The first step is deciding that you want a custom made aquarium, that’s the easy part.
Once the decision has been made to construct a custom aquarium system, most people already have an idea whether they want a saltwater aquarium, high-end reef tank, or perhaps a simple freshwater aquarium. The type of underwater creation that you plan to contain in your custom aquarium can impact the type of material that you use to construct your aquarium.
The purpose of this article is to go over the options that are available to you as you begin your custom aquarium project. The following is some information to help you make your decision.
By far the material most commonly employed to build aquarium tanks is glass. Glass is actually manufactured heating ordinary sand (which is mostly silicon dioxide) to 1700 degrees celsius (3090F). At this temperature, the sand will literally liquefy. The liquefied sand is poured over tin plates to form panes of clear glass. When it cools, the material is transformed into the transparent amorphous solid that we are all familiar with.
In addition to standard glass, which has an aqua/green hue (particularly visible when viewed from the end of a panel), there is also a more transparent glass option available. Low-iron glass, sometimes marketed ‘Starphire’ glass is far clearer than standard glass. (see image)
Check out this awesome video on the manufacture of glass panes.
Gaining in popularity is the construction of custom built acrylic aquariums. Before going too far in-depth about the positives and negatives of employing acrylic to build a custom aquarium, its important to be clear on exactly what material I am referring to by using the term ‘acrylic‘.
The term ‘acrylic’ doesn’t just refer to a single type of material, there are actually a variety of types of acrylic. Acrylic is sometimes referred to as‘polyacrylate’, however polyacrylate is actually just one of the more common types of ‘acrylic’. Acrylic can be made from two basic groups of molecules, methyl methacrylate and/or polymethyl methacrylate. Plexiglas, Lucite, Perspex, and Crystallite are brand names of polymethyl methacrylate types of acrylic.
*It is important to note that unlike glass aquariums, scratches in acrylic CAN be removed by employing a buffing process. Whereas scratches in glass are pretty well permanent.
Other considerations to make when thinking about which material to choose could be the size of the decor that you plan to add to your aquarium once it is completed. With the popularity of DIY aquarium backgrounds and 3D backgrounds available for sale, it should be noted that acrylic aquariums often have a restricted access (unless specifically ordered otherwise). This can make installing artificial coral reef inserts or DIY background inserts quite the chore, if not impossible, in some custom built acrylic aquariums.
I wish I could say that there is a clear cut and dry superior material for the construction of aquariums. There just isn’t.
There are plenty of custom aquarium manufacturers that will try and sway you towards the material that they employ to manufacture custom tanks. Obviously, they have a bias. There simply is no ‘better’ option for materials when building a custom aquarium. The ‘best’ material for your custom aquarium installation depends on the particular set of circumstances for that particular custom aquarium build.
The right material for your custom aquarium build depends on the design of your aquarium system. Because glass is more scratch resistant and acrylic is easily workable, I often have custom glass aquarium constructed and will employ a custom designed acrylic sump or refugium, getting the most of the material I select for each component.
For large custom aquariums, it’s quite typical to employ acrylic. The primary reason is that above a few hundred gallons, custom glass aquaria are far too heavy to be moved by man-power alone. Thus due to the necessity of mechanical assistance, the logistics of installing large custom glass aquariums is typically cost prohibitive.
Another big consideration is whether or not you plan to have a reef aquarium in this tank. It sounds quirky, but I’ll never voluntarily put a reef in an acrylic tank again. The combination of high light levels, coralline algae growth, sand, and high expectations, combine to make the prospect of fitting a reef inside a custom acrylic aquarium somewhat unappealing. From the perspective of a person who cleans the inside windows of aquariums big and small, glass makes my job so much easier. Thus it will do so for you as well.
However, if you have a unique idea for an aquarium that has an unusual shape, acrylic is most likely your best material choice. Custom tank manufacturers can achieve many different sizes and shapes. Additionally, acrylic can be drilled and modified relatively easily. If you have a truely innovative aquarium idea, perhaps acrylic is the best way to build the custom fish tank of your dreams.
The insight and experience a custom aquarium installation expert can have on your custom build cannot be understated.
I’ll close with a recommendation that you seek out expert advice when trying to make a decision that could have a serious impact on your bank account. Rather than searching for discount aquariums or trying to find someplace that can offer wholesale aquarium sales direct to the public, your goal should be to find the best aquarium expert in your area. The insight and experience a custom aquarium installation expert can have on your custom build cannot be understated.
If this is your first multi-hundred gallon aquarium it may behoove you to have a discussion with a quality local fish store or professional aquarium services company such as Fish Geeks. Finding a trustworthy aquarium maintenance business that is also qualified to discuss larger aquariums can also be a challenge. It is particularly prudent to involve an experienced aquarium professional who can visit the site of your custom aquarium build and make recommendations with some specificity. Even if you decide to employ a 3rd party aquarium manufacturer, a professional fish tank installation service can save you a great deal of hassle if you include their consultation or expert advice in the earliest stages of the planning process.
Good luck on your quest to build the aquarium of your dreams, whether that tank is glass rimless aquarium planted in the nature aquarium style or if you plan to shock the world with twin acrylic reef aquariums, the world is your oyster. You just need a good plan. And for a quality aquarium display, that foundation is the tank.
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