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Tips on Aquarium Backgrounds & Forum

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Brief Description

This page describes aquarium backgrounds - options that fish keepers are given along with advantages and disadvantages. If you came here searching for online suppliers of aquarium backgrounds, simply follow this link. You should also visit the following 2 pages: Aquarium Backgrounds Guide and DIY Aquarium Backgrounds. We'd love to hear what background you use in your fish tanks, so before leaving this page share your story - use a form at the bottom of this page, please!


What can you do with the back of an aquarium? There are many answers to this question, form cheap to expensive, from plain to very decorative. Let’s look at the options. Firstly, we should start with the cheapest, and very often the best. If the aquarium is against a wall, and most are, you have several options :

  • Leave it as it is, with the wall showing through the tank;
  • Paint the back of the tank
  • Stick on one of the many patterned backgrounds that are available in your local fish stores;
  • Build a decorative background inside the tank;
  • Buy a decorative background from your LFS.

Let’s take them one at a time, outlining the pro’s and con’s:

Leave it as it is. Very plain, but if you are aiming for a planted tank, this could be a good option. A curtain of plants at the back of the tank would leave little background showing, so it wouldn’t matter that much. But at best it is simple and cheap!

Paint the back of the tank. One of my own preferred options, as it’s not expensive, very easy to do, and looks good. You can use any proprietary gloss paint for the job, and the best effects are achieved using a roller rather than a brush. The colour is of personal choice, but a dark background causes less stress to the fish. My preference is for a mid-tone blue, which blends well to the overall effect when the tank is finished. There are a couple of points to note here though. You should never paint the tank when it’s filled with fish, because the fumes given off by gloss paint may affect the water, and any drips or splashes of water will cause problems with the finish. So if you want to paint the back, best to do it before filling the tank!

Stick on a patterned background. One word covers this: Yuck! When I first went into keeping fish, I went down this road, and very quickly regretted it. The problem with this type of background is getting it to stick to the glass properly. There are several hints here, although I never have found one that works permanently. You can use water to wet the glass before applying the background. This effectively sticks the sheet to the glass for a few weeks, but it soon starts to lift away, giving dark areas where it doesn’t touch the glass. You can use baby oil to wet the glass first, and this does last longer, but you get the same end result in my experience. Either method requires the removal of all the air between the glass and the sheet, so you will need to use something like a paint shaper when applying the background to push all the air bubbles out. To date, I haven’t found an effective long-term method for fixing this type of background to the tank, but it looks good when it’s done properly, (and often).

Build a background inside the tank. A great idea, if you have DIY/craft skills and the time to devote to the manufacture of it, but with drawbacks. Firstly, any fish tank is limited on space, and anything placed inside is removing swimming area and water capacity. Secondly, you need to use the right materials to ensure that you don’t put anything into the water that will harm the fish. that said, here are a couple of ideas that my friends have used to great effect.

Make the background out of cork tiles, layered to give a pleasing effect. Cork will withstand long periods of submersion and doesn’t leach any chemicals into the water. If done right, it can produce a very effective backdrop, as well as a place for plants to root. It can also be used to hide away the heater and filter if you wish, but be sure that you leave enough room for water to circulate around them.

Another material that is used commonly for this is polystyrene. You can cut the polystyrene into shapes and either build up a background or just stick the shapes onto the glass. They can be painted to look like rocks etc, and will last for years. There is also another variant to this method, by using the polystyrene as a mould and covering it with fibreglass or cement, letting it dry and then removing the polystyrene, leaving you with a solid ornamental background that can be attached to the back of the tank. It may take a few days to create, but when done well, it is one of the most effective backgrounds I have come across. Just be sure that it is well secured and that fish can’t get trapped behind the moulding.

The final option is basically similar to above, but ready made. You can buy mouldings for your tank from the local store, already shaped and decorated. These come in standard sizes and can be joined together to fit the larger tanks, but do cost a lot of money, and are limited with their choices. Great for the instant effect, but very annoying when the friends down the road have exactly the same in their tank!

Whatever you decide to do with your aquarium, just remember that the most important part of the tank are the fish that will live in there. The object of the background is to show off or enhance what is in the fore-ground, and that’s your beloved fish! Aqua-scaping is rapidly becoming an art in its own right and it relies on the correct balance of ornamentation, plants, substrate and of course, fish, to give the stunning effects that you can achieve. If you are looking down this road, I wish you success and enjoyment all the way, because nothing is more satisfying than a stunning display that you have created!


Backgrounds from paper

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Suppliers of aquarium backgrounds

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