How to Paint Aquarium Backgrounds

Updated on December 10, 2019
Joe Macho profile image

Zach's writing ranges from matters of gardening, cooking, aquariums, and fish to more niche topics like coin collecting.

This photo is an example of how a painted background aquarium looks with water.
This photo is an example of how a painted background aquarium looks with water. | Source

A simple colored background is a great way to spruce up a fish tank, but not always as simple to install as you might imagine. New purchasers of aquariums are normally so excited to set up their tank that they usually opt to buy tape-on backgrounds to speed up the process. Once the aquarium is full of water, disappointment sets in. The laminated background that once looked so promising is now just a bubbled and crinkly looking backdrop taped to the back of the tank.

The problem is that tape-on backgrounds just never get flush enough to the glass to look uniform and professional. So how do you get a solid fish tank background color? The answer is easy! You paint one. This article will explain how to achieve professional-looking background colors by painting the outside of your aquarium.

How to Paint Your Aquarium

Painting the outside of your aquarium is surprisingly an easy process that takes only a day to complete. Since you are applying paint to the outside of your aquarium, a wide variety of paints and colors may be used. I've only shown tanks with black painted backgrounds, but you can do whatever color you wish. The background color will not only look great, it will never be toxic to your fish as it is on the outside of the tank!

Aquarium Painting Supplies

  • Empty Aquarium
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Blue Painters Tape
  • Newspaper
  • Paint (I use black spray paint)

This photo is an example of how a painted background aquarium looks without water.
This photo is an example of how a painted background aquarium looks without water. | Source

Aquarium Background Paint Process

  1. Use the rubbing alcohol and a towel to clean the pane of glass that you wish to paint. The rubbing alcohol will remove any dirt and grease so that the paint will adhere properly.
  2. The next step is to cover all areas of the tank that you wish to not be painted. Cover it all and make sure to cover the open end so that no paint gets inside the tank. You'll end up with a big newspaper box with one exposed glass side.
  3. Working outdoors, spray the paint lightly and evenly onto the aquarium glass. Putting on several light even coats of paint is preferred. One thick spray will run and drip, so take your time.
  4. Allow the paint to dry for one day. After one day, remove all the tape and continue to set up your aquarium!


By taking the time out to paint instead of taping on your aquarium background, you'll end up with a very eloquent and visually pleasing tank! Is it worth it? I sure like to think so. Above is one of my former 10-gallon aquariums in which I painted the background black. No wires could be seen through the tank and the black really helped make the rock scene pop!

So go ahead, try painting your next aquarium background. It'll really make a difference. Thank you for reading my article on painting aquarium backgrounds. If you're in the hunt for something even more exciting, consider reading my article on DIY 3-D aquarium backgrounds.


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    • Joe Macho profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Colorado

      I appreciate it Xenonlit.

    • Xenonlit profile image


      8 years ago

      This is cool. Well done.

    • Joe Macho profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Colorado

      InterestCaptured - It's a good point to bring up, but I'm almost 100% sure that glass is not semipermeable. Otherwise there'd always be water that would leak through the glass. It is not recommended to use Windex because when you spray it, the mist can get into the aquarium. I've had many painted tanks and never had a problem!

      phoenix2327 - Thanks for your feedback. I'm sure that you could get super creative if you wanted. Checker boards or modern Picasso aquariums could be painted;)

      leann2800 - It seriously is a simple solution! One that works too!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Such a simple solution. I have never really thought to painting the outside but I think it is a clever idea.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Very good hub. I imagine you can get really creative with backgrounds using the method you've described.

    • InterestCaptured profile image


      8 years ago

      Glass is semi-permeable, and I was under the impression that you are not supposed to use certain chemicals (e.g. windex) on the outside because of the possibility that it could seep in. Do you think this is the case with paint as well?


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