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How to Paint your Aquarium Background


Hi All! Here is a quick tutorial on painting your tank background.

Why Paint?

Painting your background is a nice alternative to those stick on tank background. It allows you to get a very smooth even background (no bubbles!) and allows you color choices you might not otherwise have. It is a semi-permanent option for those who do not do lots of background changing.


1. Paint

You do not need a large amount of paint for this project. A small 8oz can was enough for my 40 gallon tank.

In researching this topic I have found that people have successfully used just about any type of paint out there. Here is a list of the most commonly suggested paints:

- Latex interior paint

- Oil based interior paint

- Acrylic paint for crafting

- Spray paint - Krylon Fusion comes highly recommended for this project

Acrylic paint found in craft stores is going to be the cheapest paint.


Oil based paints seem to be popular with the saltwater community - they may hold up a little better than latex to salt creep


Spray paint is a really nice option, particularly if your tank can be emptied and taken outside. This would be my first choice of paint if your situation allows.


Latex interior paint would be my second choice to spray paint. Because I had to paint inside with my fish in the same room, I chose a low VOC latex paint - it really didn't smell at all!



Black or blue paint is generally going to be the best for goldfish. These two colors will make your fish 'pop' (unless you have black fish and paint the background black! :P). You will have choices of glossy, matte, or satin. Matte will give you more of a dark slate grey look, while glossy will be a darker black. Satin will probably fall somewhere in between. In trying both glossy and matte I will say that the matte was much easier to work with (less dripping) and I liked the finished look of it better.

2. Foam Roller, Paint Tray, and Small Paint Brush

You will need a small foam roller - these are generally sold for painting cabinets or other small household items. You should be able to find a foam roller set that comes with a paint tray for under 10.00. You will also need a cheap small paint brush - don't spend a lot of money on this, I got mine for about 1.50


3. Tape

This can be masking tape, duct tape, painters tape - whatever you have around that can provide a barrier for areas of your tank you don't want painted such as the rim.


4. Rubbing alcohol or Vinegar

You will need something to clean the surface of your tank with before you paint. If this is a tank that is currently in use I would suggest alcohol or vinegar diluted with water. If it is an empty tank (no water, plants, gravel, fish etc.) you could use something like windex.


Let's Paint!

1. Prepare your surface

Wipe down the surface of your tank that you will be painting with you water/vinegar/alcohol solution using a paper towel. Make sure to wipe down the surface well - any oils or debris will make it difficult to paint.

2. Tape your tank

Tape areas of your tank you do not want to paint, such as the top and bottom rim, along with the sides of the aquarium close to the back.

3. Apply your first coat

Use your foam roller to apply the first coat. Work in even lines across the tank. This first layer should be thin! Do not try to make the paint thick in this first layer, it will be very thin and see through. Excess paint will just leave you will a drippy mess (talking from experience here). Your first layer is going to serve as just a nice thin base and surface for subsequent layers to build on. Use your small paint brush to get in corners and close to the rim.

4. Allow paint to dry fully

It is best to allow your first layer to dry completely before adding a second. Read the instructions on your paint to give you an idea of drying time. Mine suggested 4 hrs. Feel the paint before applying a second layer - it should not be tacky to the touch. You can use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process a bit if you are impatient :P

5. Keep coating

Once your first layer is dry, continue to apply coats until you get the desired thickness. On your second layer, run the brush in the opposite direction as you did in the first - repeat this for each subsequent layer. Allow adequate drying time between layers. If you begin to paint too soon you can risk tearing up some of the old paint layers that aren't completely dry.

6. Remove Tape

Once you have painted your tank and the paint has dried, begin removing the tape. Be very careful when removing tape - it can pull up your paint if there is any paint on the tape. If you pull up any paint, just retouch when you have removed the tape.

7. Put up a barrier to protect your paint

Paint will peel off if scratched by equipment. You will want to put up a barrier between your paint and equipment to protect your paint. You can use an old tank background (or any plastic-y material) or you can use painters tape to cover the back of the tank to make a barrier.

Removing Paint

Paint can easily be removed using a razor blade. Begin scraping paint carefully - it should begin to peel up at which point you can pull it off. Oil based paints may be a little more difficult to remove than latex or acrylic.

Here is the video how-to for anyone who wants a visual of this process :)

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Recommended Comments

When I empty my tank to move house in the next year or so, this is so happening! The effect is so clean and classy, I can't wait!

I have painted two tanks in the house already so you don't necessarily have to wait to empty your tank :P just put the fish in a QT tank, empty out enough water to move the tank enough to get behind it and paint away :D I buy low voc latex paint and I personally can't smell it at all

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Not so much worried about the smell as the man power, I need two friends to move my tank, even empty! But it's nice to have tank improvements to look forward too! :D

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