How to Make Your Fish Tank Look Professionally Designed

Maintaining a fish tank is a fun, rewarding hobby, and having your own aquarium is a great opportunity to study a marine ecosystem in action. If you’ve seen some professional aquarium designs and been inspired to take your fish tank to the next level, there are simple changes you can make to your aquarium that can significantly enhance its appearance. You can also use some basic aquarium design principles so the layout of your tank looks like it was designed by a professional.

Choosing New Plants and Decorations

  1. 1 Choose a natural-looking substrate for the bottom of your tank. Most professionally-designed fish tanks opt for a muted, neutral-toned substrate to mimic the appearance of a lake or ocean floor. While a lot of pet stores sell colorful, neon substrates for fish tanks, you may want to avoid using one since it can make your aquarium look cheap.[1]
    • Sand and gravel are both common aquarium substrates that you can find in natural-looking colors. However, keep in mind that the best substrate to use for your tank will depend on the kind of fish you have. Also, if you’re adding live plants to your tank, you’ll need to use a substrate other than loose gravel so you can plant roots in it.
    • Go with a black or dark brown substrate if you want to enhance the color of your fish. Some fish appear less colorful over light-colored substrates.
  2. 2 Use live plants in your aquarium if possible. Most professionally-designed fish tanks contain live plants, which help oxygenate water and add to an aquarium’s authentic appearance. You can get live aquarium plants for both freshwater and saltwater tanks, and they’re relatively easy to maintain as long as you choose plants suited for the water temperature and chemistry in your tank.[2]
    • You can find live aquarium plants online or at your local pet store.
    • The right live plants to use will depend on the water in your aquarium and what kind of fish you have. Always research live plants before adding them to your tank so you don’t inadvertently harm your fish or kill the plants.
    • If you’re not interested in using live plants, you can still design a professional-looking aquarium by using high-quality, realistic-looking artificial plants. You can also try adding just 1 or 2 live plants to your tank in addition to artificial plants to see if you like them.
  3. 3 Add multiple kinds of plants to make your tank more interesting and diverse. Having a diverse array of plants in your fish tank will help it look more natural, and the varying shapes, colors, and sizes will be aesthetically pleasing. Don’t feel like you need to go overboard—even just having 2 or 3 different kinds of plants can have a big impact.[3]
    • Keep in mind that plants with small leaves will make your tank appear bigger, and plants with big leaves will take up space and make it appear smaller. If your tank is small and you want to create the illusion of space, choose plants with smaller leaves.
    • Choosing plants with different colorings is also a great way to add more visual interest to your tank. However, stick with varying shades of green for the majority of the plants so your tank looks natural.
  4. 4 Incorporate rocks, driftwood, or coral into your tank for a natural touch. For a professional-looking fish tank, you want to avoid cluttering it with cheap aquarium decorations. However, adding a few visually-striking rocks, pieces of driftwood, or pieces of live coral can really enhance its appearance. You can use either real or artificial decorations, but make sure they’re clean before adding them to your tank.[4]
    • Avoid adding decorations that you’ve found outside to your tank since they can introduce bacteria and make your fish sick. You can get real rocks, driftwood, and other decorations online or from a pet store.
    Tip: Choose tank decorations that would naturally be found in the underwater environment you’re replicating. For example, adding coral to a saltwater tank would be a nice touch, but you wouldn’t want to use coral in a freshwater tank since coral isn’t found in freshwater environments.
  5. 5 Get a background for your aquarium that enhances the design. For a professional-looking tank, you’ll want to stick with a solid color background or a background that blends seamlessly with the plants and other decorations in your tank. Avoid busy backgrounds or backgrounds in bright colors since they’ll distract from your tank’s design.
    • A black or dark-colored background will make the fish and decorations in your tank pop.
    • If you want to use a background with a scene on it, like a background covered in plants, make sure the plants match the ones in your tank. That way, the background will look like an extension of the tank instead of something you’ve stuck on the back of it.
    • You can find a variety of aquarium backgrounds online or at your local pet store.
  6. 6 Use aquarium lights to cast interesting highlights and shadows. The lighting in your fish tank can make a big difference, and many professionally-designed aquariums use lighting to alter the overall aura and atmosphere in a tank. Instead of illuminating your entire tank with standard aquarium lights, try placing lights in different places around the outside of the tank or adding submersible lights in the tank itself to create interesting effects.[5]
    • For example, you could position a light so it’s shining on one side of the tank to create shadows throughout your aquarium, or you could use high-intensity spotlights to illuminate a specific part of the tank that you want to draw attention to.
    • You can find aquarium lights online or at your local pet store.
  7. 7 Use a specific color palette to give your tank a cohesive look. Adding too many colors to your tank, whether it’s colorful substrate, plants, or decorations, can make it look chaotic. Instead, you may want to choose just 2 or 3 tones to incorporate into your design. That way, everything in your tank will be more aesthetically pleasing.[6]
    • For example, you could create a calm, natural-looking environment in your tank by using a green, blue, and grey color palette.
    • Or, if you wanted to design a saltwater tank with colorful coral, you could choose a few bright colors to use, like pink, orange, and bright blue, so your tank is bright but not overwhelming.

