Robot Aesthetic Appeal

Hi all,

I was wondering if anyone had tips on making the robot look nicer? Last year as rookies our robot wasn’t that nice looking (nor horribly ugly), but I was hoping that it could be made to look similar to the “pro” veteran teams out there. It seemed a bit too plain, so I hoped we could improve our imagery. As of last year’s decor there were only some clear lexan sheets zip tied onto the frame with our sponsor stickers.

Some thoughts:

  • Powder coated/painted robots tend to look a little nicer. Usually done in two colors, with nice stainless steel fasteners holding it all together. If you don’t have access to a powder coat supplier, spray paint can work, although it’s typically less durable!
  • Work with a local copy center to produce your sponsor stickers. Having a single large sheet that lays out the stickers tends to look nicer than an assortment of small stickers.
  • Clean up all of your edges. When working on the robot, it’s common to have a rough edge from cutting something. Getting a clean, perfectly straight cut or bend on your material typically looks better.
  • Make nice bumpers. Good fabric, nice numbers either screen printed or sewed on, and tight construction so you don’t have loose fabric or saggy bumpers. If you’re going to use bumper covers, make sure they tie up securely and don’t sag, and look nice. Since everyone has them and they’re a great place to get the team number from, bumpers tend to be one of the most noticeable parts of the robot!
  • If you have access to the appropriate machines, you can do some really cool stuff with your covering panels. At Champs last year, 548 had a side panel with their team name, team number, and team logo cut out of it (some sort of CNC machine, probably), with LED’s behind it, making it all glow. Very nice and clean!
  • Focus some on your electrical wiring. Many teams end up with a “rats nest” of wires under the hood - all those power and PWM wires pop up and aren’t pretty to look at, or easy to find problems with! Get all of that cleaned up with neat, straight wire runs that are secured to the board or the robot. Consider using wire channel, wire mesh, or zip ties to help hold everything together and make it look neat. For your electrical board, you can get a great look by running the wires through the board and underneath, having them all hidden from view! All of this applies to pneumatics too, although teams tend to keep that a little neater.

Typically, high tier teams will power coat their robot. This colors the metal on the robot so it looks a lot cooler (see 1114, 254, etc.). However, these teams typically have a sponsor willing to do it for them, as doing it at home is VERY dangerous. This also required parts to be done long enough in advance to get them powder coated.

148, The RoboWranglers, in addition to powder coating, have red lights in their robot. This provides a cool effect, but not in really bright settings. Lights can be a great way of adding effect. In 2011, teams 111, 1501, 217, and my own team, 1126, used lights on their robots. 111, 1501 and 1126 used an LED strip on part of their robot, both flashing and with a solid color. I’m not sure what exactly 217 had, but their arm had a lightning bolt cut into it, with green light underneath. Seeing that up close, it was SICK!!

Side panels on a robot can add a lot of aesthetic appeal. On 1126, we have blue polycarbonate (I believe) side panels, on which we imprint our team numbers, sponsor logos, and other cool stickers (we had a Darth Vader sticker that read “Who’s your daddy?” :smiley: ). In addition, we have these panels hinge on the base of our robot, thumb screw it into the frame, and we attach our electronics to the panel. Then, we just unscrew it, and we have a convenient access point for electronic checks.

I hope this helps!
Feel free to ask if you need any help


Some really easy things you can do: Spray paint small parts (gussets, wheel hubs, etc) a highlight color like this. Spraypaint doesn’t look as nice as powdercoating, but it will hold up decently well if it’s not in a super hostile environment (read: getting hit all the time). It also takes a lot less time, and doesn’t require you to find a powdercoating sponsor or pay for it.

As mentioned above painted lexan panels, like this and this also tend to look nice, and save you from having to wait to assemble the robot while it’s being painted or powdercoated.

Or just a clean robot with some nice vinyldecals* can look pretty good.

As the other posters mentioned, powdercoating looks really good, as does anodizing aluminum parts, but it can be time consuming, and often requires pre-planning to make sure you can get it done in time before you assemble the robot. The biggest thing you can do is make your robot look clean. Tie down and rout your wires well. Make sure stuff is filed and looks well made. Add a little color and you’ll be looking sharp!

