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jaybird3rd

Cleaning and Relabeling Atari Cartridges

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(This began as a post in another thread, but I thought it might get more notice and more comment in its own thread.)

 

Since I began using pboland's replacement cartridge labels (see here and here for some examples), I've been systematically cleaning and relabeling my entire collection of 2600 cartridges. Many of them were badly in need of some maintenance, and it's very satisfying now to see them restored to like-new conditionbetter than new in some cases, particularly the ones that tend to suffer badly from age, such as the Activision cartridges. In case anyone else is interested in doing the same, I thought it might be helpful to document the process that I've worked out. It requires:

 

  • a Philips screwdriver
  • a spray bottle of Goo-Gone
  • a tub of hot soapy water (blue Dawn dish detergent works well)
  • paper towels or tissues
  • a toothbrush
  • cotton swabs
  • contact cleaner and/or rubbing alcohol, and
  • a rigid piece of plastic with a straight edge to use as a scraping tool, such as an old (plastic) credit card or a nylon spudger tool

 

These instructions are written for Atari-brand 2600 cartridges, but of course they work pretty well with other brands, too, as well as 5200/7800 cartridges:

 

  1. Strip off as much of the front/end cartridge labels as you can. Some can be peeled right off; others may not come off as cleanly. If it's a really badly fossilized label that won't come off at all without chiseling it away in tiny chips, leave it on for now; it will just take a little longer for the Goo-Gone to do its work (see Step 3). You should at least try to peel away some of the label around the edges, particularly if they're the silver metalized variety, to give the Goo-Gone a place to seep in. I've encountered a few cartridges—mainly Combat cartridges, as I recallwith labels that were printed on vinyl instead of paper; in that case, the label must be stripped away completely, since the Goo-Gone won't soak through it.
  2. Remove the screw under the front label, pop the cartridge open, and remove the PCB inside, along with the dust door and spring (if any). If you decided to leave the front label on the cartridge, slit the label over the screw first, to avoid stripping out the screw post.
  3. Coat the label landing zones, and any label(s) remaining there, with a thin layer of Goo-Gone. Start with the front label. The idea is to use as little Goo-Gone as possible; the more of the label you were able to remove, the less Goo-Gone you should need. Once the front label zone has been coated, use your finger to apply some Goo-Gone over the end label zones on the top and bottom halves. Try to avoid getting any on the inside of the cartridge if you can, as this will make the shell more difficult to clean.
  4. Set the two halves of the cartridge shell onto newspaper or a slab of cardboard, label sides up, and let them sit for a few hours.
  5. If you peeled off the labels in Step 1, you should now be able to scrape away the remainder of the residue and glue with your scraping tool. (Whatever scraper you use, be sure that it's made of plastic; a metal edge will dig into the cartridge surface!) If you left the label(s) on, they should now be softened up to the point where they can be scraped/peeled off; once they have been removed, apply a second coat of Goo-Gone to dissolve the remaining glue.
  6. Once the label and glue are gone, use some soft paper towels or tissues to mop up as much of the Goo-Gone as possible. If you can, be sure to wipe away the dissolved glue without smearing it over the sides. You should now be able to get a good look at the bare surface of both label landing zones. Make sure that the entire surface is completely clean and smooth and free of any residue; even a few small bumps of old paper or glue will be noticeable when you apply the new label. Pay especially close attention around the edges! If you notice any remaining residue, scrape it away with the scraping tool. If you have a thin film of glue that you can't seem to wipe off with the towels, apply a little more Goo-Gone to the area, scrub it with the toothbrush to dislodge and dissolve all the glue, then try wiping it away again.
  7. Once you've wiped away as much Goo-Gone as you can, drop both halves of the shell into the tub of hot soapy water and let them soak for a while. Also, drop in the dust door and shutter, if any. (Of course, you shouldn't put any metal parts into the bath or else they'll just rust.)
  8. Use the toothbrush to lightly scrub every outer surface of both halves of the cartridge shell with dish soap, including the textured sides and back of the cartridge. This will help to get rid of any residual Goo-Gone, as well as any dirt or dust that might have been ground into the cartridge surface after years of use. When scrubbing in a circular motion with the toothbrush, you should be able to work up a clean lather under the bristles; if not, add more fresh soap. Also, scrub the inside of the cartridge shell, particularly toward the front opening and within the travel area of the dust door, since dirt and grit often settles there, too.
  9. Rinse all the plastic parts in warm water and lay them out on a towel to dry.
  10. After the shells have had sufficient time to dry, carefully feel them over with your fingers. If they feel even slightly tacky with residual glue, or if you notice any residual greasiness from the Goo-Gone, put them back in the bath for another quick scrub. If another bath is not an option, you can also spray some Windex on the toothbrush and give them a quick scrub with that, rinsing them off in clean water afterward. This is a particularly good way of breaking up small spots of grease or glue.
  11. Wait until all cartridge parts are completely dry before reassembling them! Use this time to inspect and clean the cartridge PCB. I usually use cotton swabs to scrub the card edge fingers with contact cleaner and rubbing alcohol, and I also check the components on the board to see if there are any solder joints that need to be reflowed, or any broken RF shielding over the ROM.
  12. After the cartridge parts are dry, I recommend looking them over one last time before reassembly. Use a flashlight to closely inspect the edges of the front and end label landing zones; the new labels will not extend all the way to the edges, and any residue remaining there will be more difficult to remove after the new labels are applied. Also, use a can of compressed air to fire a few quick blasts of air into the interior corners and inside the screw posts, to dislodge any water that might have pooled inside these areas.
  13. Once you've reassembled the cartridge, test it in the console BEFORE applying the new label! For 2600 cartridges that have spring-loaded dust doors, I also recommend lightly knocking and shaking the cartridge around in your hands, and sliding it in and out of the cartridge slot a few times, to make sure that the spring inside doesn't pop loose.  Don't forget to reinsert the screw!
  14. If the cartridge is secure and working, you can now apply the new label. Make sure you have lots of light on it during this process so you can see if the label is going on crooked, while there is still time to fix it.

