Building A Vivarium Background For Geckos
DIY Gecko-Safe Custom Background

A heavier-duty method for building custom backgrounds, perfect for larger species

 
DIY Gecko Vivarium Background

Introduction

Certain larger species can do quite a bit of damage to the more delicate traditional foam style custom backgrounds over time. There are a few different techniques & supplies we recommend which help to ensure long-term success when working with larger species of Reptiles & Amphibians. The type of background described in this article is appropriate for species like Crested Geckos, Gargoyle Geckos, Giant Day Geckos, Tokay Geckos, Golden Geckos, Uroplatus, Chameleons, R. leachianus, and most species of a similar size. The methods described below will explain our process in building a great looking, long-lasting heavier duty custom background, without sacrificing build quality & aesthetics. It can be applied to glass, screen, and acrylic vivariums & terrariums, although the vivarium route is always our 1'st choice! :-) This type of background is slightly easier & less expensive to build than our standard custom backgrounds, with the trade-off of slightly less fine detail. We hope this article will help hobbyists of any experience level build a great looking, durable background for larger inhabitant species.
 

Project Information:

Expected Time Investment For Small Enclosures (~8-12in): 1/2 Hour
Expected Time Investment For Medium Enclosures (~18in): 1.5+ Hours
Expected Time Investment For Large Enclosures (~24in): 3+ Hours
Expected Time Investment For XL Enclosures (~36in): 4+ Hours
Estimated Financial Investment: $27-200+ depending on size & materials
 

Parts List:

• A Forest or Cork tile background
• Aquarium/vivarium safe silicone
• Background Texture Mix
• Cork Bark (flats or rounds) and/or Cork Planters
• Food grade stainless steel hardware (For large wood pieces)
 
Note: The above parts are available discounted in our enclosure-size-specific heavy duty background kits!
 
 
Step 1: Custom Gecko Background

Step 1: Prep the glass enclosure

Before beginning, it's important to thoroughly clean the glass in the terrarium you'll be using. Any glass cutting oil or dust left on the glass of the enclosure can prevent a solid silicone bond, which can negatively impact the background's adhesion to the glass. We use vinegar to help get the glass crystal clear on newer enclosures, and any calcium deposits on the glass of older enclosures can be addressed by sliding a lemon in half, and rubbing it on the affected panel(s). The acid of the lemon will help to break down buildup on the glass, without using any harsh chemical cleaners. If all else fails, a razor blade with a scraping attachment can be used as a last result. (Use a razor scraper only on glass - not on acrylic or plexiglass enclosures!)
 
Step 2: Custom Gecko Background

Step 2: Test fit & attach cork decor to the background

From here, with the background still out of the enclosure, we recommend test-fitting the cork decor to the tile background. This will help provide a visual layout for the final look of the enclosure, before any permanent decisions are made. Some enclosures require planting spots on the background, for which Modular Cork Planters can be used to provide a realistic finished visual. In our example enclosure, we're using two modular cork planters, and one large Cork Round. When laying out the position of the wood decor, it's important to be sure that the arrangement will allow enough room for the diagonal insertion of the background through the top opening of the terrarium.
 

Using Food Grade Stainless Hardware To Affix Background Decor:

With the placement of the wood decor finalized, it's time to attach it to the background! For large pieces, we use both food grade stainless steel screws with curved washers drilled through the background, into the cork decor. When using stainless hardware, the pointed end should end inside the cork decor being attached. Be sure that the pointed end of the screw doesn't protrude into the enclosure itself, as it could be a hazard to the inhabitant. If the situation does not allow for the screw to be sunk into the wood decor completely (common on thin cork), any exposed stainless bits can be carefully coated in silicone, and covered with NEHERP Background Mix for an effective camouflage. When using stainless hardware, using silicone as an additional adhesive between the Cork Tile Background & wood decor being mounted is a beneficial addition to ensure a permanent bond.
 

Using Silicone To Affix Background Decor:

For lighter pieces of wood decor, Stainless Hardware may not be necessary. In that case, we find it's often easiest to add a small coating of silicone to the wood decor being attached to the background, and carefully setting it into place. Once cork is arranged in a suitable pattern, it's important to search for any silicone which may have been squeezed out into view. All exposed silicone can be coated with NEHERP Background Mix. To do that, simply pour background mix onto the exposed silicone, and gently press into place. We recommend leaving the background out to cure for at least 36 hours before proceeding, although smaller jobs may require as little as 12 hours to cure.
 

Using Silicone For Additional Detail:

Foam is not as durable as silicone, and can't always be used in this type of vivarium build due to it's fragility. A more durable alternative to foam is using a thin layer of silicone to create a vining pattern surrounding & leading away from any mounted wood decor. This silicone is to be quickly coated with a layer of NEHERP Background Texture mix to create a "grown in" look for the affixed wood decor. (This step is completely optional)
 

Special Instructions For Larger Enclosures:

Because Cork Background Tiles are only manufactured in sizes up to 18in X 24in, larger enclosures may require the use of more than one panel. The gap between the two can easily be hidden by placing wood decor over it, using Silicone for additional detail (as described above) if desired.
 

