Along with deciding whether to go with a substrate or leave your tank barebottom, choosing a background is the next biggest impact you can have on the look and feel of your aquarium.

A few weeks ago I converted my previously Walstad goldfish aquarium over to a barebottom tank. So that I wasn’t staring at a white foam base up through the glass I used my old background to attach to the bottom of the tank to shield the foam out and then needed to attach a new background to the rear of the aquarium.

I’ve had the pleasure of attaching a background to an aquarium twice now and both times I had the misfortune of doing so with the tank full of water. Make no mistake attaching a background to an aquarium full of water with only a few centimeters clearance at the back is a nightmare job.

If you’re like me though spending half an hour swearing blindly at the tank resisting the urge to punch a hole in it seems easier then draining it, moving it out a bit, attaching the background at your own leisure and then filling the tank up again.

Here’s the two methods I’ve successfully used to attach backgrounds to my aquariums.

Double sided tape

Using double sided tape to attach a background to an aquarium seemed an obvious choice. Unfortunately finding clear double sided tape was another matter, all I could find was white.

I found the easiest way to fit a background using tape was first to make sure the background was cut appropriately. Usually length requires a bit of trimming and height about 10-15cm off.

The first side of the background you want to attach will be one of the sides. Having only been able to find white double sided tape I used electrical tape for the sides instead. My aquarium has black corner covers to protect the glass so what I did was place the tape so that half sat on these covers and half on the background.

I use either dark blue or black as a background so it didn’t matter to much if the background wasn’t dead on.

I’m right handed so found it easier to attach the left hand side and work my way across towards the right. To do this you’ll either need blue tack (sticky putty), some normal tape or a friend to hold the other end up.

Whatever you do don’t let the background sag or just fall as it can easily rip under it’s own weight, crease or worst still develop a tear which lets the wall behind the background shine through. Note that if this does happen if your background is dark you can usually get away by taping some black electrical (or suitable colored) electrical tape across the tear on the wall facing side of the background.

Once this is done I measured out enough double sided tape to do the top and then cut it width wise in half. The tape was about 3/4 of an inch wide and being white I wanted to use as thin a strip as possible.

On my aquarium I have a wooden canopy which hides about 3/4 of an inch off the top of the tank, had it have been less I’d have probably cut the tape again as you only need a tiny strip width wise to hold a poster paper background up.

After the top do the other side which is basically the same process as the first side.

Finally you can either leave the bottom it looks to be sitting against the tank or some double sided tape to stick it on. If you’re planning on running a barebottom tank and don’t want a strip of tape showing, alternatively use electrical tape to tape the bottom of the background down.

This process is incredibly hard to do with a tank full of water and does take patience and some time. If you don’t have either of these things it’s probably best you drain the tank till you can move the stand and give yourself some room to maneuver around.

Spraying cooking oil

Full credit for this method goes to my local aquarium. I was in there the other week buying some background and I was helpfully given the advice to spray cooking oil either onto the back wall of the tank or onto the background itself before applying.

This apparently would be enough to have the background stick to the glass.

I tried this method this afternoon and was impressed at how well the background stuck.

First I laid out the background on the kitchen floor and gave it a light spray over. Note that you don’t want a puddle of oil on the background as this will all run off the second you pick it up. All you want is a light spray, to achieve this spray from a minimum of 30cm distance.

cooking-oil-on-aquarium-backgroundI just used whatever was lying around to hold the ends down.

Attaching the background to the aquarium is then simply just a matter of literally sticking it on. Be careful when positioning the background as you don’t want it curling the wrong way and getting oil all over your wall.

After some playing around I got the background this far at which point the swearing started as I had to twist myself into all sorts of awkward angles to pull the background down from underneath the stand. To make matters worse by this point your hands are oily and so is the background, you virtually have no traction. Also note the air wave on the bottom I was talking about earlier.

background-half-on-aquariumI eventually got around the slipperiness by using a tea towel between my hands and the background. This then gave me enough traction to gently ease the background into position.

Overall this was much easier to do then the tape with the tank already full of water. I imagine being able to move the tank attaching a background using spray on cooking oil would take a whole 20 seconds.

It has left a few noticeable pockets of air/oil though (same thing that happens when water gets trapped between the background and the tank glass) but hopefully over time they disappear. Long term I’m not sure if the oil will break down and detach the background but seeing as the tank will be in storage I’m not terribly fussed.

After about a half hour of swearing and fussing about here’s the end result:


So much nicer then staring at a white wall through the glass, I love how the fish and plants pop to life against a dark background.

Previously I’ve used the dark blue which is on the other side of the black background. I find the black looks a bit too drab although it might be because I’m used to looking inside a jungle of a Walstad aquarium. As you can see my bunches of java ferns and Hornwort went a bit brown after the change as they adapt to a mechanically filtered aquarium again.

If I’ve learnt anything since converting a few weeks ago it’s that a barebottom tank, whilst also not requiring much maintenance (that brown stuff on the bottom of the tank is the last bit of soil from the Walstad substrate I couldn’t be bothered removing by hand), isn’t for me.