 

This is a much quicker process than you might think, especially if you do six to eight cartridges at once. I like to peel the labels and apply the Goo-Gone to a batch of cartridges before I leave for work in the morning; by the time I get home, the carts are ready for washing and drying.

 

If you do a batch of cartridges at once, and if you're happy with the way the shell halves originally fit together, I recommend numbering the top/bottom halves so they can be paired back up again after you have washed and dried them. I use a Sharpie to write a small number near the screw post on the inside surface of both halves; it doesn't wash off in the bath and isn't visible from the outside after the cartridge is reassembled. And if you don't like the way the shell originally fit togetherAtari sometimes assembled cartridges from tops and bottoms that didn't match very wellyou now have the opportunity to swap them around and find a better match before you reassemble them.

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Nice bit of info. I'd like to know how you make the labels too.

 

Most my games will stay as is. The dings and finger marks give them a bit of charm, especially those that actually were mine as a child, however Atari's qc was hit and miss, and I've got a few games where the labels are detaching, glue bleeding, or someone damaged then that I wouldn't mind restoring.

Edited by Video
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Most of my labels were purchased from pboland (see the links in my earlier post). I originally intended to make my own, but the number of different labels that I'd have to design and print would have made it an impossible job for me to do them all. He's also done a good job of designing picture labels for games that were originally released only with text labels, such as Miniature Golf and Star Ship.

However, I have designed and printed a few labels of my own. I print them with a color laser on Avery full-sheet labels, and then I cover them over with 2.6 mil packing tape before cutting them out (this particular tape is wide enough for 2600 and 5200 labels). I've never liked the uneven scissor-cut corners that one often sees on homemade labels, so I use this round corner cutter to finish them off. It usually takes a few tries for me to get it right, mainly because of streaks and inconsistencies in the printing, and even the corner cutter's smallest setting is a bit too wide to be an exact match for Atari's original labels, but it's close enough for me. It's all very time-consuming, however, which is why I'm grateful that pboland has done the work of figuring out the process.

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i'm bookmarking this as i want to do something similar for mine! @pboland is very helpful and communicative when it comes to the relabels. :)

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I have been making a ton of stickers for my wife lately ... I bought a xy cutting machine about this time last year for my stuff but its been getting the most use for her stuff lately (I mean I have a grand total of like 50 bucks invested in the machine tween it, a power supply and a couple blades, its just a really old version of a silhouette cameo)

 

but for label stock we were using the avery full sheet labels, but for not that much more we switched to Silhouette Printable White Sticker Paper

 

the advantages to it on inkjet at least is that it doesn't soak in as much so edges are noticeably sharper and colors pop a lot more with intensity. over all it looks more professional and less paper in a inkjet

 

2 cents

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...I've been systematically cleaning and relabeling my entire collection of 2600 cartridges. Many of them were badly in need of some maintenance, and it's very satisfying now to see them restored to like-new condition—better than new in some cases, particularly the ones that tend to suffer badly from age, such as the Activision cartridges. In case anyone else is interested in doing the same, I thought it might be helpful to document the process that I've worked out.

