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Aquarium Layout Ideas

Updated June 07, 2017

Designing the layout of an aquarium is an art and a science; you must make it visually interesting but still friendly to the inhabitants of the tank. With a bit of knowledge about your aquatic pets, and a little design theory, designing the perfect aquarium layout can present a fun challenge.

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Plants make a popular decoration for aquariums. First, make a decision between live and artificial plants. Live plants can require work. Some people use hardy live plants with plastic stand-ins for delicate species.Arrange your plants by height. Tall plants look better in the back (and obstruct your view less), for example, and smaller ones work better in the foreground. Also, placing contrasting plants next to each other can make your aquarium more visually interesting. For example, plants of different colours or leaf shapes look good next to each other.

Rocks, Woods, and Ceramics

Rocks, driftwood, and ceramic or plastic aquarium ornaments provide visual focus and hiding places for fish. If you know something about where your fish come from, you can imitate their habitat. For example, Amazon fish love driftwood, while Rift Valley cichlids love rocky caves. Create a single point of interest, such as a large piece of driftwood or rock, slightly off-centre. Always obtain rocks or driftwood from pet shops; when procured from other sources, these items can contain chemicals.

Biotypes and Themes

With the wide variety of aquarium ornaments available, you can also create a "theme" tank. For example, you can fill your aquarium with miniature Greek columns and make a tiny Atlantis. Freshwater enthusiasts can take advantage of fake coral and make a faux-saltwater tank. You also have the option of creating a type of theme tank called a "biotype" tank with fish from a specific region and decorations that mimic that habitat.

Theory of Thirds

Photographers use a concept called the Golden Ratio or the Theory of Thirds to compose photos. Imagine a tic-tac-toe-shaped grid across the photo, and try to create points of interest at the places where the lines meet. You can apply this concept to aquariums as well. Just imagine a tic-tac-toe grid stretched across the front of your aquarium.


You can enhance your aquarium's sense of depth with proper layout in three common ways. One method involves establishing an "island" in the middle --- an object of interest such as a large plant or rock dominating the centre of the tank. Another involves running objects of interest in a diagonal line from a back corner to the front. Finally, you can create a "U"-shaped arrangement by leaving the centre empty and filling the back corners and edges of the centre with objects of interest.

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