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DIY Aquarium Backgrounds

When setting up your new aquarium one of the most popular items to purchase is a nice tank background to set off the look of the tank. But why do we feel the need to add a background to our tanks?

Personally speaking I have a few reasons for always adding a nice background. I find all of the wiring and piping from filters, heaters and such like look very unsightly hanging down from the back of the tank. A background will hide all of these instantly and give your tank a nice, neat finish. I have known from the past that sometimes certain fish will be spooked by seeing their reflection in the glass and it can cause them to go into hiding or even stop eating. A nice background is very pleasing to the eye for me and any visitors that may wish to view the tank.

When I am setting up a specific biotope the right background ensures that the tank looks as it should depending on which fish I am keeping, a typical example of this is for a Malawi tank where a rocky background falls right into place.

Purchasing a background for your tank can sometimes prove to be quite a costly affair, especially when adding a structured background. The easy way around this is to make your own, this task can be done by any fish keeper with a little effort and the finished item looks just as good as any bought background.

One of the most common ways of adding a background is to go out and purchase it from a pre designed roll. There are several designs available but these are not always to everyone’s taste. Rather than spend money I have on several occasions simply painted the back glass of the tank with a color that I choose to use, this method looks just as good as any roll design available.

Slate can also be used to great effect on the back glass; this gives a darker background which really makes the colors of the fish stand out. The easy way to make this is to cut your slate to size using two pieces so that you can insert it into the tank without having to juggle around the bracing bars. Lay the tank onto its back placing a Styrofoam sheet underneath to protect it, and then all you have to do is stick it into place with aquarium silicon. Leave this for 48 hours so that the silicon will cure properly before moving the tank to its intended position. If you have a lot of patience you can even use rocks that are light, a good example is tuffa rock, to create a really good rock face background with this method. If using tuffa rock then seal the background with clear pond paint or a similar product as it will slowly dissolve if in direct contact with the tank water.

For the artistic of us there is a way of making your own sculptured background for a fraction of the price of a purchased one. Basically this design is made from sheets of Styrofoam carved to form the rock shapes, this gives you the artistic license to create whatever rock face you wish. I have found this backing to be very effective in a Malawi set up and with a little imagination the same method can be used to create a mangrove root backing for an Amazonian set up. First thing I did was to measure the foam sheets to give me three sections which would fill out the back of the aquarium, using 3 separate pieces makes life a lot easier when placing the back ground into the tank. On top of my three base sheets irregular smaller pieces of Styrofoam were glued into position with aquarium silicon to give a rough rock face. It is a good idea to place the smaller pieces loose onto the base sheets initially until you are happy with the design.

Once the smaller pieces are fixed into position, leave them for at least 12 hours to allow the silicon to cure. At this stage it is necessary to cut grooves into the background to allow for the installation of heaters and a hole will need to be cut for the inlet and outlet pipes of the filter. Doing this now saves a lot of time at a later stage plus if mistakes are made they can easily be covered over. The Styrofoam will still not look very realistic at this time, but this is where the clever bit comes in. To mould the foam into a smoother surface that will actually look like rocks, heat will need to be applied to lightly melt the foam into a smoother surface. In my case I used a miniature blow torch that I had saved from my modeling days, a larger blow torch can be used but take care not to apply too much heat.

Now you have a gleaming white rock faces, not very natural looking but getting there. Using a non toxic stone colored paint; highlight the rocks trying to use a darker shade for the indentations to give a better effect. If you don’t want to use paint then sand can be used for the top coat, this is held in place by spreading silicon all over the surface and then laying the background onto a tray full of the chosen media.

The whole background, front and back, needs to be water proofed. I found the easiest way to do this was to use some left over clear pond paint that I had but I do know of several people that use epoxy resin for the final finish.

The finished background can then be siliconed into place in the tank, allow the whole project several days to dry out completely before adding any water into the aquarium and there you have a quality background which will look just as good as any for sale, a lot of money saved as well.

The background will look even more stunning when the tank has been running for a while and there is a slight growth of green algae on it, well worth the effort!

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