*Disclaimer. I think those are vinyl decals on 67’s 2009 robot, but they could just be painted on. The effect is the same though.

Well, a simple, effective way of making your robot look pretty is general neatness. Making sure that wiring is organized and as simple as possible, and that parts on the robot are uniform and have uniform holes and clean edges goes a really long way. Strategic placement of Lexan is also a fairly low-maintenance way to add something. Our robot from last season is an example of this. (See attached) Beyond sponsor logos, very little was added to the Lexan, with the exception with a couple of decals that said, “FIRST Team 2337” and “EngiNERDs” on the end of the gripper. The reason for such a lack of flourish was the sacrifice of visuals in favor of performance.

To achieve the sort of aesthetic appeal as many of the veteran teams requires a good number of things. First, the robot design need be complete fairly early in the build season. As a team whose robots are rarely completed until the last minute, we simply don’t have time to go back after the fact and add visual flair. Second, for more involved processes, such as powder-coating or anodizing, design concessions must be made. This is especially true for powder-coating, which adds weight to parts, and even adds thickness that, if unaccounted for, can cause lots of problems with assembly in low tolerance areas. And then once parts are painted or powder-coated, adding holes detracts from the effect SIGNIFICANTLY. Plain aluminum often looks much better than chipped or scratched paint or powder-coat.

A nice middle ground, I think, is to get creative with Lexan. Smoked or otherwise tinted Lexan can be used not only for protection, but also for visual effect. And, in fact, a lot of teams use it to great use. But teams like 33, The Killer Bees, are notorious for excellent use of Lexan on their robots. Last year’s was no exception. (See attached)

Remember, though, that looking nice is great, but the ability to both look nice and perform well is something that may or may not exceed your means as a team. In Karthik’s very well respected strategy conferences at the Championship, recognizing limitations is a huge theme. A team that tries to exceed what its resources is capable of will often lead itself to heartbreak. While that lesson is usually applied to over-complex robots, it can also be applied here. Before committing to serious robot beautification, it may be good for a team to ask itself at what cost, if any, will lots of such modifications come. There are plenty of ways to make a robot look good, and they come at varying levels of difficulty. Our team usually takes a very spartan attitude when it comes to the visuals on the robot because we realize that going crazy with visual modifications is not really feasible for the resources we have. Teams like 148, 254, 1114, and 217 have resources via sponsors to add a significant amount to their robots visually, while other teams do not.

In short, processes like powdercoating, anodizing, painting, clever use of lexan, and pure cleanliness in design are all excellent ways of modifying a robot to look good, but come at varying costs, and should be seriously evaluated before committing to any.

We are fortunate to have access to a waterjet and cut the logo, number and high school name into the “fins”. Found here!/photo.php?fbid=201876526517493&set=a.201873486517797.46040.116480071723806&type=3&theater Oddly enough every time we added more LEDs to our robot, we did better, it ended up being a running jokes that more lights would have sent us to Einstien. Also if you think that looks cool… just wait till this year :slight_smile:

Focus on making sure the bot works first. All those fancier CNC, jet, powder coating methods are all flash and pomp for making a show floor robot. You can make something that can take the arena and look pretty slick without big bucks.

Extruded Aluminum is a good route to go. Heavy albeit but given that you want a frame that can take a hit in a pinch, it’s worth it. Those 17 lb tube frames are cool and all but extruded you can weld when you’ve got it where you want it and it’s nigh near indestructible.

A shortcut you can take is find a local decal guy, sign maker or like person. They have some machines that can spit out some spiffy things and he can show off his craft and be sponsor.

Clean wiring is always a plus and if you can make it so that you can swap things out fast, that goes over well and often can look pretty cool. Zip ties in your colors go over good.

A low cost, even free, way to get a logo on the bot is consult with your art department. Find someone who wouldn’t mind putting your logo on the robot. Paint it on the inside of a piece of lexan and slip a LED or something behind it, and you’ve got something sweet. And if the artist wants to do a spin on the logo, let em go with it. The results can often be quite impressive.

