The game of pinball has been around in several forms for hundreds of years. The table, and the way that it’s played, have changed plenty of times, but modern pinballs have always had a familiar form. This may leave you wondering what exactly pinballs are made from.
Pinballs are usually made from steel. They have a diameter of 1 and 1/16 inch (2.7 cm), weighing 80 g. The standard size means pinballs can be used universally on almost all tables without issue. However, you may find pinballs made from other materials like chrome steel, ceramic, and even rubber.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about what pinballs are made of, and we’ll also go through some of the examples where specific pinball machines use different types of pinballs. First, let’s look at the traditional pinball in more detail.
What Are Pinballs Made From?
Pinballs are normally made from steel, with a diameter of 1 and 1/16 inch, or 2.7 cm. Their weight is usually about 80 g, but you will find pinballs with slightly lower weights for specific games. Pinballs have remained relatively unchanged for the last 60 years or so, and this standardization has meant that no matter which machine you use, you can almost always use the same kind of pinballs.
Pinballs are usually made of solid carbon steel, with nothing else inside them. You will find some manufacturers using chrome steel, but carbon steel, which is an alloy of iron and carbon, is by far the most common.
You Need The Right Size
The small diameter allows them to fit through all of the various narrow spaces that you find on the average pinball table, from ramps and in between bumpers to rails and other obstacles. Having the right size of ball for your pinball table is essential, as with such fine tolerances on each part of the table, having the wrong ball can make it unplayable.
Pinballs are fairly inexpensive, and you can usually pick up a pack of five for around $12. However, you can find pinballs made of other materials too, but they are usually for specific games.
Other Pinball Materials
Bally’s Truck Stop
Aside from the usual carbon steel pinballs, there are few games out there that require the use of other materials. One basic example was Bally’s Truck Stop from 1988. This machine used pinballs with a diameter of 1 inch, and there was one particular reason for this.
There was a ramp on the table that was slightly too narrow, which meant traditional 1 and 1/16 inch pinballs tended to get stuck on the ramp. The company found that it was cheaper to simply sell the machine using the smaller 1-inch pinballs, rather than redesigning and installing new ramps on the tables that they had already made.
Viper Night Driving
However, most of the instances of different pinball materials are not results of faulty machines, but instead were factored into the design of the machines. An example of this is the Viper Night Driving machine from Sega. It featured glow-in-the-dark yellow rubber on what seemed to be regular steel pinballs. They weighed less than 60 g, about 25% lighter than normal pinballs.
While these bouncy, glow-in-the-dark pinballs added to the effect of the game, many players found that they felt very different to the regular steel pinballs that they were used to. Not only would this make them more difficult to play with, but the fact that they were coated in the yellow rubber meant that they would get dirty much faster than regular pinballs and also became damaged more easily.
One innovative case of a non-standard pinball was featured in the Twilight Zone machine. The regular balls were normal steel pinballs, but the Powerball, which you would obtain using the gumball machine on the table, was made of ceramic, and weighed 65 g. The combination of the lighter weight and the ceramic material made this a very fast ball.
But it was also not affected by magnets. As magnets are a core component of many pinball machines, the Twilight Zone machine had to use sensors to understand when the Powerball was in play. This would disable certain aspects of the game that relied on the magnets.
Aside from these specific cases, you’ll also be able to find various other types of pinballs on the market. You often find custom pinballs that can be made of various materials and in different colors, and you can even add your own designs in some cases. However, a lot of these are purely for novelty purposes, and designs and colors can fade over time if you use them a lot.
Factors Affecting Choice Of Pinball Material
There are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing the right pinball for your machine, and while going with the standard pinball is the right way to go for almost every table, there are some cases where you may want to consider changing it up.
The first thing to consider is magnetization. Regular carbon steel pinballs become magnetized over time, due to the iron content of the ball. If pinballs become magnetized, they can sometimes get attracted to the metal parts of your table and get stuck. However, this only tends to happen over a long period of time, and you won’t have to worry about it if you only play your machine every so often.
You can also find chrome pinballs, which have a higher ferrous content than regular steel pinballs, but these are more expensive as they tend to resist magnetization and damage a lot more than regular pinballs. As long as you take good care of your pinball machine, damage shouldn’t be a problem.
Pinballs are made from steel in most cases, with a weight of 80 grams and a diameter of 1 and 1/16 inch. You’ll often find pinballs of different weights and sizes, made of other materials like chrome steel and ceramic, but carbon steel is by far the most common material.