Nice Looking Bumpers?

One of the biggest things I notice about teams that have a really nice looking bot, is that their bumpers either make or break the look. A robot will look 100x better IMO if they have clean bumpers with nice and smooth corners/fabric. With that being said, how do teams go about making their bumpers look so darn good? The specific style I’m referring to are bumpers with the seamless rounded corners (see 148, 254 etc). Has anyone made/found a decent tutorial for making these? I’ve got a general idea for how to make the frame and attach the noodles, but then when it comes to fabric/sewing, I’m at a bit of a loss.

I’ll also note that while I’ve been in First for a number of years now, I’ve never actually been involved with making my team’s bumpers. They normally just magically appear in week 5-6 :sweat_smile:.

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Custom bumper numbers are a nice thing to have to make your bumpers look flashy

This guide would be a great thing to look into.


Something a decent amount of people don’t recognize is how the inside face of the bumpers come into play for aesthetics. A nicely made set of bumpers with wood showing through around the frame perimeter sticks out painfully. There are a number of ways to hide it: metal brackets (also function to lower CoM), wrapping the fabric all the way around, or simply painting to match the fabric color. Those last two might look weird with reversable bumpers, but that problem is easily avoided by not having reversable bumpers.

This picture shows painted bumper backing, vs unaltered.

Not to rag on 294’s bumpers, just using them as an example where the wood color detracts from a nicely colored machine and otherwise nice looking bumpers.


We are hoping to get a White Paper up within the next 6 months or so about the reversable bumpers we make. Stay tuned!


And covers

We get the clean corner look by sewing the corner gussets top and bottom. This year, we did full reversible bumpers that are also sewn vertically in the middle of the bumper. This is necessary to get a clean look if your bumpers have corners, where the more common horizontal reversible system doesn’t work as well. Here’s a quick video from team 3476 that shows how they work. Admittedly, this is not as easy to do without someone who has good sewing skills, since the center seams can be a bit tricky, but it really does let you change bumper colors quickly and not have to carry around extra bumpers or covers. Our board is seldom visible above the frame, but we still paint the back (usually black) and wrap the fabric around it so that there’s no visible raw wood.

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225 I have noticed has very nice bumpers. I believe sometimes they embroid them. They are made out of ballistic nylon, too. Our team always does velcro reversible bumpers.


I’m very excited to see this, hopefully it will come out before the 2020 season!

I saw a team this year that had the entire inside surface of their bumpers covered with a thin aluminum sheet metal part, with all of the mounting hardware attached to bent tabs off the top. It was beautiful.

(I think it was 4414, but I’m not 100% sure).

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If you are going to bend the noodles around the corner for the nice rounded look, solid core noodles will really hold their shape better.

Another thing that isn’t mentioned often but your can consider is using high quality plywood. We used Baltic birth plywood this year. It is noticeably higher quality and feels a bit stiffer than the normal plywood from home depot.

It will take some maintenance to keep bumpers looking really good throughout a 50+ match season. We tightened the fabric on our bumpers every couple of events and even replaced the noodles before champs because they had pretty much disintegrated in the corners. However, we were using the same 2 sets of bumpers for competition and all of our practicing between events.


Ballistic nylon is great–It can last hundreds of matches without maintenance, is slipperier than cordura, and provides a cool look. Credit goes to a post here on Chief from 971 in 2014 to help us find this stuff. We’ve used it since 2016.

Embroidery is great. You never have to fix a number.

Solid-core noodles also help with not having to re-tighten the fabric (noodles last longer, we’ve gone 150+ matches). We probably wouldn’t use them again though in games where you want to squish the noodles like 2017.

I’m an advocate for 2 sets these days, but some teams can make the reversible kind and covers work.

We make decent looking bumpers, and the biggest “one neat trick” that I know is to clamp the bumpers tightly to a table, canvas side down and compressing the noodles slightly, before stapling the fabric to the plywood. This way when you unclamp the bumpers, the noodles will expand back up to size, keeping good tension on the fabric.

The next most important small detail is how you handle bumper corners. We like to put a small vertical noodle piece in the corners, but some teams prefer to bend the noodle around the corners. Both options produce good results, but we find it easier to fold the fabric corners with the vertical noodle method.


If you are going to bend the noodles around the corner for the nice rounded look, solid core noodles will really hold their shape better.

This. My first year making bumpers, I had spent a lot of time making them look good (doing the wrapped around the corner method) but by the end of our first regional, the sharp corner had cut through the pool noodle to the point where we had to remake them to pass inspection at our second regional. Not a fun experience, especially for me - but that inspector ended up joining us as a mentor, so it’s not all bad.

Also a +1 to using higher quality plywood for me.

Oh, almost forgot. We’ve had great success with just spray painting our numbers on with duct tape stencils since ~2010ish. The edges aren’t always completely perfect, but you have a window to scrape any messy edges, and nobody can really tell from 10’ away. No risk of catching, and around the same time as iron-on.


Oh, almost forgot. We’ve had great success with just finger painting our numbers on with our fingers. The edges are never perfect, but you don’t have a window to scrape any messy edges, and everybody can tell from 10’ away. No risk of catching, and around the same time as iron-on.

10/10 would not recommend


Sounds … great?

Or not.

We used to use commercially bought iron on bumper numbers that were absolutely horrible to put on. This season (2018-2019) we started using a vinyl cutter to cut custom bumper numbers that are much more fun to put on and everything. Course, apparently our 0’s look like 4’s somehow.

We spent all of 2017 being called “2702” by announcers. If anyone on 2702 wants a set of bumpers for a 30.5" robot, give us a shout.


111 did that this year too. Very nice approach if you don’t do reversible bumpers.