Pinball Playfield Parts and Terminology

Jets?  Bumpers? Slings?  Orbits? Believe it or not, these are all things found in a pinball machine.  In this post, we’ll breakdown common pinball terminology and dissect the fundamental elements of a pinball machine.

20150201_143752   Back box:  This is the top of the machine, sometimes referred to as the head.

20150201_144052  Buttons:  These are located on both sides of the cabinet and operate the flippers once pressed.

20150201_143758  Cabinet:  This is the body of the machine.

20150201_143805   Coin Door:  Located on the front of the machine, this is where you deposit your money.

20150201_143605  Captive ball:  Some machines contain what is known as a captive ball.  As the name suggests, the ball is locked within the playfield and is a part of the game.  It serves as a target.

20150201_143614  Drop targets:  These are targets in the game that once hit, drop down.  This particular picture shows what is known as “inline” drop targets, because they are in a line.

20150224_203228  Flippers:  These are your primary weapons in all their plastic glory.  Flippers are what make pinball a game a skill, in that it’s your best defense of not only keeping the ball in play, but in controlling the game and hitting the shots that you desire.

20150201_143902  Inserts:  Inserts are embedded in the playfield and will light up at particular times in a game to indicate shots that need to be completed and/or current progress made during the game.  In this picture, you can see at least 10 inserts:  the cross, the snake, the switch, the red arrow with the spider, and the guitar picks.  The snake, switch, and one guitar pick is lit to indicate progress being made in this particular game.  The cross and red arrow are not currently lit.

20150201_144119  Legs:  These hold the machines up.

20150201_143649  Orbit:  An orbit on a playfield refers to the far left and far right shots that the ball can travel.

20150201_143715  Outlane/Inlane:  In this picture you’ll find both an outlane and an inlane.  The red arrow points to the outlane.  Should the ball fall into the outlane, you will lose your ball. The white arrow points to the inlane.  When the ball falls into the inlane, it is returned safely to the flipper.

20150224_203306  Playfield:  Consider this your field of battle.  The playfield is what the silver ball rolls on as you fight to keep the ball in play.

20150201_144103   Plunger:  The plunger is located on the front side of the cabinet and is used to put the ball into play by pulling back on it and releasing.

20150201_143659  Pop Bumpers (aka “pops” or “jets”):  Pop bumpers are generally considered hazards in a pinball machine as once the ball hits them, it will fire the ball off in the opposite direction.

20150201_143643   Ramp:  Ramps are featured on all modern pinball games.  Before ramps were present in pinball machines, nearly every shot would send the ball out of control, making pinball a game that was roughly 50% skill and 50% luck.  Ramps changed all that, as they usually return the ball safely back to the flippers once a ramp shot has been made.  This made pinball more of a game of skill, rather than luck, because it gave the player more control over the game.

20150201_144034  Rollover Switch:  Rollover switches are typically found in the inlane/outlanes and often at the top of the playfield, usually located by the pop bumpers.  When the ball goes over a rollover, the switch communicates to the game the position of the ball, and scores a certain value.

20150201_143549  Scoop:  A scoop is an actual hole in the playfield in which players can aim for.  Often times the scoop will transport the ball via a “subway” under the playfield, and the ball will then reemerge from another scoop on the playfield.  Other times, the ball will be shot back at the player from the same scoop it was shot into.

20150201_143528  Slingshots (aka “kickers”):  These are located close to the flippers and are considered a hazard to be avoided.  Like pop bumpers, once the ball hits a slingshot, it will propel the ball in the opposite direction.

20150201_143624  Stand-up Target:  Pictured are two stand-up targets.  Unlike drop targets, these remain “standing” once hit.

20150201_143635  Shooter Lane:  When you start a game of pinball, the ball begins it’s journey in the shooter lane, where the player must then plunge the ball to get it into play.

20150201_143739  Translite/Backglass:  This refers to the art that’s in the head of the machine.  This particular example is a translite from Metallica Pinball. Translites are a thin sheet of plastic with printed artwork.  Backglass on the other hand is actual glass with the artwork printed on it.  Nearly all games made after 1990 have translites, rather than backglasses.


3 thoughts on “Pinball Playfield Parts and Terminology

  1. singlebanana

    A few other good terms. Maybe a Part 2 is in order? 🙂
    saucer/kickout hole
    ball save
    solid state


    1. Mike

      What are those thin plastic decorative covers named? I have a Catacomb pin and am looking to replace the two at the bottom of the playfield.


  2. Ted leibowitz

    The left and right-most shots are usually orbits, but not always — think Creature From The Black Lagoon or NBA Fastbreak. Orbits are non-ramp shots which loop around (orbit) the playfield.



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