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3D Aquarium Background

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Picture of 3D Aquarium Background

This instructable will show you how to make a cool 3D background that goes inside your aquarium and looks like real rock but only weighs less then a couple of pounds.
 
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Step 1: What you need


You will need the following

Tools
Razor or Box knife
Foam cutter or maybe electric knife (both are optional)
Ruler or other sutible straight edge
Marker (sharpie)
Tape measure
Caulking gun
Hot glue gun (optional)
Cheap paint brushes, all sizes
Wire brushes
small buckets
Tarp (optional, to keep mess at a min)

Materials
1 inch pink foam board (the kind you buy at Home Depot or Lowes)
100% Silicone for caulking gun (GE silicone 1 is what some recommend) I used the Red Devil Architectural Grade.  As long as it does not contain any mold or mildew inhibitors and is 100% silicone it should be fine.  The less ingrediants the better IMHO. 
hot glue (optional)
Cement or cement overlay
Cement coloring (optional)
Small finishing nails

Note on pink foam: There are two types, one has a plastic cover on it (vapor barrier I think?) and the other does not.  I bought the one that did not have the plastic on it.  If you buy the one with the plastic on it, you will have to peel the plastic off.   Also if you have access or want to buy more foam, you can buy several thickness of the stuff to help create different thick and thin layers.  I just used one sheet of 1 inch stuff and glued it together to get the thickness I wanted.

Note on hot glue:  I have read where some people used hot glue to glue everything together instead of silicone.  It is faster and it shouldn't pose a threat to your fish.  I used a combination of both, hot glue on the smaller pieces and silicone on the larger pieces.  Its up to you.  Trying to get hot glue to come out in the quantity I needed on some of the large pieced didnt work.
bwsandman made it!11 days ago

I loved this idea so i went for it. My concrete did not turn out, it did not stick to the foam but here is the picture of it with the concrete. Not as good as yours/ NICE JOB.

Final Product.jpg
dafrimpster10 months ago
Latex Drylock works much better than concrete. It is durable and it won't raise your PH like the concrete will. You can tint it with concrete tint powder. It is widely used in the hobby and completely safe.
Rainh2o (author)  dafrimpster7 months ago
I never had a problem with ph. dont know why byt never saw any abnormal spikes with mine
jdtienke7 months ago
I am getting ready to make an insert for my tank this weekend. my question is.... how dirty does it get behind the insert? I know you used a lot of silicone but my design may not need that much. Do I need to worry about getting stuff growing behind the insert?
Rainh2o (author)  jdtienke7 months ago
mine ended witha Brown growth behind the insert, I suspect it's a diotom growth or something like that. I cant see mine unless I look behind the tank but since its up against the wall its no big deal and doesnt get much light back there so it sort of keeps it at bay I think
patrick0001 year ago
Thanks i did it. its nice
Klesa1 year ago
This is an amazing instructible. I simply love it. I am not this talented and I would like to try it some day.
fatmuemoo3 years ago
Hi, I know this post is somewhat dated but I have to questions for ya:
1) How hard is it to keep clean? I know you mention you scrub it occasionally but is that no big deal or does it become an all afternoon event?

2) Do you really have to glue it to the tank? Seems so permanent. Have you ever experimented with other options for keeping it in place?

I love this instructable and i'm thinking about doing it on my 75 gal turtle tank
hi i just read this and i have an idea, first off let me say that your instructable is frakking fantastic and i WILL be using it with a slightly different design to the rock so that i can make caves for my fish to hid in. however i was thinking that although using silicone is probably the best way to make sure your backround never moves and im guessing it would increase the value of your tank by quite alot. however, using styrofoam gives you options for depth, im sure suctuon cups could be added by carving space for them in the back of the foam. OR and im gonna experiment with this, USE MAGNETS. powerful enough magnets could be attached the to back of the foam using silicone and then with another magnet or flat piece of metal could bue used in the outside of the aquarium to secure in place... thats just the idea i had that would probably make it easier to take out/clean
Rainh2o (author)  fatmuemoo3 years ago
I dont really "Scrub" it, i sort of just brush it off occasionally with a stiff paint brush. It only takes about 5 mins of cleaning, like I stated I dont know if you would really have to do this but eventually I would think the algae would build up and look bad otherwise.