The simplest things can make your robot look great! While it is a little late for powdercoating or special cnc parts, they aren’t the only things that make a robot appealing.

One of my biggest peeves is sponsor stickers. They are the easiest thing to make a robot look unprofessional when they aren’t done properly. When cutting out homemade stickers, cut all the white from the edges unless the logo calls for it. I’ve seen so many robots that take the nasa logo and turn it into a house.

Don’t write your sponsors on. Teams that have tape with their number or sponsors just look unprofessional and like an after thought. With some label paper and some basic skills on the computer you can make some really nice homemade sponsors stickers. *

Keep wiring and other items neat and clean. Just like written stickers it looks unprofessional and it is harder to work on. If your team has a few minutes before ship or before you leave the pit on Thursday taking 10-30 minutes to clean up your wiring can have a huge impression.

Lexan/polycarb side panels make for great aesthetic robots when you follow the above rules. 2337’s robot that was posted above is a great example of this. Painting or making an entire side of your robot a color/covering can look a little overkill/ugly when not done right.

Under glow/cathodes/LEDs are cool too but remember to make your robot working before aesthetics. Nothing is worse than having a cool powdercoated robot with under glow and a matching cart that doesn’t do a thing on the field.

Good luck!

*Microsoft recently came out with Microsoft Publisher which is great tool for making presentations, signs, stickers, etc.

Designing the robot before building it goes a long way to making it look good.

As mentioned, good craftsmanship and finishing the surfaces with some type of coating, are the next most important things to do.

It’s tough for a rookie team to manage to make a good looking robot, so don’t get discouraged if yours doesn’t look as good as you’d like. Function should be top priority, and as the years go by you’ll get better at integrating aesthetics into your designs.

Both of the HOT robots shown in the links had vinyl decals applied. On the 2010 robot, the black was applied behind our normal decals and directly on the frame to give the robot a cooler look. Since blacked out robots look the best!

Our shop has a vinyl printer/cutter that we use to make the decals. We design them in AutoCAD to make sure they look right.

The best looking robots are typically powder coated…such as 1114, 254, 148, 1538, etc…

Ok first things first, choose a color combo. I dont suggest red or blue seeing as those are common in FRC, or combos from well known teams (ex. you choose tye dye, people may run up to you thinking your Wild Stang) I think that you should check out color scheme designer A mascot, logo or motif will also help you define your team.

Now you should take a picture of the robot, all bare steel and put it in to Photoshop or another photo editor and begin to experiment with your colors. When you choose your paint job practice on scrap before you begin on your robot (practice twice paint once) If you have an artistically inclined person on your team you can manage masking, airbrushing and details.

Look in to poly carb shielding, it can protect your robot’s innards and can be printed by sign shops.

Also, LED’s. they use virtually no power and are +20 swag to your robot.

Most of the big points have already been hit, so I don’t have too much to add.

Well, a simple, effective way of making your robot look pretty is general neatness. Making sure that wiring is organized and as simple as possible, and that parts on the robot are uniform and have uniform holes and clean edges goes a really long way.

This. General neatness also helps with more than just looks. It it easier to replace a wire that’s neatly bundled than one that’s randomly tossed in there.

Also, LED’s. they use virtually no power and are +20 swag to your robot.

I’d be careful with LEDs. I’ve seen them used to really make a robot attractive, but I’ve also seen them used like someone on the team had an extra string of Christmas lights just laying around and thought it’d be a good idea to add them to a bot that already had a nice design. That kind of detracted from the bot.

Some suggestions to consider:

  • You’d need a short bot with a flat top, but something like a cloth banner can turn out nicely.

  • Being a little artistic and painting a side of the robot adds character.

  • You could also go all out and embrace a theme. Really makes for a memorable robot.

To me, the best looking robot is the one that performs the game task(s) to the best of a teams ability. I don’t think you need underglow or powdercoating to look or perform great.

When our robot is made of aluminum, we like to anodizes our parts. It doesn’t chip and last forever. Plus its from a sponsor.



Or, as the architect Buckminster Fuller said,

When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.