pen, and run it round the insides of the holes, so that any white paper which is showing through is coloured dark. When you put it on the controller, you won't notice the cuts at all. You might also do the same round the outside edges of the overlay that were guillotined and trimmed earlier. (It would be rather annoying at this point to let the pen slip and score a black line all over the print, so approach it from the underside!)

That's the overlay fully prepared. Now we have to prepare the controller.

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE: do *NOT* use "Goof Off" or similar solvent products to remove the glue left behind by the original label. If it spills at all on the shiny parts of the plastic, it erodes them and leaves them dull. I wish I'd never tried it on mine. Either find a solvent that doesn't affect the plastic, or remove it the tedious way, by hand with a plastic picnic knife. Sorry, it'll take hours, but you won't be cursing at ruining your controller. I found fingernails were as good as anything at getting the last of the crap off.

Finally, apply the overlay. You only get one chance so be sure it's well centered. Lay it down lightly, then push it flat with your finger starting along the lower edge and working any air pockets up to the top. (This again is where it would smudge beyond belief if you had not sprayed it the day before. DON'T omit that step!!!)

You now have a fully restored controller overlay, and it should look real good, and I hope (due to the fixative spray) should last quite a reasonable time.

Don't be discouraged if you mess up the first few tries - I didn't get it right until my second printing and 5th effort.