PDA

View Full Version : Styrofoam background



dev
07-10-2007, 08:22 PM
How to create an epoxy covered styrofoam background

A structured background can add great depth and contrast to a tank, and may be what seperates a nice tank from a great one.

Unfortunately pre-made backgrounds often come at a very high cost, and in a very limited selection.

Here is one way you can create your own structured background. It's not exactly inexpensive, but you should be able to get away with a little less than you would pay for a pre-made one. It does however come in all the variations you can possibly think of, is great fun to make, and gives an extra personal touch to your tank.

(Picture to be added when the background is fitted in the tank)

I made this sample background for a new fry tank of mine, it is only 30x50 cm.

0. Stuff

For the sample background I used

4 cm thick styrofoam
Husfix cement powder
Lady acryllic interior paint, chocolate brown and black
Sigural two component clear epoxy floor paint

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground01.jpg

The following tools are handy

* Cutting knife
* Brush and perhaps a natural spounge
* Heat gun
* Dremel

You an do without the heat gun and the dremel, but I find that they make things eaiser.

1. Cutting and shaping

You start off by cutting the styrofoam into a piece that will fit your aquarium. Then procede to shape it into what it is you want it to look like.

You can use any tool you want. I like to use my Dremel with a small drill-bit, but you can use a cutting knife, a screwdriver or just about anything.

Keep a vacuum cleaner handy :)

After cutting it you might want to blow a little warm air on it with a heat gun, to slightly melt the surface, keeping small bits from coming off easily. A heat gun may even be helpfull while shaping the styrofoam. If you don't have one, this step isn't crucial, we'll cover it all up anyway.

In my case I wanted something that resembles a typical grannite stone wall with some quartz in it. So here is how I cut it:

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground02.jpg

Now is a good time to make sure the background will fit into your tank. You should leave a couple of millimeters on each side for the cement covering we will be adding next.

2. Applying cement

The next you want to do is cover the styrofoam in cement. This will make it more solid and easier to paint, ease the cut a little and make it look a little more natural.

I used Husfix for this part. Just mix the cement powder with water and apply it thouroughly as if it were paint.

Since we're going to cover the background in epoxy later on, you only need as much cement coating as is required to get the look you want. Apply one or more layers as you see fit. Each layer of cement coating needs to dry for a couple of hours.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground03.jpg

dev
07-10-2007, 08:22 PM
3. Painting

As soon as the cement is dry you can start painting your background in the colours you want.

I started by watering out some chocolate brown making it a little lighter and more redish. When applied to the cement coating with a spounge it creates a a pinkish look.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground04.jpg

This will be the pink quartz in my rock wall.

I then proceed with watering out some pure black colour, creating a greyish look. Once again I use a small spounge, only using a brush to reach into the narrow carvings.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground05.jpg

The paint will lighten a little as you leave it to dry for a couple of hours

4. Applying the epoxy coating

To protect your paintjob and make the background more solid we're now going to cover it in a clear epoxy paint.

Read the instructions for the epoxy paint you have. The one I have has two components that needs to be mixed in a 2:1 ratio, and should then sit for 15 minutes before you use it.

Paint the epoxy on using a brush until you get a fair layer covering the entire front and sides of the background, aswell as a little on the edges of the backside.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground06.jpg

After letting it dry for 12 to 24 hours you may choose to add a second layer of epoxy before finally leaving it to dry for 24 to 36 hours. If you wait more than 24 hours between the layers the result may not be completely transparent.

dev
07-10-2007, 08:23 PM
This is how my backgroung looked when trying it out in the tank after the first layer of epoxy had dried.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground07.jpg

As you can see I got some epoxy stains where I applied it too thick, so I'll have to repaint those areas before applying a final layer of epoxy. This time being more carefull to get a thin and even layer. It's a little easier this time as the surface is a lot more solid from the first epoxy layer.

5. Fitting the background

When the epoxy paint is completely dry the background should be rinced thouroughly in water before being glued to the back of the tank with silicone, heating glue or epoxy glue. Using silicone makes it easer to remove the background should you have need to do so.

Here is my sample background fitted in my 45 liter fry tank:

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground08.jpg

And a final image with plants and some young guppies and swordtails.

