The color of your tank background will greatly influence how your fish will look and behave. A successful choice of the correct color can determine how much you will enjoy your tank and fishkeeping in general.

The tank background is not one of the essential things a fishkeeper needs to consider to get into the hobby. In fact it does not really rate high in the priority scale of the things to buy or consider. If you are going to take fishkeeping as a hobby, the most important thing to buy is the tank, of course. Unlike other pets like dogs and cats, fish need their own container. Dogs and cats can sleep with you in the bed or run around in the house, but you can’t do that with a fish. It needs its own home. Thus, the tank or aquarium is the single most important piece of hardware in fishkeeping.

An aquarium with good quality water and a few fish can start you off in the hobby. That, of course, is a crude way of starting the hobby. To enjoy the hobby some more, the equally important gadgets needed would be the stand and the filter system. Thus, with these three essential things―the aquarium, stand, and filter―you can safely say you are on your way to a successful aquarium keeping hobby.

But if you are truly passionate about the hobby, you will seek to maximize the enjoyment you derive from it. Thus, you will then consider the second priority items, which include lights, substrate, decoration like driftwood and rocks, a few plants maybe, and the tank background, among others. These are not essential things, but they do have a big impact on how much fun we will have when keeping fishes.

Personally, I believe fish hobbyists must seriously consider having an aquarium background in all of their tanks. Before I continue, let me clarify that I meant a fish hobbyist, one who keeps fish for enjoyment and not a fish breeder or trader whose objectives are for profit. So if fishkeeping will be a hobby, it should be fun.

For fish hobbyists, the tank background is very important because what they enjoy the most is staring at the tank and watching the fish swim about. If the tank does not have any background, not only will they see their fish swimming around the tank, but also other things like the curtains behind the tank, the open window with children playing in the yard, and maybe a few cars passing by on the street. How can one enjoy a tank to the fullest, when there are so many non-fish-related distractions visible? Thus the background will eliminate these external distractions, so that hobbyists can focus on the tank environment and enjoy their fish some more.

There are so many tank backgrounds available. Popular choices are poster backgrounds which come either in plain colors or one with an underwater scene; you may also simply opt to paint the glass panel, use sticker backgrounds which one applies to the rear panel, or a 3D background that provides depth and comes in different landscapes, etc. But if you wish to have a plain colored background you may opt to paint the rear panel, use a colored poster, or use a sticker background.The choice of color for your background may influence how your fish will appear in the tank. In my many years of fishkeeping I could say that the popular choices are black, white, and blue.

Black Background

Black is my number one choice. Most fishes display their best colors with a black background. For some reason, when the tank background is dark, the colors of the fishes seem to be enhanced. Their colors are more vivid and they seem to stand out from the plain dark background.

My ideal tank would be one with black silicone sealant with matt black sticker background in the rear panel and the base. Place good filtration to make sure your water is clear and strong lighting to highlight the fishes. With this setup, the tank is dark but the fishes will be seen clearly and they will display their best colors. This gives your tank a dramatic look and feel. This is a good setup for an Arowana tank as the black background will provide good contrast to its metallic colors. Goldfish will also look good in this setup, especially those that are red and white in color. A tankful of Malawi Cichlids of different colors will be a wonderful sight.

A black background, however, has its own pitfalls. While most fishes stand out, some fishes do not do well against a black colored background.Of course black colored fishes will be hard to see because they will blend with the background. A black background is therefore not recommended for Black Moore Goldfish, Black Mollies, Black Ghost Knife fishes, Black Ranchus, etc. You will just give yourself a hard time looking for your fishes if you put them in a tank with black background.

Another fish that do not do well with a black background is the Asian Tigerfish from the Datnioides genus. It is every fish hobbyist’s dream to have a “stable” Tigerfish. A stable Tigerfish is one with a light body color with solid dark bands. A stable Tigerfish is the pride of every fish hobbyist. However, this is quite challenging to achieve and not always a guarantee. Some Tigerfish opt stay dark with no vertical bands visible. “Unstable” Tigerfish are undesirable, and a black background will almost always guarantee an unstable Tigerfish.

To appreciate this setup, strong lighting is required. The black background will create a dark tank as it will cut off any light from reaching the tank. Thus you will be reliant on your lighting system to illuminate the tank. If you will rely on natural daylight to light up the tank, then you might not even see your fishes. Worse, you may not even notice if the fishes are sick and it might be too late to give them medication when you finally notice a problem.

