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Ideas to build an aquarium

Brief Description

If you're looking for ideas on building a fish tank, this is the right place! Ensure that you go through this article first, and also consider viewing aquarium biotopes which are linked to at our list of aquarium biotopes. You're welcome to browse our aquarium fish records and plants records too! If there's anything that you don't understand or need help with, simply use the form that can be found at the bottom of this page - and we will help you!

One of the joys of the fish keeping hobby has to be designing an eye catching and pleasing tank set up with all the décor involved. This can take many hours to get the desired effect or it may work straight away with instant success. Pre-planning your aquarium can save a lot of time when you actually get to the physical side of putting items into the tank. The planning should also involve researching which types of fish you intend to keep in your tank, this will then give you a good idea of the size of tank required and the décor that needs to be added. If the fish need hiding places, then artificial caves or pieces of driftwood will provide them, even some of the artificial ornaments will include hidey holes for the fish.

It maybe that fish are not going to be the main feature of your tank, in some planted tanks, the scenery provided by the plants is the focal point of the tank, and a few fish are merely added for some movement in the scenery. This applies more in a saltwater reef tank where the reefs constructed of living rock adorned with colorful corals are the eye catchers, the fish take second place.

There are so many variations that can be used, so much so that whole books have been written about set ups, get an idea in your head then have a look around at what can be purchased to complete your idea in reality. It may be that you can’t find the accessory you are looking for; improvisation also has a place in the fish keeping hobby.

Once you have selected the tank that you are going to use, the first major item that you need to consider is the amount of lighting that the tank provides in its basic format. Will it be ample for my set up? Will it provide enough light for the plants I wish to grow or the corals that I intend to keep?

Any lighting unit supplied with any tank can always be upgraded to a more powerful unit, indeed in some cases it might even be a case of subduing the lighting as its too bright.

Before adding any décor to the tank consider the positioning of ornaments, rocks, plants etc. Too close to the glass will impede tank cleaning as your gravel cleaner or glass scraper struggles to get to the awkward areas, always leave a reasonable gap between décor and glass, it will definitely make life easier once the tank is up and running.

Decorating your tank:-

The tank is in place, you know which livestock you are going to add in the future and the lighting system is in place. All of the heaters, filters are situated in the tank so now we are ready to add the décor.

A major part of designing your tank will involve which background to select. You may wish to go for the roll of scenic background that attach to the outside of the tank. One of the most popular of these at the moments is the plain blue or black, you may wish to choose a reef design or a desert design, there are endless backgrounds to choose from. If you decide the ready made background is not for you painting the outside of the back glass is just as effective plus you can decide which color it is going to be.

One of the newer crazes seems to be pre-formed backgrounds that are siliconed inside the back glass with a 3-D effect background. These can prove to be quite costly so be aware of this when considering them.

Substrate is the second item to be added, do we use gravel, sand or even leave the tank with no substrate- this is your choice. There are various gravels, different colored sand to be found available for purchase.

Once a substrate has been selected adding the hard décor is the next step. There is also a wide choice of items to use and I shall now break these down into simple groups

Ready made ornaments

We have all seen the dead mans chest, skulls, and skeletons etc that are available. You can even buy ornaments nowadays to fit a theme. A Japanese theme can be created using bridges, Japanese temples, dragons and various artificial bamboo arrangements. A child’s theme would consist of cartoon characters, comical signs and strange aquatic monsters. These are all sold in most of the outlets and if placed in a pleasing way inside the tank can work very well. Always clean the ornaments before placing them in the tank to remove any residual dust or flakes that may have settled on them.

Rocks and Wood

If you are after a natural looking tank, rocks and wood placed in the tank with plants around them makes for a great aquascape. A rock is a rock you may say but even with these there is a choice. Tuffa rock, Ocean rock, River rock, even artificial rock can be used. You must remember that unless you require it the rock should be inert so that it doesn’t affect the water chemistry. This is quite easily tested by dropping some vinegar on it and if it doesn’t react then the rock is safe to use.

Wood can come in many shapes and forms; mopani wood is very popular for its eccentric shaping. Driftwood creates a definite natural look but it should be water logged first to make sure it will actually sink as some pieces are placed in the tank and decide to float once the water is added. Some keepers will use one large piece of wood as the central focal point; plants are then placed around it to soften the edges. Smaller pieces of wood are sometimes randomly scattered about the tank with rocks in-between, this too will give your tank a feel to it. Any wood that is added to the tank should be presoaked to prevent tannins or saps leaching out. Normally the soaking should be for a few days, doing this can prevent future water problems.

Aquarium rocks


There are two main reasons why plants are added to a tank. The first being for decoration and the second to provide hiding places for fish, encouraging fish to breed and so on.

Plants will also aid in keeping your water quality high as they will absorb nitrates which are detrimental to the health of your fish.

Planted tanks always use live plants that are selected for their height or lack of height, appearance and to create the perfect aquatic garden. If you are looking for decoration only then plastic plants or silk plants are also available. Nowadays these look so realistic when submerged that a lot of people will choose them to save on pruning and feeding. Some of the larger artificial plants can be quite expensive but look more the part than some of the cheap false looking versions.

If you wish to go for a full planted tank with live plants it is a good idea to have a look around the internet or in books to see how other keepers have set out their tanks. When you have seen some of the planted tanks that have been created, you will be amazed. You may see many tanks that look outstanding on the internet and you are sat there thinking I could never do that. After playing around with tank décor and trying out different layouts, you will surprise yourself at what can be achieved. Do not be frightened to experiment with items that are available for use, incorporate your own ideas with ideas “borrowed” from other people’s tanks.

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