When looking to start and buy an aquarium you have two choices, Acrylic or Glass. Each can hold water very well and can become a home for your aquatic environment equally well, so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each fish tank material.
Material Color / Tint
Acrylic, effectively a plastic tank, has no tint or color to the material thus enhancing the viewer’s experience and giving you a true vision of your fish. Glass tanks tend to vary either giving you a slightly blue or green tinge as the material is slightly colored, this can be offset slightly by choosing to use lighting of a different color temperature. You may have seen our reviews of the Starfire cubic aquariums on our site the type of glass fitted to these is of much high quality than that of most, giving you the same color depth as that of an acrylic tank albeit at the same cost. Although initially clearer and brighter, as Acrylic tanks age they may become slightly cloudy whereas glass retains its original clarity.
Starfire Glass is of much higher quality giving you the same color depth as Acrylic.
Due to the nature of the material, glass tanks tend to be very heavy, usually requiring more than one person to move them. Especially when full! An acrylic 55-Gallon aquarium weighs in at a light 42lbs whilst the glass equivalent is almost double that at 78lbs. If you have any intention of potentially moving or altering your setup, clearly an acrylic has the upper hand.
With light bending/refracting when it enters a transparent material a slight visual distortion can occur thus impeding or altering the of your aquatic life. Albeit a very slim piece of glass (between 6 – 20mm dependent on size) it could affect your view although with little or minor effect. As for acrylic, this material causes little if any visual distortion occurs.
Seams / Bonding
Aquariums are built from 5 sheets of either glass or acrylic (assuming the aquarium is a rectangle or cube) these are then joined and bonded together.
Some glass manufacturers such as Deep Blue Professional choose to build black injection molded frames to support the weight of the water inside, although this further impairs the view of the fish it helps improve durability and reduce the likelihood of damage. Others use silicone to join each glass sheet together preventing visibility being reduced although with enough force (where the edges of the material meet) this could be separated.
Alternatively, Acrylic aquariums are chemically bonded and you will notice if you look at the joins it should appear seamless thus being stronger and less likely to impede your view.
Filter and pump installation
Most glass tank owners tend to hang their filters from the side, simply stuck on using suction cups appropriately provided, as the tanks either are not pre-drilled for filtration or stumps. Many manufacturers, ie Deep Blue Professional, Marineland and Aqueon, now supply an overflow system with their tanks enabling users to easily get started and hide filters/pumps. Assuming the glass is not tempered you should be able to carefully drill holes (with diamond drill bits/hole saw and corn oil) to fit appropriate sump or tubing (drill or cut holes into a tank at your own risk).
Similarly many acrylic tanks, such as those from Sea Clear and Clear-for-Life, now have premium filtration options available, ie system 2 and UniQuarium, pre-plumbed and ready to go. In the main, most are not pre-plumbed with acrylic tanks simply being plastic you can quite easily drill holes to the rear or side panels as you deem necessary without the same likelihood of damaging your tank.
Being plastic Acrylic tanks are far more likely to scratch or craze, these can be buffed out although this is a tiresome job and is likely to take a good few hours to do. Tools such as algae scrapers and magnetic algae cleaners are the biggest cause of damage. If you choose an acrylic aquarium place an acrylic pad between the outside of the tank and the magnetic cleaner to prevent scratches. Rather than using an algae scraper use an acrylic safe algae scrubber making cleaning whilst retaining a beautiful view. Similarly stones, rocks, and coral are all a hazard when setting up. Be careful about placing to prevent damaging the material.
Naturally acrylic is a better insulator in comparison to glass making it easier to manage a consistent temperature ideal for reef and coral setups.
Cracks and Breaks
As you know glass damages easily on impact and small chips can easily grow into large cracks. Regardless of whether you have a glass or acrylic fish tank, it is best to be cautious around them as most damage, cracks or breaks are caused by neglect rather than as defects. Being seamless Acrylic is less likely to break or damage, albeit impact is likely to leave a scratch or mark.
Typically glass aquariums, unless made of the higher quality Starfire Glass (like those of SC Aquariums), tend to be cheaper than the acrylic alternative.
Each glass and acrylic have their advantages and disadvantages, the choice lies in your hands when choosing for your next aquatic project, hopefully, the above has shed some light on the best one for your particular needs.