Aquarium Tank Guide


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 of the basis of your aquarium set up. The aquarium filtration, heating, and lighting system, will all be designed around the aquarium tank. Therefore, it is important to choose the right aquarium tank for you and your fishes’ needs.

What is the best aquarium?

For most new beginners entering the fishkeeping hobby, 20 gallon glass aquariums are the best choice. This size will give you plenty of option of fish species to keep with relative ease. By choosing a standard rectangular shaped glass aquarium, you will be able to get the most value out of the money that you spend.

A 20 gallon aquarium kit such as the one below will get you started right away.

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.

Glass Aquarium Tank

Aquarium 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 are only going to be keeping relatively small species of fish.

A good way to choose the right aquarium size is to figure out what kind of fish do you wish to keep.  Then, research how much space the fish requires as an adult. Keep in mind that if you wish to keep multiple fish, you will need that much more space for the fish. As a general rule of thumb, 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 on 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 not only cost more, but equipment that is required to support the larger system will cost more as well.

Many people that are shopping for their first aquarium may be intimidated by large aquariums, and be attracted to very small aquariums instead. However, keep in mind that small aquariums can actually be more challenging maintain. They require more frequent maintenance and constant monitoring. Smaller systems are less stable and they are 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 bio load.

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 is 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 end up wanting a larger fish tank within a year.

Aquarium Shape

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

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

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

Out of all the designs that are available, 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 height of the aquarium. 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 in barbs. The footprint at the base of the tank is important for territorial fish such as cichlids as well.

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, it is more difficult to provide water flow to the bottom of the tank. Therefore, the bottom of the tank can become less oxygenated. Next, 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 vacuuming 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 the 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 the great for many reasons. Glass aquariums are:

  • Inexpensive
  • Strong
  • Clear

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

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

Acrylic Aquarium

Acrylic material is popular for large aquariums. Since acrylic material 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 material 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 quite fragile as well. They can crack and scratch easily. If you wish to clean them, make sure you use the soft side of the sponge.

Fish Laboratory

With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the knowledge that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory Aquatics is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish healthy.

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