Creating the Illusion: DIY Fake Water for Your Terrarium

If you're looking to create the illusion of water in your terrarium, there are a few DIY techniques you can try. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started.
Candle gel wax on hand.

Have you ever thought of adding a water feature to your terrarium? Most people refrain from using real water because terrariums lack proper drainage. However, there are options for fake water that can give your landscape a realistic look. You can buy fake water products meant for terrariums or do your own. No matter what you choose, fake water will add a lovely and realistic touch to your terrarium.

The question is, how do you make fake water for a terrarium? You can make fake water for your terrarium using candle gel wax, epoxy resin, glue, gelatin, or realistic water products. Colored stones, crystals, or pebbles can also be an alternative to real water. Using these fake water options, you can add water elements like a waterfall or pond that can serve as a lasting part of your terrarium design.

Read this post to learn how to make fake water for a terrarium. The article offers an additional guide on how to achieve water effects, such as ripples and waves.

1. Candle gel wax

Candle gel wax is one of the products you can use to make fake water in your terrarium. Mineral oil is the main ingredient in candle gel wax but is mixed with some resin.

To make fake water with candle gel, take a chunk of wax and melt it in a small pot until it becomes liquid. Allow it to cool to keep bubbles from forming later.

Then, add a bright blue coloring or any other shade of blue to the wax. You may use epoxy resin dye or any acrylic paint as a dye.

Pouring a candle gel wax.
Mineral oil is the main ingredient in candle gel wax but is mixed with some resin.

You can add glitter to the fake water for additional effects. Some dyes come with glitter added to them already. 

Use masking tape to mark off the area of your terrarium where the fake water will sit before filling it. Pour the wax there carefully, then let it dry.

Take off the tape once the candle gel wax has dried. Give it at least 24 hours to settle and dry.

2. Epoxy resin

Epoxy resin is widely used to imitate water in terrariums and mini scenery models. In fact, it is the best material for recreating rivers, ponds, lakes, and ocean features in terrariums.

All you need to make fake water is epoxy and a hardener. The purpose of the hardener is to solidify the epoxy. The general rule is to mix equal parts of epoxy and hardener.

Pour some epoxy into a cup first, then add the hardener. Add more dye as necessary and continue mixing till you achieve the desired shade.

Separate the terrarium using masking tape, then add the epoxy resin. To prevent epoxy from seeping into the soil, you must put a barrier between the soil and epoxy.

You can make a barrier using a piece of plastic (clear or dark) or any other material that won’t melt when in touch with heated epoxy.

Do not pour the entire epoxy resin layer once since it will crack. Instead, pour the epoxy mix on a flat surface.

Pour approximately 6 mm (about 1/4 inch) of epoxy. Then let it cure for about 24 hours before pouring another layer. If you don’t do this, it will crack.

Blow off any bubbles that form to eliminate them – blowing makes them burst. Do not touch resin, as it will stick and form uneven surfaces.

You can add other special effects, such as water flowing from a waterfall if you so want. If you have a hot glue gun or just PVA glue, use it to make a long stick with cuts on the edges.

A epoxy Resin.
Separate the terrarium using masking tape, then add the epoxy resin.

You may attach it to the waterfall feature or something else once it has dried.

Alternatively, cut a long piece of a plastic bottle and make cuts on the edges to simulate flowing water and attach it to the top of the waterfall.

3. Blue decorative stones or crystals

Another technique that doesn’t require complicated liquids is using blue crystals, pebbles, gems, or stones. You can simply simulate the appearance of water by placing many blue stones together.

You can pick either small stones in the form of sand or slightly larger crystals based on the effect you want to achieve.

Making an artificial pond, lake, or sea in a terrarium using tiny crystals is relatively easy. All you need to do is make an outline and add the stones.

You don’t need glue unless you want to attach stones to a waterfall feature or anything similar. E6000 or hot glue are suitable options for this.

Stones or crystals are an excellent option for desert terrariums or terrariums with soil requiring proper drainage. The vibrant blue colors and sparkles make these ornamental stones the best choice.

4. Realistic water product

Realistic water, a product made by Woodland Scenics, is another easy way of making fake water in a terrarium.

The company has other products for creating ripples and waves and deep pour water for deep water effects.

You only need to pour this product over the designated area to create fake water. Don’t pour more than 6mm (or 1/4 inch) per layer.

Let it dry before adding another layer. Ensure it does not come in contact with the soil or other material since it will absorb it.

5. Glue

Wood glue or craft glue can work for this method. However, you might consider using craft glue since it is readily available and cheaper.

Craft glue also becomes clear when dry, so easier to work with when building water features with acrylic paint or colored dyes.

Bottle of glue with paint brush.
You might consider using craft glue since it is readily available and cheaper.

The first step is to prepare your base. Choose where you want the water feature to be in your terrarium.

Use hard surfaces like wood, glass, or plastic to make the water base and ensure it is impenetrable from other parts of the terrarium.

Paint the base from the inside to achieve a natural effect. Use shades of blue to achieve a clean water look and green, brown, or black for a swampy pond water look.

Next, mix glue and water in a ratio of 3:1. The mixture should be enough to make a half inch of your water base. You can add color using dye, food coloring, or acrylic paint.

You can now pour the mixture into the terrarium base. Do not pour more than a half inch in thickness.

Let the glue dry for up to three days. Repeat the process to add more layers, ensuring each layer dries completely before adding the next.

6. Gelatin

Gelatin is one of the products you can use to easily make fake water for your terrarium. Here’s what you need to do:

Boil a cup of water and add a quarter cup of clear gelatin powder. Stir until all gelatin is dissolved.

Pour the mixture into a container you had pre-chilled in the refrigerator. Any shallow container will work.

Let the mixture cool and set for at least four hours. If possible, leave it overnight. Once set, cut the gelatin into small cubes using a sharp knife.

A clear gelatin with rosemary.
Gelatin is one of the products you can use to easily make fake water for your terrarium.

If it looks too cloudy, you can filter the fake water using a cheesecloth or coffee filter. To use, place the cubes of fake water in your terrarium.

They will lay on the bottom and look like real water!

Other Less Preferred Options for Making Fake Water

Apart from epoxy resin, you can also use polyester resin to make fake water. However, polyester resin emits more harmful fumes, so wear a mask.

It also hardens quickly, leaving you with less time to work with it before pouring it into the terrarium (pot time).

A decorative terrarium.
Gelatin is one of the products you can use to easily make fake water for your terrarium.

Polyurethane resin is another product you can use to make fake water. But like polyester resin, its pot time is significantly shorter and emits fumes.

How To Make Waves and Ripples on Fake Water

You can add other attractive effects to your fake water, but wait until the water hardens. There are a few ways to create waves or ripples.

You can achieve this using clear silicone, which you paint with a brush and let dry. This will help you create small waves and ripples. 

Then, you can use medium to heavy gel or glazing media for different water effects. The heavier the gel you choose, the heavier the effects. 

Artists frequently use gel and glazing media to make their paint thicker. Gloss or semi-gloss glazing medium is used for lighter effects, while the medium gel is used for medium effects.

Choose medium glazing options for better visibility. However, you can use any kind to make your preferred water effects.

Final Thoughts

You will realize there are several ways of imitating the water effect in a terrarium, some easier than others.

This article has summarized various simple and affordable options that anyone can use for their terrarium landscape.

Whichever option you choose, be creative and add more detail, like plants, moss, or other decorative natural elements.

Last update on 2024-02-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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