 

Have you ever tried using a hair dryer to gently warm the cart label? I've had pretty good success using that method. You would still need to clean some the of left over sticker residue with goo gone. It doesn't work on all carts, but I've had it work on many. Mainly I couldn't get the hair dryer method to work on the labels that are dried out and stuck like concrete. Those I just had to soak in goo gone.

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I've heard that a hair dryer works, but I'm afraid I don't have one handy. I knew that I'd need to use Goo-Gone on some of the labels, so I just started treating them all that way. I'd definitely use a hair dryer for labels that I wanted to remove and then reapply to a cartridge.

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Going a step further, what do you guys use to restore colored/non-black cartridge shells?

 

For example, yellowed or browned Coleco or Tigervision shells that are supposed to look more off-white. I'm thinking spray paint and spray lacquer would be the way to go (since retrobrite isn't permanent) but was wondering if you guys had specific products or colors that you use.

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Those Data Age replacement labels look nice, but I can't help wondering if it hurts the authenticity to replace them. Like Video said, the dings and tears are part of each cart's charm. Of course, it's completely understandable to replace if the label is missing.

 

Maybe I've been watching too much Antiques Roadshow lately (yea, go ahead and laugh), but I can see an appraiser looking at the carts 50 years from now: "As you can see, someone replaced the label on this Sssnake cart at some point in its history. I would put a value on this piece of $100 but if it still had the original label, it would sell for 5 to 600 dollars at auction. Thanks for bringing it in!"

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Maybe I've been watching too much Antiques Roadshow lately (yea, go ahead and laugh), but I can see an appraiser looking at the carts 50 years from now: "As you can see, someone replaced the label on this Sssnake cart at some point in its history. I would put a value on this piece of $100 but if it still had the original label, it would sell for 5 to 600 dollars at auction. Thanks for bringing it in!"

If memory serves me correctly, it has been a very long time since I saw that show, but an antique usually only has high value if it's in good condition. Any damage significantly reduces its value and seeing as someone is likely to only replace a label if it's badly damaged, I don't think replacing the label is really an issue when it comes to possible future value.

 

To replace or not is really up to the individual. Some think wear and tear on labels, boxes etc adds character, some prefer their games and packaging to be pristine. I fall towards the latter category. Each to their own.

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Obviously the nicer the better, but I'd rather have genuine rattiness than faux perfection.

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I'm blissfully ignorant of the comic book market, but as I understand it, comic books that have been "restored" with reproduction covers are priced by collectors exactly as if they had no covers at all, which would be only a fraction of their original value. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar were to be true of cartridges with replacement labels, no matter how good those replacements might be.

 

I was aware of that possibility when I started, but I didn't let it bother me for two reasons: one, none of my cartridges are especially valuable anyway, and two, I've never viewed them primarily as investments and I don't have any intention of reselling them. The cartridges that I've refurbished are my "daily drivers," loose copies of the games that I want to have available in a drawer to play, and occasionally to show off to students when I break them out for Computer Science Club meetings and such. For that purpose, having them all in consistently good cosmetic condition was more important than 100% authenticity.

 

(I actually do have some duplicates of certain games that I've left untouched, mostly NIB/CIB copies that I want to keep fully original.)

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My method of removing labels is carefully using a hot air workstation and at times a flatheaded screwdriver to remove the old labels. Don't add too much heat or you'll end up melting the cartridge.

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I have disassembled consoles to clean them thoroughly, but it would never have occurred to me to go to this much trouble to replace cartridge labels.

 

Happily, with one or two exceptions, none of my cartridges have labels in really poor condition.

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Happily, with one or two exceptions, none of my cartridges have labels in really poor condition.

 

 

I’d be shocked if you have a set of picture label Activision carts with no adhesive bleed through.

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I’d be shocked if you have a set of picture label Activision carts with no adhesive bleed through.

 

I'm sure that many of them could be improved by a replacement label -- my copy of Keystone Kapers has the label half ripped-off (it was that way when I bought it).

 

As my collection is stored rather than displayed, however, it just seems like a lot of time and effort to make things look better that nobody (other than me) will ever see.

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As my collection is stored rather than displayed, however, it just seems like a lot of time and effort to make things look better that nobody (other than me) will ever see.