Method 2 Arranging a Professional-Looking Tank

  1. 1 Choose a single focal point to design your fish tank around. Having a single focal point will make your aquarium more pleasing to look at than if it were full of multiple structures all competing for attention. You can still include a variety of rocks, plants, and decorations, but most of them should blend in seamlessly around the central focal point in your tank.[7]
    • For example, you could choose a large rock or piece of driftwood to be the focal point of your design.
  2. 2 Position the focal point of your tank off to one side instead of in the center. Although it might be tempting to put the most important element of your design directly in the center of the tank, that can actually make your tank look unnatural and too balanced. Instead, place the focal point off to one side of the tank so there’s a nice contrast between the open and filled space.[8]
    • For example, if you’re using a piece of driftwood, you could lean it up against one side of the tank at an angle so it’s sloping across part of the tank. Then, you’d have open space on the opposite side of the tank that would be great for observing your fish in.
    • If you’re set on having something in the middle of the tank, try it out! If you end up not liking it, you can always move it later.
  3. 3 Slope the substrate in the tank to create beautiful hills and valleys. These dips and mounds in the substrate will look more realistic than a perfectly flat bottom, and they’ll add more visual interest to your tank. When you add the substrate to the tank, pile it higher in some spots and leave it shallow in others. You can experiment with different designs until you find one that you like.
    • For example, you could have the substrate slope from one side of the tank to the other so your aquarium has a shallow and deep end.
    • Or, you can have multiple small hills and valleys going across the bottom of the tank, which will look like they’ve been slowly created by erosion over time.
    Warning: If you’re using live plants, make sure the substrate is deep enough to plant their roots in. Otherwise, your plants won’t have anything to support them.
  4. 4 Place larger plants in the back of the tank and smaller plants in the front. Not only will this make it easier to see all of the different plants in your tank, it will also prevent tall, large plants from covering up your design and obscuring your fish.[9]
    • There may be exceptions to this rule, depending on your design. Sometimes, it might look better to have a taller plant near the front of your aquarium, or you might want to mix a variety of small and big plants together in the same spot. However you arrange the plants, just make sure they’re visible and not blocking anything important.
  5. 5 Use your plants and decorations to conceal any aquarium equipment. Things like filters, heaters, and tubing can disrupt the natural ambiance in your tank. As you’re arranging your aquarium, position tall plants or large decorations in front of this equipment so it’s not as visible. You can also move the equipment to a new, hidden part of the tank if you don’t want to alter your design to conceal it.[10]
    • You can also use smaller plants and rocks to hide the edges of plastic decorations so they blend in better with the rest of your tank.
  6. 6 Look up professional aquarium layouts online if you need inspiration. While following general design principles will help give your fish tank a professional appearance, ultimately the design is up to you, and the possibilities are endless! Looking at professionally-designed fish tanks online can send you in the right direction if you’re feeling stuck. Some common aquarium layouts you might want to consider include:[11]
    • A mountain-style setup: position large, tall rocks off to one side of your tank so they slope down and form a peak at the top. Then, intersperse plants between the rocks, and leave the surrounding parts of your aquarium open.
    • An island setup: have the plants and substrate in your tank slope from one side of the tank to the other, so it looks like your aquarium is a sloping shoreline off the coast of an island.
    • A concave setup: position taller plants on the outer edges of the tank and shorter plants near the center so there’s a concave dip in the center, which will create a nice open space to observe your fish.

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