Step 3: Attach the customized cork tile background to the enclosure

Permanent installation

For ease of operation, we recommend tilting the glass enclosure so it rests on it's back panel, with the front facing upwards. From there, we suggest carefully applying silicone to the back of the cork tile, being careful that no areas of silicone are thicker than 1/8in. It isn't necessary to coat the entire back panel, and we often do a "union jack" (external link to Google Images) style pattern to conserve adhesive & ensure a strong bond. With the silicone applied, slowly place it inside the enclosure, with extra attention paid towards ensuring the tile is tight against the top. Pressure should be applied to the front of the cork tile to ensure the silicone is pressed onto the glass thoroughly. If possible, adding weights on top of the cork tile is beneficial while the silicone cures. If any silicone squeezed out around the edges of the enclosure, simply apply Custom Background Texture Mix on top & press into the exposed adhesive. Allow at least 36 hours to cure before continuing.
 

Removable installation

This type of background can be mounted to be removable, as shown in our example. To do this, simply add our Food Grade Stainless Steel screws through the top of the enclosure's lip into the cork tile. In our experience, screwing through the already-provided "wire channels" works great, which applies to all Exo Terra & Zoo Med glass terrariums. To ensure a firm hold, we use at least 2 screws on the 12in wide enclosures, 4 screws in 18in wide enclosures, 6 screws in 24in wide enclosures, and 8 screws in the large 36in enclosures. The drawback to the removable installation is that the cork may bow slightly over time, as humidity penetrates the Cork Tile Background. This bowing is usually only noticeable from the side-view of the enclosure, and can easily be hidden by a layer of Contact Paper. Because this article is written for larger inhabitants, there is very little risk of the animal(s) squeezing behind the background. If you will be using this style of background for a small species, it's advisable to squeeze some moist Sphagnum Moss on the sides of the cork tile, to prevent them from getting behind it. In this case, we've found that a (cleaned) credit card works great as a tool to help press the sphagnum into the thin side areas!
 

Step 4: Turn the enclosure upright, and add the rest of the decor!

This marks the finish of the physical background work, and it's all downhill from here! Modular Cork Planters can be filled with appropriate Vivarium Substrate, and planted with moss & other plants to ensure a natural finished look.
 
Finished Gargoyle Gecko Crested Gecko Vivarium
 
Freshly Planted with a NEHERP Gecko Plant Pack
 
Finished Gargoyle Gecko Crested Gecko Vivarium
 
After 4 months of acclimation. Note the NEHERP Moss Slurry growth!
 
Finished Gargoyle Gecko Crested Gecko Vivarium
 
After 5 months of acclimation, this example could use a little trimming!
 
 

About The Example Vivarium

The vivarium shown in this example was designed to house either a Gargoyle or Crested Gecko, but it would be equally suitable for a wide range of arboreal Gecko species. This particular build used an Exo Terra 18x18x24 enclosure, a NEHERP Vivarium Substrate Base Kit using V2 Substrate, a NEHERP Vivarium Lighting Kit (with the LED option), a Heavy Duty Background Decor Kit, two extra Cork Rounds, a Gecko Plant Pack. If you'd like to build one like this, check out our Complete Vivarium Kits for the best package deal price we offer. (All sizes from 8x8x8 to 24x18x24 are available with our heavy duty background kit!)
The vivarium shown in this example was designed to house either a Gargoyle or Crested Gecko, but it would be equally suitable for a wide range of arboreal Gecko species. Here's a list of everything used in the build:
Exo Terra 18x18x24 enclosure
NEHERP Vivarium V2 Substrate Base Kit
NEHERP Vivarium LED Lighting Kit
Heavy Duty Background Decor Kit
• Two extra Cork Rounds
Gecko Plant Pack
 
If you'd like to build one like this, check out our Complete Vivarium Kits for the best package deal price we offer.
 
 
 

Other Examples Of Vivariums Built Using This Method:

Below, we've got a pair of vivariums built using the same methods described above, each with a different finished look.
Example Of Custom Background For Gecko Vivarium
 
This enclosure was built to house a pair of Gargoyle Geckos, and has held up incredibly well over the past 2 years since it was built. This specific enclosure is on display in our offices & customer pickup area at NEHERP, with the female Gargoyle named Lucky commonly perched on top of her cork "tree".
 
Example Of Custom Background For Gecko Vivarium
 
Originally built to house a Rhacodactylus leachianus, this enclosure instead ended up being the home for a group of rambunctious Eleutherodactylus coqui tree frogs! While this background style is typically geared for large species, it works perfectly well for small animals too! :-)
 
We hope the process described in this article helped you feel confident enough to build your own heavy duty custom background. If you have any questions at, don't hesitate to contact us. We're happy to help!
 
 

Thanks for choosing us as your vivarium info source!

We hope you'll choose us as your vivarium supply source, too! :-)

 

View Heavy Duty Background Kits


(Includes everything you'll need to build a vivarium background like the ones shown in this article!)
 
Whether you'll be creating a large commercial exhibit, or simply building a quick & easy live environment for a pet Frog or Gecko, we have all the herp supplies, vivarium plants, and tons of NEHERP brand vivarium specialty supplies you won't find anywhere else. We're a family owned & operated business, and are always happy to help with 1-on-1 support. Vivariums are what we do, so if you have any questions at all, don't hesitate to contact us!
 

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