20 Important Pinball Terms

Pinball machines are made out of many many parts from electrical, to moving plastic pieces.

In order to understand pinball and pinball machines better it is good to get familiar with some important pinball machine parts. It is also very helpful to know what the parts are for whenever a replacement or repair needs to be done.

So below I have listed important parts of a pinball machine that you should know.

The Machine

  • Playfield- This is the part of the machine where all the game takes place. Different themes on each map depending on the title. Sometimes includes characters to hit as targets, extra playfield levels, subways, lanes, and bumpers.
  • Plunger- Spring-loaded rod to release the ball into the playfield. This can be used to your advantage by using the spring to release ball slower or faster.
  • Auto-Plunger- These are on some newer machines where the spring loaded plunger is not on the machine. Instead an auto-plunger is a button to press that releases the ball. Can still be controlled, by either holding it down or tapping button.
  • Tilt Sensor- Introduced for players so they would know when their nudge was too hard. Usually will end up with a dead ball, a tilt sensor warning or ending the game after three warnings. Learning pinball machine sensors will help your control over how hard and soft to nudge the machine to avoid this sensor going off.
Sensor part of a pinball machine, some newer ones have a different designs – Photo by Drop Target Zine
  • Slam Sensor- Sensor that ends the game with aggressive players. Sometimes slamming the cabinet out of frustration will trigger the sensor. This is mainly relevant with the coin box as players would slam the coin box to get the game to think it had more credits to play.
  • Cabinet- This is the “body” structure of the pinball machine that holds a lot of guts and the playfield. Mostly made from wood where hand-painted or more recently vinyl-wrapped art are put on to these machines.
  • Apron- Is the the bottom of the playfield on the cabinet that usually displays rules to the game. Sometimes called card holder as it will inform the player about the game.
  • BackBox- This is where the backglass sits and the displays of the scores are located. Usually considered the “head” of the machine and the widest part. This is filled with circuit boards for newer machines while some older machines held batteries in them. Some machines allow you to take off the top for moving purposes, while newer machines have the box on a hinge to lay it on the cabinet.
  • Backglass- Very hard to replace so it is important to keep in good condition. 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, wile lights behind luminate the artwork. Very likely that over time paint will 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.

On the Playfield

  • Flippers- Flippers are controlled by two buttons on each side of the cabinet. The flippers are the controllers of the game, used to aim the ball, catch, pass and shoot.
  • Bumpers- Targets to help ring up the players high scores. Some older machines had dead bumpers where they would not “bump” the ball instead the ball would just hit off of them. Most commonly these parts will have rubber rings around them when once hit, they will bump the ball away from them. Getting the ball in between a couple of them and shaking machine can help rack up extra points.
  • Rubber Rings- These rings help the ball bounce off of bumpers and other targets. Needed to be replaced pretty frequently, but they are fairly cheap and come in packs.
  • Outlane- This is the lane that will end up going down to the drain. Next to the flippers on the outside of the playfield.
  • Inlane- This lane is next to the outlane that leads the ball back to the flippers instead of down the drain.
  • Holes- Different holes are placed on the playfield for different reasons, but most of the time, they will give the player an extra score bonus when entered. Some holes will shoot the ball back on the field in a different position. While others will take the ball making you have to send a new ball into the field or ends the game.
  • Cellar Hole- are the ramps for holes to either bring the ball to new position or to the drain. These can also be considered subways
  • Kick-Out Hole- When entering these areas, they will usually hold the ball until scoring is calculated and then kick the back into the field.
  • Drain- Area you try to avoid when playing pinball. This is where the ball goes when you lose it in between the flippers or the outlane. Can be the action (verb) of losing the ball.
  • Ramps- Made out of different materials but are all inclined surface to either take the ball through a trail or to raise it to another playfield.
  • Roll-Over Target- Scores points when the ball rolls over the target, usually from a slim button or a lit-up area.
  • Flyaway Target- These are targets that hang down on the field that when hit they swing up and stay hidden till next game. 
  • Drop Target- Opposite of flyaway as they stick out of the playfield. These two especially tend to specific characters/theme related targets. When hitting these, they drop down into the playfield disappearing till next round or game.

Those are some of the most important terms to take note of when you read articles talking about pinball machines.

This will help you familiarize with some parts so you are not completely lost when looking at a machine. There are many more like I said and to go through a whole glossary of names would take a while.

But if you are interested in more parts and even moves in pinball you can check out IPD glossary. This long page will help you understand the smallest parts names and go into detail for each term.

All of these parts have to be placed inside the machine during the building period. You can check out our ‘How pinball machines are made‘ guide that explains the process of all of these parts being placed into the machine.