Im not sure how you would attach it to the wall any other way except with some sort of suction cup method. I thought about that when I started but with fish, I thought by suction cupping it to the back wall would create a pocket to where fish might get trapped back there. If your turtle was big enough I suppose maybe attaching suction cups to the back of the wall and sticking it to the tank would work.

Another method might be to cut it so it fits the entire height of the back of the tank tightly and then put some large rocks along the bottom, the lip of the tank should hold it down and the rocks at the bottom might hold it in...having it in a turtle tank this way might make it easier to clean because it could be removed. I may have to try this on our turtle tank....
if you glued the pieces together plumb on the back then made it concave like an eighth of an inch on the back and put the suction cups on that you would essentially get rid of the gap in theroy wouldnt you?
Yes, cement leaches out a lot of calcium and raises the pH drastically. Of course, some fish such as African Cichlids like a high pH, but anything over 8.5-9.0 would be too high even for them. Draining and filling is the only way to rid it. DON'T be tempted to use those pH reducers they sell in pet stores. It will only work a short while, then the cement will cause the pH will zoom back up killing everything in your tank. Just a heads up.
Rainh2o (author)  Pseudocrenilabrus3 years ago
OK..thanks...so far no PH spike...but I have changed the water a couple of times so who knows...the Ultra tex stuff I used is only made of portland and sand and nothing else so I dont know if that helps or not...
Portland is what you have to worry about-it's made from lime.
I've read adding vinegar to the change water helps buffer as well?
JD1012 years ago
Do you think you could use planters foam for this type of project?
david547 JD1012 years ago
Planters and florist foams would be OK only after full leaching. They contain salts from the manufacturing process. Talk to your local florist and read the instructions for use. I would do water sample tests on the leachate to be sure it is ready for an aquarium. After leaching you can let it dry before starting the manufacturing process.

A. Grower Wholesaler
splitzwit2 years ago
excellent work...think i will try something like this....if i can get all the resources together...i am living in ireland and priced one of the ready made 3d backgrounds and would of cost me €185...thats when i found yours...
HubertF2 years ago
what did you use for paint/dye to color the last coat of cement?
Rainh2o (author)  HubertF2 years ago
I used concrete tinting you can get along side the quickcrete type cement at the hardware store...a very little goes a LONG way
What glue would you recommend for gluing the pieces in?
And how heavy was the final product?

My only issue with this scale of a wall is that my tank is probably 1/3 of yours, if not smaller (a square 50 gallon, if I remember correctly). Would you say that the wall would still fit in well?
Rainh2o (author)  TinkerWorkshop2 years ago
I started out with silicone but ended up using hot glue for the most of it. You could scale it to what ever size you want or need. I have seen some online (youtube) that take up half the tank...it depends what look you are going for. it only weighed about 3 lbs or so total (total guesstimate)
awesome
juicepig213 years ago
I am VERY impressed man! I tried to do this with those white grates that cover fluorescent lights and triple-expanding foam.. It was horrible to work with and failed miserably. I really wish I had gone this direction with it. It would have been stronger and (if I was lucky) could have turned out as nice as this one. I would like to see a pic of the populated tank after a little algae growth and such. It must look great.
Rainh2o (author)  juicepig213 years ago
I just posted some pictures after running this for a long while. Have a coating of algae and stuff on it...I called it aged...LOL...sorry for the cell phone camera photos...hope it give everyone an idea...
I am in the process of making a similar project. I am making a basking spot for my bearded dragon(lizard) out of 1/4" plywood, then i am going to use your method of applying concrete to protect my lizard from the glue used in the plywood... Hopefully it comes out looking as nice as yours!
Rainh2o (author)  nickmccullough3 years ago
Post picts when your done, would like to see it!
ill do that hopefully, will probably be a week or two tho since i only work on the weekends
Rainh2o (author)  nickmccullough3 years ago
Mine took a couple of weeks as well, darn work has to get in the way of our hobbies....
yes exactly, except it is school for me
ihsanadipra3 years ago
beatutiful,
i hope can make like this
thanks
Looks top notch. Love to see a picture of it with fish and plants added.
makaay3 years ago
Hi bro,
one question in my mind. use cement for color that any side effect to fish.reply plzzzzzz.
Rainh2o (author)  makaay3 years ago
no side effects seen yet. I have a couple of bluegills in there borowed from the pond. Figured if they do good for s couple of weeks I'll put some topicals in.
Looks very professional and real! Very nice job. May I ask what kind of fish you will be putting in?
Rainh2o (author)  Tape-structable3 years ago
My son has a medium sized goldfish he has had for 3 years. I am going to move him into this tank and then get some community fish mates, not sure which ones. I originally wanted cichlids but they dont play well with goldfish. I also plan on planting lots of plants and making it a planted tank, if the goldfish cooperate and doesnt dig things up too bad. Since he will be the only one I hope he is occupied by other things.
Really nice background. I've seen similarly constructed backgrounds online before, but yours looks the best.

