Back in the fall of 2008, this DIY aquarium background project marked the beginning of a new hobby interest for this website author. The new background also breathed new life into what was previously little more than an average, uninspired, 55 gallon aquarium.

It was the first of what would become many DIY backgrounds over the next few years and a key motivation behind the creation of the Dramatic AquaScapes website.
DIY Aquarium Background
Submersed Tree
and Rocks
This design began with three layers of 1½" thick polystyrene sheet from Home Depot. The 4' wide sheets were cut to 18" tall then glued together using a caulking gun and GE brand Silicone #1. The #2 version of their silicone product contains mold inhibitors which are good for your house, but would be bad for your aquatic life.

The tree and rocks pattern was rough sketched in ink pen. the first cuts were with an exacto knife.

A cordless drill with wood bit was then used to make quick work of digging out the deeper recesses around the tree and rocks. The small red handled tool in the photo is a rasping tool usually intended for use with wood, but it also works very well for smoothing rough edges in the polystyrene.

While both of these tools can produce the desired results, they can make a pretty big mess so having a shop vac handy or at least broom is recommended.

At one point, it made sense to separate the background into three large sections. This made it easier to cut out paths around and behind the rock formations for fish to hide and play. Having three smaller sections instead of one large section was also necessary to install the background due to the center brace on top of the aquarium.

A folding table in the garage covered with plastic trash bags made a good work area.

The first layer of Quikrete Quikwall brand cement was mixed to a latex paint-like consistency and applied with a disposable paint brush. This was the first of a total of three layers of cement to be applied.
This photo shows the completed sections each with three layers of cement applied. Quikrete brand brown and charcoal liquid color were added to the cement mix before brushing on the final layer.
Before the Quikrete liquid acrylic became part of the build process, the cement had to be kept moist while curing. Another way I've learned to do this if you want to avoid the extra cost of the liquid acrylic is to moisten the curing cement then wrap in plastic. Liquid acrylic is still recommended though for the overall long term strength of the background.
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