White Background

Another popular color for background considered by fish hobbyists is white and there are many reasons for choosing it.

The biggest advantage in using a white background is you will easily see the fish. I prefer using white backgrounds for the lower tank in a double tank setup. Normally, the top tank is the ‘spoiled’ tank. That’s where you put your best hardware and fishes because it provides the best view. The bottom tank normally doesn’t get the same treatment. Normally it is also dark since the top tank casts its shadow. If you use a black background for the bottom tank, make sure your lighting is strong; otherwise, better use a white background so you can easily see the fish even with minimal lighting.

I prefer using sticker backgrounds. However, one of the biggest disadvantages of sticker backgrounds if used on old tanks is that the white calcium deposits and water stains are easily seen, especially with black sticker backgrounds. These marks are highlighted in in black, making your tank look dirty. For old tanks, I use white sticker backgrounds because these marks are not that obvious since they blend with the color.

Another use of a white background is what is termed “White Tank Treatment”. The WTT is a new aquarium term that has been associated with Arowanas. It is said that young Arowanas are grown in an all-white tank with strong daylight lighting. This makes the scales of Arowanas shiny, even at a young age. Thus, there are many fish hobbyists who practice keeping Crossback Arowanas and Highback Red Tail Golden Arowanas in a white tank to maintain their shiny metallic scales.

A white background is also recommended for “Platinum” fishes. A platinum fish is one that is missing a certain pigmentation in its genes that results in an all-white fish with black eyes. It is said that the whiteness of the Platinum fishes is maintained if kept in a white tank. If kept in a dark tank, the Platinum fish may lose its shiny white color. Thus it is a practice among fishkeepers to keep their platinum fishes in an all-white tank.As mentioned earlier, Datnioides in tanks with black backgrounds are very difficult to keep stable. Conversely, if they are kept in a tank with a white background, your chances of making them stable is much higher. Although this is not a guarantee as there are other factors in keeping Tigerfishes stable, you are likely to be more successful in keeping them stable in a light colored tank.

The biggest disadvantage in using a white background is that fishes do not display their best colors. Some in fact seem to be pale if kept in a light colored tank. Not that it is always true, but most fishes are more colorful in a tank with a dark background.

Blue Background

Another popular color for a background is blue. However, compared to the colors black and white (which are specific colors), the color blue offers a lot of choices. Black is black, and white is white. There isn’t such a thing as light black or dark white. If it isn’t black and if it isn’t white, then it’s another color. But blue comes in many shades. There could be fifty shades of blue that may be used as aquarium backgrounds. So as not to complicate matters, let’s just focus on the two most popular shades of blue: light blue and dark blue.

Light blue is a safe choice. Fishes can easily be seen against a light blue background as the background provides a good contrast to the fish. Even blue colored fishes, of which there are really very few species, can be seen. In fact only Cichlids from Lake Malawi are blue in color, and most are bright blue in color or have black or other colors as well. I don’t recall any plain light blue colored fish that would disappear against a light blue background.Secondly, blue is associated with water, and a subtle shade of blue will have a semblance of a natural water environment. Thus your tank will not look unnatural and may even have the look and feel of calmness.

The black colored fishes mentioned earlier that “disappear” in a black tank are best kept in a tank with light blue background. They will be very much visible since the background is a strong contrast to their dark color. For goldfish of any kind and color, blue is my first choice.Many Datnioides keepers have success by keeping their Tigerfishes in tanks with light blue backgrounds. They are able to keep these fishes stable in this background more than in those with dark blue backgrounds.

Dark blue is also a good choice. Since it is dark, the colors of the fishes are expected to be vibrant. I noticed some hobbyists opt for a dark blue background because they want to achieve a dark tank but are prevented from choosing black by superstition.Some Chinese believe that black is not a lucky color. And thus, a black tank is a no-no. I have friends who have asked me to help them build their tank and we had to use dark blue because their mothers will not allow them to have a black background. They still achieve a dark tank yet they will have prevented their mothers from nagging them.

When planning for your next tank, don’t just settle on any tank background. While at the planning stage, think what fish you would like to keep, find out what feel you prefer and determine what color of background you will use.Ultimately, the choice is yours. But whatever color you choose, always remember that you will be staring at your tank most of the time so might as well do it right.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s February 2015 issue.