Demands from the fields of bio-medical engineering and biologically-inspired robotics motivate a growing interest in actuators with properties similar to biological muscle, including ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMC), the focus of this study. IPMC actuators consist of an ion-conductive polymer membrane, coated with thin metal electrodes on both sides and bend when voltage is applied. Some of the advantages of IPMC actuators are their softness, lack of moving parts, easy miniaturization, light weight and low actuation voltage. When used in bio-mimetic robotic applications, such as a snake-like swimming robot, locomotion speed can be improved by increasing the bending amplitude. However, it cannot be improved much by increasing the driving voltage, because of water electrolysis. To enhance the bending response of IPMCs we created a "preferred" bending direction by anisotropic surface modification. Introduction of anisotropic roughness with grooves across the length of the actuator improved the bending response by a factor of 2.1. Artificially introduced cracks on the electrodes in direction, in which natural cracks form by bending, improved bending response by a factor of 1.6. Anisotropic surface modification is an effective method to enhance the bending response of IPMC actuators and does not compromise their rigidity under loads perpendicular to the bending plane.© (2006) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.