Custom Vivarium Backgrounds

By Scott Aldrich
Aldrich Vivarium Hardscapes



I’ve always wanted unique backgrounds in my vivariums, besides photos or half rocks. I looked around for years and could never find something that was beautiful and practical. I came up with the idea like many people in the hobby to go DIY and start creating my own backgrounds. I had tried coating my creations with grout, but it never lasted very long. Then I discovered Hot Wire Foam Factory tools and coatings. I use the Freehand Router to carve the foam and coat it with Exterior Foam Coat with Grit, which works wonders and in my opinion, adds that rocky feel that I desire. I add the extra Grit in areas of high travel, or along water edges for added grip for the animal.


To start, I just glue a load of foam boards together in various thicknesses, then with my Freehand Router, I start carving. I usually have a general idea of what I want, but sometimes I simply carve each piece separate then stack it all up. Then I apply about 3 layers of Exterior Foam Coat. The first layer is a very thin, almost watery layer to provide the next layer something to grip onto. Then I apply medium-thickness layer and finally a thick layer which I then mold and sculpt for added detailing.

Then I use a fat brush and brush off any dust or chunks that formed and start painting. I apply a watery base coat of usually a gray or tan first, then I start dry brushing. Large projects can take days to a week to paint depending on how fine of detail I add. The photo with the crabs above shows the background submerged in water.



 Suggested tools/materials for this project:

Exterior Foam Coat • Freehand Router Kit • Coarse Grit