Aquarium Background Ideas – Vinyl or Paint?

This is a picture of rolls of aquarium backgrounds and paint samples

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The inspiration for this article came to me a couple days ago when I was looking at all the stuff we have accumulated for our tanks. We have shelves full of bins with old filters, lights, airline tubing, etc., etc. To be honest, some of this stuff was not cheap. I noticed a couple of rolls of window film that I purchased from The Home Depot and Amazon and saw a $50 bill laying there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to spend money on equipment if it’s useful and/or is a compliment to our setups. What’s frustrating is the money that I have spent on gadgets and decor that did not work. Or was not what I expected.

This is not an article that will teach you how to paint the back of your aquarium, but will point you in the right direction on making a logical choice for your aquarium background material. Continue reading to see what we found to be the most practical option.

Choosing Vinyl Pictures For An Aquarium Background

The choices of backgrounds in the shops around here are all the same – black, blue, bubbles, pictures of plants, Finding Nemo, blah,  blah, blah. After some thought and a little data mining, I discovered decorative window films.

I found a window film manufacturer on the East Coast of the United States called Decorative Films that has an extensive selection of colors. What I liked about this company is they will send up to 5 free samples, and each additional sample requested is 45 cents. You do have to pay shipping, but if you are super selective about what you use for an aquarium background, this will not matter.

We ordered 5 samples and paid around $5.00 to have them shipped. When the samples arrived, they were 5″ by 7″ pieces. I was able to tape them to the back of the glass on my tank and look at them at all times of the day, with and without lighting.

The material is high quality, but far from cheap. I think the material was $20.42  a running foot, but the roll widths are 48 inches. The aquarium that I was shopping for was our Mr. Aqua 12 Long, which is 10 x 36 inches (you can read about that project here). I would have only had to purchase one running foot, but at approximately $30 with tax and shipping, I wanted to exhaust all of my options.

What Not To Do When Choosing Vinyl

Do not make the mistake I made by ordering window film online without having a physical sample. I was surfing Amazon  for aquarium background ideas when I discovered an extensive list of Window Film. I thought I hit the jackpot when I discovered there were 87 pages of choices! Little did I know that the manufacturer description and sample color in the image was not quite the color that I thought it to be.

The color that we had in mind was a replication of an overcast day in the woods. The theme of our layout had to have this specific color to match what we had envisioned.

I knew it was too good to be true. $30.00 later I had a roll of film that I might use on my sliding glass door.

This is a picture of the window film that we ordered from Amazon to use for the background on our aquarium

While walking through The Home Depot one day I thought I’d take a look around for aquarium background ideas in the window film isle. The choices were pretty slim. I found a roll that was a frosted white color for about $15.00, so I grabbed it and took it home. I’m not unhappy with the choice, but we have a lot of it left. Maybe I’ll find another use for it. Or I’ll donate it. Or I’ll throw it away in 10 years.  I used it on our Mr. Aqua 8 gallon rimless, and it turned out pretty nice. You can check out that setup here to get an idea of how it looks.

This is a picture of a roll of window film that we bought from The Home Depot that we used for an aquarium background on our Mr. Aqua 8 gallon Low Iron Rimless aquarium

Painting The Back Of Your Aquarium

While binging on YouTube videos one evening, I was watching about the 50th video of someone scaping their aquarium. I watched as he cleaned the glass, and then painted the back of his aquarium black. My first thought was that it might really be difficult to change if you wanted a different color. But in reality, how often do we break down our layouts? Besides, having been in the construction industry for most of my life, I know that removing paint from glass is not too difficult.

This is a picture of the can of paint that we used to paint the back of our aquariumWith so many different types of paint out there, I had to do a little digging to find the correct type to use. I found this video from Bulk Reef Supply that recommended using Rust-Oleum. Another post that suggested to use interior semi-gloss. We used the latter.

There are several posts and videos that show how to paint the glass, from which roller you need to use to how many coats of paint to apply. The post that I used for inspiration was some off topic blog site. It’s been awhile, so I can’t recall which one it was. There is a post on My Aquarium Club that is pretty close to what I read.

We took a trip to The Home Depot and picked some samples to bring home and look at on the back of our tank. We picked a color, bought a quart of semi-gloss enamel (enough to paint the back of the tank 50 times), a 3″ sponge roller, and throw-away plastic pan.

The project was pretty simple. Overall, I think it took about 3 coats to completely block out any light that would show through the back of the aquarium.

This is a picture of us painting the back of our aquarium for our aquarium background This is a picture of our Mr. Aqua 12 Long aquarium with the back of the glass painted and ready to set up


The Bottom Line…

High quality window film is not cheap, but paint is. If you are looking for ease of installation and removal, then purchasing window film from Decorative Films is the right choice.

Personally, we liked the paint option because of the proximity of The Home Depot and being able to instantly purchase the color of our choice. Also, the selection is endless with the ability to mix different colors.

As far as aquarium background ideas go, for about $20.00, we were able to get the color that would perfectly compliment the vision of our scape. If we could purchase a smaller quantity, we would have, but the smallest can of paint we could buy was one quart.

I hope that this article helped! If anyone has any other ideas or similar experiences, please comment below.

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