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground09.jpg

dev
07-10-2007, 08:32 PM
* also reserved for more content *

Rue
07-10-2007, 09:17 PM
Nice job! Was that your first attempt at it?

dev
07-10-2007, 09:20 PM
Nice job! Was that your first attempt at it?

Why? Does it look that that bad? :p

Yes, this is my first attempt at the styrofoam/epoxy combination.

Rue
07-10-2007, 09:22 PM
It looks excellent! That's why I'm asking...

I've seen photos of other first attempts...and they LOOK like first attempts...

...yours doesn't...

dev
07-10-2007, 09:26 PM
It looks excellent! That's why I'm asking...

I've seen photos of other first attempts...and they LOOK like first attempts...

...yours doesn't...

Thanks :) I wasnt too happy with the picture, the high level of detail combined with the reflections makes it look a little messy. I'm glad you liked it anyway :D

Will be interesting to see what it looks like when the epoxy is dry :)

RobbieG
07-10-2007, 10:24 PM
That looks great Dev - you got my shipping address!

Lady Hobbs
07-11-2007, 02:22 AM
So, you actually dabbed the paint on more than putting it on with a brush? It looks awesome. I think in the larger tanks you want to cut it in half to get past the center brace but not a straight cut or you'll forever see the seam.

Hurry up now. I'm waiting for more pictures. LOL

nanaglen2001
07-11-2007, 04:09 AM
@ Hobbs

To prevent that you see the seam, just create some fake rocks out of the Styrofoam (not too big) and glue it on the seam.

A really nice thing with thios stuff is also, you can break little tiny clay pot in half and glue tjhem to it. Then you will have spots where you can plant smaller plants. Or you stick some Javafern on it (with those plastic needles one finds in garden centers). Gives the whole background an even more natural look.

dev
07-11-2007, 06:42 PM
Those are some very good ideas, nanaglen2001.

I tried the background in the tank today, but found that some epoxy stains needed to be repainted (picture added above).

So i'll even out those spots and add a final layer of epoxy before fitting it with silicone.

Lady Hobbs
07-11-2007, 06:54 PM
Nanaglen! You are a genious. How smart is THAT!

I also saw one guy added pvc pipe to his and covered with foam to hide it just leaving the openings for caves.

OK Dev.....I think I have it. I take it if you had dye in the cement that you could just use a clear epoxy coat to seal it. I did read that just using the cement will raise the pH but several water changes will clear that problem up but I do think the epoxy is the way to fly.

salman
07-14-2007, 11:41 AM
Wont the paint come off?

Lady Hobbs
07-14-2007, 06:46 PM
You can also use the Quickrete Quickwall over the foam without the epoxy but it has got to cure in a salt bath for several days. I like the epoxy idea for the sealing of it better but throwing some play sand on it helps it not be too shiny. At least that's what I've read. I don't know if I'm smart enough to actually do it! :)

People are using a lot of different things. Liquid Nails to glue the pieces together and also Great Stuff for making caves, etc. There's a variety of ways to go about it. Some are even using Rite dyes and babbing on colors before sealing instead of using paints.

I would rather be lazy and BUY ONE but for some reason are not easy to find in the states.

Rue
07-14-2007, 06:53 PM
I've wondered why nice backgrounds aren't more available here either...

Lots in the European catalogues...well, at least in the one catalogue I have...

Dave-id
07-14-2007, 08:19 PM
Are any of their catalogues available online? Looking through commercial 3D backgrounds could be a great source of ideas if I ever attempt one.

dev
07-14-2007, 09:07 PM
I have now fitted the background in my 45 liter (12 gallon) tank, and added a picture to the article. Didn't look too shabby either, though I'll look for a more greyish substrate. The rådasand gravel was the only one had in the house at the moment

Here's the final picture so you don't have to go back just to see that one:

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground08.jpg

dev
07-15-2007, 12:16 AM
Wont the paint come off?

No, the layer of epoxy will seal off the paint beneath. Epoxy is higly resistant to water aswell as chemicals and physical abuse :)

Dave-id
07-15-2007, 01:25 AM
Wow, that looks awesome now that it's in the tank with shadows and highlights to show off how 3D it actually is!

