If you browse aquascape contest photos, one thing that’s immediately apparent is that 99.9% of all entry photos are taken without any hardware in the tank – no filter intakes and outputs, no heater, no CO2 diffuser, no drop checker, nothing but four glass walls and plants under water. (Plus optional surface agitation caused by some dude with a hair dryer blowing air onto the tank from outside the photo.) This is because most hardware is really ugly. There are ways to get around that – for instance, black hardware blends quite well into the background on my planted tank, because the tank background is black. However, the Rena Filstar XP-series canister intakes are all a pale gray-blue. (The outputs are a charcoal gray. Go figure. Apparently they think Rena customers are a little thick, and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference otherwise.) On my cichlid tank, I just happened to have painted the back of the tank with a matte latex blue-gray that’s close enough in color family that the hardware isn’t an eyesore as long as I keep it free from algae growth; but in the planted tank, that color is a problem. Previously I had spray-painted some of the intake pieces with a navy blue paint (Krylon Fusion is the aquarium hobbyist’s paint of choice) and that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped; didn’t match anything! So, the solution to the pale gray intake: after doing some internet searching I stumbled across somebody who’d gotten some black tubing and simply wrapped it around the assembled intake. Brilliant! I promptly went out to the home improvement store and found a cheap length of thin 1/2″ tubing meant for yard sprinkler system repair, and with a pair of sheet metal scissors, I cut off an appropriate length, made a single slice lengthwise down the piece, and wriggled it into place on the intake. The tubing gaps quite wide in the back, but with that side facing the back of the tank, the intake is now almost invisible. (The intake strainer is the one I’d painted navy blue; I’m thinking I can probably get a compatible intake strainer from the LFS that carries a lot of replacement parts for various lines. One of ’em’s gotta have something that will fit in black.)
That leaves me with all the intake extension pieces that I’d painted navy blue. After coming up short on any reasonably easy solution to strip the paint off, I asked my husband, the genius, if he knew of any way to get spraypaint off plastic. He did – apparently, miniature model painters use a common cleaning solution called Simple Green for that purpose all the time, and we happened to have it “in stock.” (I like using it for household cleaning chores, as well.) Well, I tested it out on one painted piece, and lo and behold, overnight the paint bubbled and softened so that I could scrape it off with my fingernail! I’m quite pleased, and put the rest of the painted pieces in the straight concentrate to soak.