You can use expanding foam (Great Stuff Brand) in place of hot glue. It is fish safe. Pond builders use it to secure "stones" when making waterfalls in ponds.

With Goldfish you should consider other cool water fish.

I like the high finned Chinese banded sharks (bad name for a great fish IMO) with goldfish, they are very docile and add a different color / shape to the tank.
http://www.csupomona.edu/~jskoga/Aquariums/myxocyprinus/myxocyprinus.html

Another nice cool water fish that do well with goldfish are White Cloud Minnows-
http://www.aquahobby.com/gallery/e_tanictis.php

They are nice fish, visually similar to neon tetras when young and they school quite nicely as well.

Plants will be tuff with goldfish, unless you plant them in pots. Tera cotta work well as do the cheap plastic ones you get from the nursery. A quick coating of Krylon Fusion paint makes them more appealing, and small stones as a top dressing should help disuade the gold fish from digging too badly in the pots.

Plain clay kitty litter makes an excellent aquatic potting soil, BTW.

I would also recommend either Mystery snails or apple snails to help clean the tank. I know some fish keepers aren't fond of snails because they either reproduce in huge numbers or eat all your plants, but these don't eat plants and lay egg clutches above the water line where they can be removed if you don't want babies (they can also be sold on aquatic auction sites like AquaBid.com)

As an aside, perhaps an instructable or explanation of fishless tank cycling would be helpful. I am familiar with cycling an aquarium using straight ammonia and assume this is what you are referring to.

Good luck with your aquarium, it looks good so far.
Rainh2o (author)  underwhelmed3 years ago
Thanks for the info. I'm only going to put 1 gold fish in it. I am going to keep the 10 gal he is in now just in case he tears the plants and such out too much I'll throw him back in there. Those sharks are cool!
Well, with tropicals you would have a much broader palette of fish to choose from.

Very nice, well done. I wish I had your artistic abilities.
Rainh2o (author)  underwhelmed3 years ago
OK..I reread my last reply...Im not ONLY going to put just the golfish in it...I plan on having other fish as well...the stupid goldfish is only going in there because my wife agreed to the large tank if we got rid of the little tank...since the goldfish is the only thing in the little tank then hes going in the big tank and Im going to go with some tropicals, community type fish as well...I dunno what will happen yet. I may end up putting the goldfish back in the 10 gal tank and sticking it over in the corner of the room. This goldfish is actually getting on my nerves, its limiting my selection of fish!!...LOL...I started out wanting Cichlids but they will eat the goldfish and so will about 75% of all other fish I have seen and like...of course if something eats him, I wont have to worry would I?...LOL...he belongs to my 5 yr old so I cant get rid of him...anyhow believe me if I can do this so can you, I have about .0000001% artistic ability and its in my little finger I dont use...
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