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

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I discharged three of the four outlets through the background and into the tank. The fourth is directed into a 1-inch PVC header located just above the bottom of the tank behind the background, with four outlets from this directed at the floor of the tank. I decided to do this because the space behind the background is not easily accessible with all of the equipment in place, and the header outlets help keep debris and waste from settling on the bottom of the tank. I drilled the end caps on the four header outlets so that the total cross-sectional area of the outlets equals that of the other outlet through the background, so the flow rate to each branch is equal. My setup has been in place for two years, and the tank bottom behind the background has remained almost completely clean. If you don't think this will be a problem, then discharge all of the outlets through the background.

Fixture Rectangle Composite material Security Surveillance camera

Rectangle Line Cylinder Automotive exterior Gas


The number and size of return inlets will depend on the tank size and pump output. The net area of the inlet openings (total area minus the screen area) should be enough to provide a reasonable return flow rate. I decided that three openings would be sufficient, and located two larger openings above the bottom and a smaller one near the top. The pressure differential between the front and rear areas of the tank creates a slight head between the two, which it might be possible to take advantage of by placing one return inlet high enough to expose part of it to the waterline in order to create a sump effect to help draw film from the water surface into the filter space.

Once you have decided how many discharge outlets and return inlets you want to install, locate these to maximize and vary the circulation in the tank. With a little planning, you can position them so that they are not noticeable. Look for unobtrusive locations, such as crevices or under ledges, and consider where you intend to place rocks so that they do not block outlets. I placed the outlets at different heights and aimed them in different directions.

Wood Tree Trunk Twig Art

Automotive tire Art Gas Wood Circle


The background material is easily cut and drilled. A drill bit is fine for making pilot holes, but a Dremel tool with several abrasive tips is indispensible for enlarging and shaping holes. Size the holes for the outlet fittings a bit tight and press them in from the rear, leaving the exterior (visible) end flush with the face of the background. If necessary, re-shape the tip of the fitting to match the face, and paint the tip to match the background. Put a bead of silicone around the interior and exterior to seal them in place, and press some rock sand into the silicone to conceal the exposed tip.

A disc-shaped Dremel bit works well to enlarge openings and to rout out the back face of the inlet openings to create a flat recessed surface to mount inlet screens to. PVC mesh gutter guard, available at the local hardware store, makes a good screen material, although small fry may still be able to pass through. Cut the mesh to size and set it in a bead of silicone in the pocket on the rear side. A cone-shaped bit was useful for finish work in trimming and shaping the exterior face around the return openings to make them appear rougher and more natural. Repaint as necessary around all openings. The mesh material does not have a natural color or appearance, so after installing these I painted the exposed side as well, then brushed silicone on the mesh and around the opening and sprinkled both with rock sand to transition around the perimeter and match the background color.

Wood Motor vehicle Automotive lighting Trunk Automotive exterior

Wood Bedrock Trunk Tree Terrestrial plant

Sky Bedrock Rectangle Landscape Beauty

Plant Bedrock Brickwork Brick Font


When you are satisfied with the results it is time to begin the installation. Decide where you want to position the background, considering accessibility to the equipment in the tank. Once sealed in place, the background will be extremely difficult to cut loose and relocate! Allow sufficient room to set submersible pumps low enough on the tank walls to keep air from entering the system during water changes and having to re-prime the pumps. I tried to maximize the foreground space, leaving just enough room for the equipment but precious little to access the bottom of the tank, hence the decision to install the header. If you plan to use "egg crate" grid on the bottom to support your natural rock, trace the bottom edge of the background on newsprint and use it as a template to cut the egg crate to match the contour.

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