Evaluating DIY 3D Backgrounds

KDS
  • #1
Ever since I decided I wanted a 3D background for my 210 gallon build, I figured I’d have to go DIY to keep the costs down. I watched a ton of YouTube videos but I have found it harder than it looks on videos. Maybe I’m not as crafty or artistic as they are. Anyway, I am conducting a lot of trial and error experiments as I evaluate the techniques until I choose what technique I’m going to use. My first attempt centered around the technique in this video.

I picked up a 4’x8’x2” sheet of foam insulation as a start to my background.

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I started off by pealing the foil off one side of the styrofoam sheet and the label off the other side. The label did not come off easy.

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Next I used a hot knife for cutting nylon and foam I bought from Harbor Freight. With coupon I spent $18 on the knife. Here is the panel I made. It is supposed to be a tree stump.

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I don’t think I’m happy with it though so I went back to YouTube and found this video.
I decided to try it but I didn’t want to put spray foam on top of 2” thick styrofoam so then I found this video.

I decided to try a hybrid approach so I created a test piece. If I like it it will become a background for a 10 gallon shrimp tank.

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I started out by cutting the egg crate to fit the background of an old 10 I had sitting around. Next I sprayed it with foam and capped it with black diamond blasting media.

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As the foam continued to expand I added more blasting media. I will let it cure for 8 hours before I dump the excess media into a garbage bag (to save for later) and trim the edges. Once that is done if I like it I will mix Drylok with concrete color and paint it. I can say it is definitely easier than free carving foam with a hot knife.

Here is how it looks right now. You can see the foam has expanded.

57679717-FC37-457A-AF15-8684DED142E2.jpeg
I haven’t given up on foam carving just yet though. I found a video that I think I’m going to try follow to make some 3D tree stumps for my 210.

Stay tuned!
 
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Craig_84
  • #2
I really want to see how this will turn out, very interesting idea.
 
John58ford
  • #3
The foam carving is significantly easier with building foam vs the insulation Foam you picked up.

Project Panels FOAMULAR 1 in. x 2 ft. x 2 ft. R-5 Small Projects Rigid Pink Foam Board Insulation Sheathing-PP1 - The Home Depot

You can scratch scribe and carve it easier. The white Foam breaks down into bigger ball like chunks. Watching your other thread I though you may get away with the larger texture Foam since your scaling and detailing would be a bit larger with the big tank. Maybe try and check out the higher density foam before you try the spray foam. If you have an HD not a Lowe's, I think their Foam board that is similar comes in blue.

Edited to add. The step in mine people may miss is after I steak knife and hot knife my pieces I shrink and smooth it with a tiny torch tip. A horizontal torch lighter would work but I use a multI tipped butane soldering kit with the hot knife, and longer torch tips.
 
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jkkgron2
  • #4
Following!
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
The foam carving is significantly easier with building foam vs the insulation Foam you picked up.

Project Panels FOAMULAR 1 in. x 2 ft. x 2 ft. R-5 Small Projects Rigid Pink Foam Board Insulation Sheathing-PP1 - The Home Depot

You can scratch scribe and carve it easier. The white Foam breaks down into bigger ball like chunks. Watching your other thread I though you may get away with the larger texture Foam since your scaling and detailing would be a bit larger with the big tank. Maybe try and check out the higher density foam before you try the spray foam. If you have an HD not a Lowe's, I think their Foam board that is similar comes in blue.

Edited to add. The step in mine people may miss is after I steak knife and hot knife my pieces I shrink and smooth it with a tiny torch tip. A horizontal torch lighter would work but I use a multI tipped butane soldering kit with the hot knife, and longer torch tips.
Thanks John! I have a heat gun for shrink wrap that will probably work as well. I’ll try the other foam and see what happens!
 
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KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #6
The foam has set up on the background so I slid it into a garbage bag to catch the excess blasting media. Then I separated it from the board it was sitting on and trimmed the edges. Here it is.

B2C210D0-6F2A-403D-91A3-BF64C1AECD0A.jpeg
I checked to see if it still fit and it did!

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Sorry for the hard water spots on the 10. It was last used as a small sump and has been in storage for months. I have an almost brand new tank I will use for the shrimp once I’m ready.

My biggest lesson learned is that I can use a lot less foam. It expands quite a bit even under the weight of 25 lbs of blasting media. The next step is to take an air gun to it to blow away any loose media and apply Drylok. I don’t have the Drylok yet so it may take some time before I get to it. I‘m leaning toward this method for the 210 but not sure yet. I still want to try the foam that John mentioned above.
 
John58ford
  • #7
That actually looks pretty dang cool.
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
I think it will look pretty good with Drylok. I may trim the real big bubbles a bit.
 