Lady Hobbs
07-15-2007, 04:01 AM
Looks very nice dev. Much better than just a paper background.

S13DWS
07-15-2007, 07:02 AM
dude looks good man. I am going to create one of these myself. but I am going to blast a few holes right through the polystyrene to make caves for my Demasoni to hide in.
None of the chemicals in the paints or anything will effect the fish will it?

Lady Hobbs
07-15-2007, 03:55 PM
Good idea. Caves all over the back would be great and save on rocks taking up nearly all the tank. I've seen pvc pipe inserted right into the styrofoam that works, too. You really have a lot of options with these walls and I'm glad dev is showing us his step by step procedure.

dev
07-15-2007, 04:33 PM
None of the chemicals in the paints or anything will effect the fish will it?

The idea is that since epoxy is extremely resistant to water and chemicals it will not release anything into the water, and will also seal off any potential contaminants in the materials used beneath - allthough I reccomend using non-toxic materials and paint.

Epoxy is the kind of paint you use on boats and on concrete floors in factories and such. On boats it will keep the surface from being damaged by salt water, in factories it will keep the floor from being damaged by trucks or chemicals.

It is however a bit expensive compared to the other materials, so you might want to go for using only concrete instead. There are several tutorials available through google =)

Lady Hobbs
07-15-2007, 05:01 PM
Hey Dev. I have some awesome huge plastic plants (not stated for fish tanks) that I sure would like to use. No wires exposed. Everything has been molded in a heavy plastic stem. My angels sure would like spawning on those leaves. I stuck it in my tank so I could give you an idea.

Do you think I could epoxy it? It may be OK as is but it may not be and that's the part that scares me. Also, could I epoxy my tree branches I found to make sure they are well sealed? I did read you can use resin for that but I don't want them ram-rod hard.

If this is not a good idea, would there be some sort of Marine spray paint in a clear color that could be used? I would sure like to use some huge plastic plants for this tank since my Silver Dollars are in it but hate those aquarium plastic plants that are not only costly but ugly looking.

Another question would it make the plant hard. Don't want them to get their eye poked out.

Of course your country has different products than here but you always have some good ideas.

Here's a pic.

dev
07-17-2007, 06:39 AM
Hey Dev. I have some awesome huge plastic plants (not stated for fish tanks) that I sure would like to use. No wires exposed. Everything has been molded in a heavy plastic stem. My angels sure would like spawning on those leaves. I stuck it in my tank so I could give you an idea.

Do you think I could epoxy it? It may be OK as is but it may not be and that's the part that scares me. Also, could I epoxy my tree branches I found to make sure they are well sealed? I did read you can use resin for that but I don't want them ram-rod hard.

Epoxy really is a kind of resin, so yes, it would make the surface a good bit harder. It might be good for branches, but probably not for any leaves.

I've never heard of plastic plants doing any damage to a tank, unless there were lots of exposed metal - but then I don't get to see a lot of fake plants, so you shouldn't take my word for it.


If this is not a good idea, would there be some sort of Marine spray paint in a clear color that could be used? I would sure like to use some huge plastic plants for this tank since my Silver Dollars are in it but hate those aquarium plastic plants that are not only costly but ugly looking.

There may be other products available that are better suited, but epoxy is the only transparant coating I trust so far.

Sorry I can't be of more help on this one :/

Lady Hobbs
07-17-2007, 10:10 PM
You helped more than you think. Thank You. I thought for sure you'd tell me not to use it ...period.

One of the online sites I use has really large tank plants so I will probably just get a few of those. With Silver Dollars in the tank, I can't use the real ones.

dev
07-21-2007, 10:38 PM
Here's a final picture with plants and some young livebearers added. Note the white sand experiment, and the underwater filter we know as an AC 30 ... Um.. and please excuse the purpleness caused by the plantlight :p

http://jade.roy.nu/diybackground/diybackground09.jpg

cocoa_pleco
07-21-2007, 11:28 PM
NICE! i bought some of the exact same looking stuff from aquagiant!

MeganL3985
07-22-2007, 12:24 AM
That is soooooooo cool looking! :D Love it!

RobbieG
07-22-2007, 12:35 AM
Great work Dev!