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The 21 Most Important Pinball Machine Parts

Pinball machines are made out of many parts, from electrical components to moving plastic pieces. In order to fully understand the game of pinball, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most important pinball machine parts.

The 21 most important pinball machine parts are:

  1. Playfield
  2. Plunger
  3. Auto-plunger
  4. Tilt sensor
  5. Slam sensor
  6. Cabinet
  7. Apron
  8. Backbox
  9. Backglass
  10. Flippers
  11. Bumpers
  12. Rubber rings
  13. Outlane
  14. Inlane
  15. Cellar hole
  16. Kick-out hole
  17. Drain
  18. Ramps
  19. Roll-over target
  20. Flyaway target
  21. Drop target

There’s a lot of important pieces in every pinball machine, all working together to create the fun games we often take for granted. We’ll go through each one below in more detail, so you can gain a better understanding of how a pinball machine works.

The 21 Most Important Pinball Machine Parts

1. Playfield

This is the part of the machine where the game actually takes place. Different titles will have different themes and layouts of playfields. Some include characters to hit as targets, extra playfield levels, subways, lanes, and different bumpers.

2. Plunger

The plunger is a spring-loaded rod used to release the ball into the playfield. You can use it in different ways by pulling it further back or releasing it with more or less force to get some control over where the ball ends up.

3. Auto-Plunger

These are on some newer machines to replace the spring-loaded plunger. Instead, an auto-plunger has a button you press that releases the ball. It can still be controlled to an extent, either by holding it down longer or tapping the button.

4. Tilt Sensor

This was introduced so that players would know when they were nudging the machine too hard. If triggered it might drain your ball, give you a tilt sensor warning or even end the game if you’ve had three warnings. Learning the sensitivity of pinball machine sensors will help you understand how hard or soft to nudge that particular machine to avoid triggering the sensor.

5. Slam Sensor

This is a sensor that ends the game for aggressive players. Slamming the cabinet out of frustration (which we never advise you do) will trigger this sensor. This is mainly a result of players slamming the coin box to get the game to think it had more credits to play, so it’s essentially an anti-theft device too.

6. Cabinet

This is the “body” structure of the pinball machine that holds a lot of the guts of the machine and the playfield itself. Cabinets are often made of wood and are sometimes hand-painted, but more recent machines use vinyl-wrapped art for their designs.

7. Apron

The apron is the bit at the bottom of the playfield that usually displays the rules of the game. It’s sometimes called a card holder.

8. Backbox

This is where the backglass sits and it displays the player’s score. It’s usually considered the “head” of the machine and is usually the widest part. The backbox is filled with circuit boards on newer machines, while some older machines held batteries in them. Some machines allow you to take off the top to help when moving it, while newer machines have the box on a hinge to lay it on the cabinet.

9. Backglass

This is where the display art is shown on the backbox, sometimes painted or hand printed. They create a very nice look to draw customers into the game, while lights behind it illuminate the artwork. Over time the paint will usually start to chip, and some colors might dull out due to constant exposure to light.

Newer machines have translite, which is a plastic replacement to avoid any breaking or cracking. The artwork also tends to last longer than on backglass. The backglass is usually very hard to replace so it’s important to keep in good condition.

10. Flippers

The flippers are controlled by two buttons on each side of the cabinet. The flippers are the controllers of the game, used to catch, pass and shoot the ball around the table.

11. Bumpers

Bumpers are targets to hit to build your score. Some older machines had dead bumpers where they would not “bump” the ball, but instead the ball would just hit off them. These parts will usually have rubber rings around them that will bump the ball away from them in the opposite direction. Getting the ball to bounce between a couple of them and shaking machine can help rack up lots of extra points.

12. Rubber Rings

These rings help the ball bounce off bumpers and other targets. They need to be replaced pretty frequently, but they are fairly cheap and come in multipacks.

13. Outlane

This is the lane that will end up going down to the drain. It’s next to the flippers on the outside of the playfield.

14. Inlane

This lane is next to the outlane, and it leads the ball back to the flippers instead of down the drain.

15. Cellar Hole

Cellar holes are the ramps for holes to either bring the ball to new position or down to the drain. These can also be called subways.

16. Kick-Out Hole

Kick-out holes will usually hold the ball until the player’s score is calculated and then kick the ball back into the field.

17. Drain

This is the area you try to avoid when playing pinball! This is where the ball goes when you lose it in between the flippers or down the outlane.

18. Ramps

Ramps are made out of different materials but are all inclined surfaces used to either take the ball through a trail or to raise it to another playfield.

19. Roll-Over Target

These score points when the ball rolls over the target, usually from a slim button or a lit-up area.

20. Flyaway Target

These are targets that hang down on the field and swing up when they’re hit and stay hidden until the next game. 

21. Drop Target

These are the opposite of flyaway targets as they stick out of the playfield at the start of the game. These, along with flyaway targets, tend to have characters on them corresponding to the title’s theme. When these are hit they drop down into the playfield, disappearing until the next game.

Final Thoughts

This is not an exhaustive list of all of the possible parts you might find on a pinball machine. However, it serves as a decent list to allow you to familiarize yourself with the most important ones. Whether you’re a pinball veteran or if you’re new to the game, knowing these 21 important pinball machine parts will help you better understand the game you’re playing.