How to Make Aquarium Setups Stand Out

Have you ever wondered how to make a great looking, functional aquarium that really pops? Fish tanks are living art and can bring a beautiful focal point to any room. With a little bit of forethought, creating an aquascape with a professional beauty is simple and limited only by your creativity!


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    Pick a theme. Look at your fish and the room the tank is in. Think about what is most important in the look of your tank. Do you want to bring out the color of your fish? Maybe you want the tank to bring a certain mood to the room, or perhaps you would rather it match the existing d├ęcor in the room.
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    Choose some fish. If you don't already have fish, now is the time to choose which ones you would like to have in your finished setup. Consider your level of experience, tank size, and time commitment. If this is your first aquarium, choose hardy community fish that can survive your learning curve. Once you have a few kinds in mind, visit some fish stores and choose which colors and breeds you would like to have in your aquarium, making sure they are compatible tank mates. Hold off on buying them until your aquarium is set up and cycled. Keep the breeds you want in mind when choosing the rest of your tank elements.
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    Get gravel. Once decided, get gravel or sand in the color you want to bring out of your fish,or one that reflects the mood you are looking for. Buy about 1 pound for each gallon of water in the tank, you can add less or more until it looks good to you. If you plan on having live plants, make sure you have at least 1" of gravel on the bottom. Be sure to pick out an appropriate gravel (or sand) for you fish.
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    Pick plants. Buy several different types of plants for your aquarium in different shapes and sizes. A variety helps to keep the tank interesting to watch and provides different territories for your fish. Fake plants are easier to take care of, and are better if you're new to aquariums. Live aquatic plants require more care, but can keep the tank cleaner and even provide food and oxygen for your fish.
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    Decorate. Having one main decoration that is larger than everything else can provide a good focal point, but also make sure it won't crowd your tank. Twisted driftwood gives an interesting, natural look to the tank, or you could try a Japanese-inspired statue for an Asian theme. Try to pick something out that compliments your gravel and is functional for your fish. Consider getting a few decorations in different sizes to provide different territories. Decorations that bubble can provide oxygen to your tank, which is important if you don't have another source of oxygen already.
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    Add a background. If one side of your aquarium is going to face a wall, consider attaching a background to it. These simple sheets of plastic can be bought at any pet store, and come printed with beautiful pictures, from undersea plants to deserts. A simple black background will lend a very professional look, hiding cords and tubing and making the colors in your aquarium stand out, especially if you have a lot of plants. If your aquarium is looking a little sparse, a background printed with plants or coral reefs can give the impression of a much lusher environment. Measure your tank before going to the store, and buy a piece at least 1" longer than your tank to account for uneven edges. When you get home, cut it down to the proper size and tape it to the outside of the back of your aquarium.
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    Add your fish! Once your tank has been set up and cycled, you are ready to purchase your fish and add them to the tank. Buy only a few fish at first, and then add the remaining fish a few at a time, with two week intervals. Sit back and enjoy the view, and don't be afraid to make changes and upgrades!
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  • Different heights, sizes, and types of decorations and plants provide a variety of territories for your fish. You should always have at least one or two territories for each type of fish, invertebrate or amphibian in your tank, so they have places to escape and feel safe from the other species in the tank.
  • Experiment with color! Just make sure the colors you choose don't stress your fish out. For example, some fish can be stressed by too much bright red.
  • If you're taking on live plants for the first time, take time and care with them, and don't try for more than you can handle. If you've never dealt with live aquarium plants before, try starting with a single hardy plant, such as an Aponogeton bulb or a ribbon plant. It is a good idea to quarantine live plants before adding them to your tank. This helps prevent breakouts of unwanted snails and hydra.
  • The sand and gravel your put on the bottom of the tank are called substrates. Certain tank dwellers prefer certain kinds of substrates to others. Goldfish, for example, need gravel because they like to pick at food on the bottom and fine sand could be swallowed and block their digestive system. Some fish, like guppies, don't need any substrate at all, but can thrive with gravel or sand. Research your fish or talk to an aquarium expert to determine the best substrate for your aquarium.
  • Be sure to wash all gravel, decorations and fake plants before adding them to the aquarium. This will remove dust and dirt, as well as any contaminates or loose dyes that may still be hanging around. A mesh colander or a few layers of cheesecloth work well for gravel, pour in your gravel and rinse thoroughly with warm water only. You may find it easier to wash the gravel in several small batches, rather than all at once.
  • There are a lot of options out there now for tank decoration. Sometimes the easiest place to find inspiration is in the fish aisle of your local pet store. Browse their selection and see what types of decorations and plants jump out at you. Pick out one or two, then pick gravel and other decorations that match or compliment what you picked.


  • With any tank decoration, especially fake plants, beware of sharp or rough edges. This is especially important if any of your fish have long, flowing fins, as these can be easily torn. One great way to determine if something is too rough is to get a cheap pair of nylon stockings. Run these over the edges and points of your decorations in every direction. If they catch or tear the stocking, they are too rough for your fishes' delicate fins.
  • Some fish have special needs, for example a bubble eye goldfish can't have sharp objects in the tank. Take these needs into account when choosing decorations. Don't put your fish in danger for a pretty decoration.
  • Never use soaps or detergents on anything in the aquarium unless they are specifically designed for use in aquariums. Even if specifically for aquariums, read labels carefully to make sure it is approved for all species of fish, invertebrates, and amphibians in your tank. Soaps can be highly poisonous to aquatic animals, and it is nearly impossible to completely remove residues. Instead, opt for thorough washes with hot water alone. Small items may by boiled, but be careful of damaging plastic or painted items.
  • Be very careful when buying decorations with holes or small spaces. While these can be ideal hiding places for smaller fish, larger fish can become stuck and get injured or even die trying to get out. Be sure any hole or archway is significantly larger than your largest fish. If you have young fish, keep in mind their full grown size when picking out such decorations!
  • If you are just starting a tank, be careful of overstocking it. Having a lot of fish may make your tank seem lively, but they will quickly die from overcrowding. A good rule of thumb is one gallon of water for each inch of fish in the tank, using the expected full grown size of each fish. Goldfish need even more room, as they produce large amounts of ammonia that can poison the tank. A single goldfish should have at least 20 gallons (75.7 L) of water, and each additional goldfish needs at least 10 more. Keep in mind that in addition to being messy, these fish can grow to be 6 inches (15.2 cm) or larger. Overcrowding your tank can also stunt the growth of your fish and drastically shorten their lifespans.
  • When using live plants make sure any leaves that break off are removed as soon as possible. Leaves and other large debris can clog and damage filters.

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Categories: Aquariums