Littlebudda
  • #9
KDS this is one I did back in 2015 it was a sand fall as a filter cut the parts in smaller sections as it was a octagonal tank and then assembled and concrete coated in the tank. The pics aren’t great not sure if the resolution is lowered by site after they get archived.

Just thought it might be something else for you to try/ incorporate in your build technique.

Background finished for 20 gallon | Freshwater Aquarium Builds 203011


Glass pearls for substrate and filter | Freshwater Substrates - Gravel, Sand 203572


20 gal octagonal up and running | General Discussion 203663
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #10
KDS this is one I did back in 2015 it was a sand fall as a filter cut the parts in smaller sections as it was a octagonal tank and then assembled and concrete coated in the tank. The pics aren’t great not sure if the resolution is lowered by site after they get archived.

Just thought it might be something else for you to try/ incorporate in your build technique.

Background finished for 20 gallon | Freshwater Aquarium Builds 203011


Glass pearls for substrate and filter | Freshwater Substrates - Gravel, Sand 203572


20 gal octagonal up and running | General Discussion 203663
Nice! Haven‘t considered a sand fall!
 
Littlebudda
  • #11
I wanted to kill two birds with one stone so instead of just hiding the filter I thought make the sand fall the filter and if worked well with the small bio load and probably could have handled more as it never had a spike.
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
Hey everyone. I finally got the chance to mix up some Drylok and concrete coloring and get the test background painted. I’m now letting it dry. I may mix up a darker version for the deep cracks and a lighter version for the outermost edges. Here it is still wet.

E2DBBCA3-7E1A-412E-A160-A8E34E5F96D7.jpeg
 
jkkgron2
  • #13
Looks good!
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #14
Here it is dry. I think it is ready for accent color.
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KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #15
Here it is with a lighter gray mixed in. As it dries it will darken some.
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I also coated the back with drylok and will need a second coat.

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Littlebudda
  • #16
Looks good you could probably go even lighter on the very ends to really give it some depth, can’t wait to see it in the tank
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #17
Looks good you could probably go even lighter on the very ends to really give it some depth, can’t wait to see it in the tank
I think I am going to add a lighter shade on the edges.
 
John58ford
  • #18
I think I am going to add a lighter shade on the edges.
Depending on the temperature of your lights, your b background may look significantly lighter colored once submerged and lit up. My lights are a little to the cool side of the temperature scale and that was my experience with drylock on cement. What you have so far would look like snowballs in my tanks
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #19
Depending on the temperature of your lights, your b background may look significantly lighter colored once submerged and lit up. My lights are a little to the cool side of the temperature scale and that was my experience with drylock on cement. What you have so far would look like snowballs in my tanks
This will be a low tech planted tank so I’m not going crazy with lights. It is significantly darker once dry.
 
John58ford
  • #20
I have an example actually lol. Was thinking about it and I didn't put this in my build thread, just mentioned I highlighted it tested it, and painted it black again in tank. Here it is highlighted in daylight:

20190927_163309_HDR.jpg
Then submerged for a day and lit with one of my old nicrew classic plus lights, they are cooler than my custom but pretty common temperature for the non-adjustable cheapo lights:

20191006_212702.jpg

I think I tried a CFL old school hood and it looked ok, but that lights very warm and wasn't what I was planning on running.

This pic makes me laugh, I read all these threads(rants) about stands, I ran that tank with various chemicals and indicators to test for leeching on that chair for almost a month...

Looking forward to seeing your results with the spray foam, with the right highlighting I think the organic blobs could be pretty cool looking, you could be the guy that finally sways me that direction vs. the layering method.

Edited: for those that haven't viewed my build thread, I promise my tank didn't turn out that ugly in the end lol. Just posting these two pictures for kds because he's using the same paint materials I used.
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #21
It’s funny because I am still considering your method. But it is very fast and I’m pretty happy with the result so far. I am concerned about it being too light under cheap aquarium lights. Maybe I won’t add a lighter color after all. I could go with a darker color in the crevices.
 
John58ford
  • #22
It’s funny because I am still considering your method. But it is very fast and I’m pretty happy with the result so far. I am concerned about it being too light under cheap aquarium lights. Maybe I won’t add a lighter color after all. I could go with a darker color in the crevices.
You really can't beat fast for some of these things and that does seem to be the spray foam by a week of evenings likely. I have an empty 29 sitting in the bottom right of my rack right now and I'm still not in good enough weather to do my method again so I'm watching you close.

I think you could get a ton of depth if you try to go darker in the cracks and overhangs. I ran into a point where the dye (I used quikrete dye) just didn't seem to get the drylock any darker. Let us know what dye/combination you find to be the blackest of black as I'm worried about that for my next one as well.
 
KDS
  • Thread Starter
  • #23
I am leaning toward the spray foam for the fact that in a 210 it would take forever to hand carve a background. Spray foam will be faster. But I have an empty 55 I may do something with.
 

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