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Customizing and Installing a 3D Background
by Chuck Greene (forest109)


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No matter what kind of natural rock you plan to use, its coloration is unlikely to match that of the background you select, as most come in only one or two fairly monochromatic color schemes. However, there is no need to limit yourself to those offered by the manufacturer, and with a little planning and effort you can come close to matching the coloration of your rock. I selected the closest available shade, and then repainted the background using acrylic paints. Acrylics are non-toxic, durable, and colorfast, and are readily available in a myriad of hues, including earth tones. They are available in 2-ounce bottles at most handicraft supply stores, and are inexpensive (in the range of $1.25 per bottle). Select an assortment that covers the range of colors in your natural rock. I used about 8 base colors, and then mixed these to try to get close to everything from the main tones to accent colors such as white and rose quartz.

World Wood Textile Rectangle Font

Liquid Photograph Drinkware Product Fluid


Pick a sunny location, set up a selection of your rock to compare with, and go at it. I used bits of sea sponge and an artist brush and to apply the paint, trying for a variegated look like the natural stone. Don't be afraid to experiment! The finished appearance may look slightly different once the background and natural rock are submerged, so you may want to test your colors first on a scrap piece of polyurethane (or background if you have to trim it) and then compare them underwater with your rock, preferably under aquarium lighting conditions. Take your time - this was the most fun part of the project! Paint the top and side edges of the background as well, as they will be visible from above and outside the tank.

Bedrock Wood Outcrop Geology Soil


There is one other item that will help give a more natural look to the installation. Take a few small representative pieces of the natural rock you plan to use and crush them into a coarse sand with a hammer, using a piece of scrap cloth to keep the material contained. About 1/4 cup will be plenty. I applied this in a number of places during the installation, as discussed below.

Although a 3D background can effectively conceal all of your equipment, it just as effectively isolates your filtration system, heater, etc. from the main body of the tank. This isn't as much of a problem with canister filters because the outlet can be discharged directly through the background. However, with external-type filters, such as the pair of Penguin Emperor 400's that I planned to use, this presents a problem. In this case, the solution is to use submersible or external pumps to generate circulation between the front and rear areas of the tank.

The number of outlets needed depends on the total pump discharge rate. You may decide to use multiple submersible pumps with a single outlet from each, or multiple outlets from a single larger pump. I decided to use two 1,300 GPH submersible pumps, running 3/4-inch poly tubing from each pump discharge outlet and then using 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch tee adapters to split this into 1/2-inch tubing creating a total of four outlets. I used an assortment of tee, 90-degree elbow, and in-line fittings for the tubing, available at online pet and plumbing supply stores (I ordered mine from PetSolutions). I also installed a couple of in-line valves in the return outlet tubing in case I wanted to adjust the flow to each outlet. The PVC pipe and fittings are available at most home improvement stores.

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