Aquarium Tanks | Ultimate Guide to Types of Fish Tanks

The aquarium tank is the canvas for your aquatic masterpiece. The tank will hold not only the water but also the life inside of it.

The aquarium tank will comprise the basis of your fish tank setup. The aquarium filter, aquarium heater, and aquarium light will all be designed around the aquarium tank. Therefore, choosing the right aquarium tank for you and your fish’s needs is important.

Glass Aquarium Tank

What is the Best Aquarium?

The best aquarium tanks in the hobby are made by Aqua Design Amano (ADA) and Ultum Nature Systems (UNS). These premium rimless aquarium tanks are well-crafted, and they are made of high-quality glass and durable silicon material. The quality of the tank can be observed through the exceptional design and clarity of the glass.

However, these premium tanks are not the most affordable option on the market. Expect to pay for the quality. For example, an ADA Cube Garden 120P Aquarium (80-gallon capacity) can cost over 1500 USD.

There are many less costly options for fishkeepers that aren’t looking for a show tank. For most new beginners entering the fishkeeping hobby with a budget in mind, a standard 20-gallon glass aquarium may be the best choice. This size will give you plenty of options for fish species to keep with relative ease. By choosing a standard rectangular-shaped glass aquarium, you can get the most value out of the money you spend.

However, if you wish to find the best aquarium that suits your specific needs, you may wish to understand what exactly is available on the market today. The three main things to consider are aquarium size, shape, and material.

Aquarium Tank Size

Aquariums come in many different sizes.

Nano aquarium tanks can be as small as 5 gallons. Larger aquariums can reach hundreds of gallons in size.

10 to 55 gallon tanks are the most popular in the aquarium hobby.

What Size Aquarium Should You Get?

For most beginners, a 20-gallon aquarium is recommended. At this size, you will have plenty of options for fish species that you can keep. Maintenance will be manageable at this size as well.

However, this general recommendation is made assuming that you will only be keeping relatively small species of fish.

A good way to choose the right aquarium size is to figure out what kind of fish you wish to keep.  Then, research how much space the fish requires as an adult. Remember that if you wish to keep multiple fish, you will need that much more space for the fish. Generally, you should have at least 1 gallon of water for 1 inch of fish. However, different species of fish have different requirements.

Maybe you don’t know which exact species of fish you want to keep, but you know that you want an aquarium. If you haven’t decided what kind of fish you want to keep yet, identify where you want to place your aquarium. Then, simply choose the biggest aquarium you can fit in that space.

Of course, you would need to consider the cost of the aquarium as well.  Larger aquariums will cost more, and the equipment required to support the larger system will also cost more.

Many people that are shopping for their first aquarium may be intimidated by large aquariums, and be attracted to very small aquariums instead. However, remember that small aquariums can be more challenging to maintain. They require more frequent maintenance and constant monitoring. Smaller systems are less stable and prone to larger swings in their water parameters. On the other hand, larger aquariums are more stable and have the ability to handle a larger bioload.

In a small aquarium, you can only keep a very limited number of fish and you will be required to do many water changes. For these reasons, aquarium tanks that are smaller than 10 gallons are generally not recommended for new fish keepers.

If you’re trying to decide between two fish tanks of different sizes, choose the larger aquarium. Almost every new fishkeeper ends up wanting a larger fish tank within a year.

Aquarium Shape

Today, aquariums are available in many different shapes.  Aquariums are commonly available in some of the shapes below:

  • Standard Rectangle
  • Long rectangle
  • Tall rectangle
  • Square
  • Curved (bowfront)
  • Cylindrical

In addition to some common shapes, aquarium manufacturers will take custom orders and design your fish tank according to your needs.

Out of all the available designs, standard rectangular-shaped aquariums are the most common in the hobby. This is due to the fact that this is the most efficient shape.

For the majority of fish, the footprint of the aquarium is more important than the aquarium’s height. Since fish are swimming horizontally rather than vertically most of the time, the footprint of the aquarium is more useful to the fish. This is especially true for fish such as Danios and Barbs. The footprint at the base of the tank is also important for territorial fish such as cichlids.

However, there are some fish that do well in a tall tank as well. For example, fish that are not very active such as discus, angelfish, and gouramis may be suitable for taller tanks. Keep in mind that there are potential challenges in a tall tank. First, providing water flow to the bottom of the tank is more difficult. Therefore, the bottom of the tank can become less oxygenated. Next, the light intensity can be reduced significantly at the base of a tall tank. Therefore, without strong lighting, plants at the base may not grow properly. Lastly, it can be more difficult to maintain a tall tank. If you do not have long arms, you may struggle to vacuum the gravel of your aquarium. Special tools with long handles may be required to move objects in the aquarium.

While less common in the hobby, cylindrical aquariums exist as well. A well-designed cylindrical tank can become a great centerpiece of a room. A benefit of a cylindrical tank is that it allows the fish to constantly swim without turning around. Therefore, they are often the tank of choice for housing large active fish such as sharks.

Types of Aquarium Materials

Aquariums are made of different materials. The most common materials are glass, plastic, and acrylic. By far, the most popular material of these is glass.

Glass Aquarium

Glass tanks are a staple of the aquarium industry. They are available in almost every local fish store, and they are available in many different sizes as well. They are great for many reasons. Glass aquariums are:

  • Relatively Inexpensive
  • Strong
  • Clear

The downside to aquarium glass is that it can be quite heavy. This will not be an issue for smaller tanks, around 10-20 gallons. However, it can be challenging for larger tanks to move when they are made out of glass. Another downside to glass tanks is that they can break and shatter if hit with a hard object. However, most aquariums are manufactured with glass thick enough to withstand a reasonable amount of impact.

If you are looking for a sleek-looking glass aquarium, consider rimless aquariums.

Acrylic Aquarium

Acrylic material is popular for large aquariums. Since acrylic materials can be designed into many different shapes, they are especially popular for custom aquariums. For example, many cylindrical aquariums are made out of acrylic material. While acrylic aquariums tend to be more expensive, they do have their advantages. Acrylic aquariums are:

  • Very Strong
  • Ultra Clear
  • Lightweight

A downside to acrylic materials is that they can scratch easily. While they are strong, a piece of gravel or an abrasive sponge can scratch the surface of an acrylic aquarium. Therefore, acrylic tanks must be handled with care. Otherwise, the scratches must be buffed out.

Plastic Aquarium

Plastic material is popular for smaller fish tanks. These plastic aquariums are often sold as kits, with a lid attachment available in multiple color options. While plastic aquariums are light and generally inexpensive, they are also quite fragile. They can crack and scratch easily. If you wish to clean them, make sure you use the soft side of the sponge.

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