 

Funny, I'm in the same situation as you (carts mostly stored, pretty much only myself and the kids going to be looking at them) but my reaction is the opposite. Carts with dirty, faded, ripped or missing labels just look WRONG to me, considering the system was known for it's colourful art, packaging and games. Dull and faded just don't seem to do justice to my fond memories of the console.

 

In the Art of Atari book, it is emphasized how important the artists' renderings were to both the marketing and the overall experience of playing a VCS game; they set the stage for the action in your imagination for what was otherwise a rather primitive depiction on your TV screen. This idea of supplemental aesthetics playing an important role in the gameplay experience is extended to all aspects of the system for me: the look and feel of the original console and controllers, and of course the physical carts themselves. If you replace (or degrade) some of these things, it just doesn't feel the same anymore.

 

More so than any other system, the overall presentation somehow does affect my satisfaction of owning and using a 2600.

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Have you ever tried using a hair dryer to gently warm the cart label? I've had pretty good success using that method. You would still need to clean some the of left over sticker residue with goo gone. It doesn't work on all carts, but I've had it work on many. Mainly I couldn't get the hair dryer method to work on the labels that are dried out and stuck like concrete. Those I just had to soak in goo gone.

 

 

My method of removing labels is carefully using a hot air workstation and at times a flatheaded screwdriver to remove the old labels. Don't add too much heat or you'll end up melting the cartridge.

 

120° Celsius it totally ok. Removed the stickers on a joust cart that had broken prongs that open the dust cover (typical "tested and working ebay junk, even had a spiders web in the contacts) with my cheap 858 rework station set to this temp (as suggested by Wolfgang Robel for removing the vectrex controller stickers) and it worked great. All glue is still on the stickers, and the plastic wasn't harmed at all.

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Obviously the nicer the better, but I'd rather have genuine rattiness than faux perfection.

You're looking at it all wrong. Atari cartridges shouldn't be viewed in the same way as a piece of furniture but more like an old car. I'd rather have a restored vehicle than one in ratty condition and quite rightly, the restored car has a higher value than the ratty one. Just as with the cartridge labels, those leather seats may not be original but as long as they look like the originals and look and smell like new, so much the better.

Edited by insertclevernamehere
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The problem is we're treating carts like comics. Very few of these have any real value. The only issue I see for these repro stickers are that they are not 100% replicas...and personally I would like to see them slightly less shiny. Actiplaque affects all Activision carts so its easy to see what is refurbished...but again, these aren't comics. The decision to do or not do is completely up to the collector. If the price is right, I will try this. I think the biggest PITA will be to properly align the new sticker, its never as easy as you think.

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...The only issue I see for these repro stickers are that they are not 100% replicas...and personally I would like to see them slightly less shiny.

 

That is very difficult to do. The truth is most games actually have many different labels back in the day. That's mainly do to the time in which a label was manufactured for a given title (which in many cases was several different times). I've seen at least three different (meaning text alignment, slight font differences, placement of the main image, color variances) on Pitfall alone. All of which were considered the same label.

 

The biggest issue with making 100% true replicas will be the "offset printing" method. That is the way it was done back in the day and in order to make that cost effective you would need to have tens of thousands printed of just one title. It's that printing method that also gives the game it's shine/texture.

 

Making small runs of reproduction labels will never be 100% replicas, but some come darn close (I'd like to think mine do). As to them being too shiny, that has to do with the laminating process which is necessary if you want the label to last any significant amount of time and if it is going to be handled more than a couple of times. What I mean by that is, you could just color laser print the labels and not laminate them. The result would be a much closer look to the original shine/texture, but the truth is non-laminated labels flake and rub off and are very susceptible to moisture and oil from your fingers over a short amount time.

 

I think the biggest PITA will be to properly align the new sticker, its never as easy as you think.

 

Not as bad as you think. Here's a video that show just how to do this:

 

 

 

 

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I've had a few people in the last week or so ask me about cleaning a cart for a new label. I wanted to refer them to this topic, but I couldn't find it. Well, I found it so I thought I would bump it because is has some good info in it.

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18 minutes ago, pboland said:

I've had a few people in the last week or so ask me about cleaning a cart for a new label. I wanted to refer them to this topic, but I couldn't find it. Well, I found it so I thought I would bump it because is has some good info in it.

Thanks for bumping it, and thanks once again for the great work you've done with your replacement labels!  I'm been enjoying mine ever since I finished re-labeling (most of) my collection, and I'm still very pleased at how nice they look!

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I have a few cartridges that have broken cases (shells) and I want to save them. Can I purchase new shells for them somewhere?

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