Tank Designer

Fish Tank Fish helps you pimp your fish tank for any fish species.

To set up your entire fish tank from scratch, follow these easy steps and customise your aquatic set-up. Each step provides you with important information that you need to know before making your decision, to ensure that you get the right tank for the right fish. Once you have read the information, Tank Designer will direct you to the relevant section of our online store where you can browse products and make your selection.

Step 1 - Choose your fish tankStep 1 – Choose your fish tank

The first step to set up your own fish tank is to choose the actual tank.

Decide on the aquarium size.

It’s a good idea to have in mind what kind of fish you want to keep before you purchase an aquarium. Some fish only grow to be a few centimeters; where as other types of fish can grow 30 to 40 centremeters or more in length.

Knowing what kind of fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need. If this is your first time with an aquarium, it may be a good idea to start with a 40 or 60 litre aquarium setup for now and stock it with some smaller and hardier species, such as goldfish and livebearers.

Decide on the aquarium’s location.

Place your aquarium in an area where the light and temperature of the tank won’t be affected by external sources such as windows and heater vents. Sunlight that enters the room through an unshaded window could affect the temperature of your tank. This could also lead to green algae problems once it is established. You should place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight. You also want to be sure that the floor is able to support the total weight of the aquarium and stand. A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 1 litre of water is 1 kg. For example, an average 2 foot aquarium or 70 litre tank will weigh about the 70 to 80 kgs when full and operational.

Fighter Bowls

Fighter bowls are small aquariums or vases that should be at least 1 litre of water. Siamese fighters or Bettas are the only fish we recommend you should keep without filtration.

All in one

An all in one aquarium is an aquarium that contain all the equipment you need in one neat aquarium unit. The equipment usually includes correct filtration and lighting for the size of the aquarium.

Nano Tanks

Nano is basically a small aquarium, and a nano-reef is a small reef aquarium. Generally, a tank under 80 litres is considered “nano” but there are a lot of other opinions. A “pico” is a tank under 20 litres. “Nano” comes from the Greek “nanos” which means “dwarf”. “Pico”, on the other hand, comes from Spanish and means “small amount”. But we will group these together.
The aquariums called “nano-cubes” are usually all inclusive (well mostly all inclusive) setups that have a built in filter along with a lighted hood, usually compact fluorescent lights or LEDs. Sometimes these aquariums are fitted with a small halide light system.

The pico systems tend to be about 8 to 12 litres with a little clip on light and a hang on back filter.

So, whatever the case, if someone is talking about a “nano tank” they are talking about a small tank.

In our experience the larger an aquarium is, the easier it is to keep healthy (because more water volume gives more stability of water chemistry and temperature), and the smaller an aquarium is, the more difficult it is to keep healthy. This is about four times as true for saltwater tanks as for freshwater aquariums, and about ten times as true for reef tanks (reef tanks being those emphasizing marine invertebrates) as for fish-only tanks. So the smallness of a reef aquarium is a rough measure of how challenging it is to keep it in good condition (the smaller, the more challenging), although of course what kind of livestock you are keeping also makes a huge difference.

Glass Aquariums and Furniture

These are the traditional glass rectangular aquariums. Aquariums should be built to Australian standards. That is the thickness of glass must be thick enough to with stand the pressure of the aquarium being full. The Stand or cabinet that the aquarium sits on must be structurally sound to withstand the weight of the full aquarium. We also recommend a 10mm layer of polystyrene to be placed between the aquarium and the stand.

Cleair Glass Aquariums

We are very proud to be able to offer this range of aquariums. The aquariums come with excellent lighting and filtration. The marine specific aquariums come with a sump system. The whole range is extensive and the models come in great colors, shapes in contemporary and traditional finishes sure to compliment any décor.

Cleair Acrylic Aquariums

We are very proud to be able to offer this range of aquariums. The aquariums come with excellent lighting and filtration. The whole range is extensive and the models come in great colors, shapes in contemporary and traditional finishes sure to compliment any décor.

Some of Fish Tank Fish’s available fish tanks include:

Fighter Bowls
All in Ones
Nano Tanks
Glass Aquariums and Furniture
Cleair Glass Aquariums
Cleair Acrylic Aquariums

Step 2 - Meet your fishStep 2 – Meet your fish

Okay, you have your tank, now let’s choose a fish.

Choose whether you want a marine (salt water) setup or a freshwater tank. This decision is much easier if you look at our types of fish. If you want more than one fish, keep in mind compatibility between fish species. Also remember that fish do not appreciate overcrowding any more than you like to be stuck in an elevator with twelve other people. There must be plenty of room for your fish to explore the tank without playing dodgem with other fish. The general rule of thumb is approximately one litre of water for each 2cm of fish you have (so a goldfish grows to be approximately 20cm in length, and requires 10L of water).

The Fish Finder section is designed to help you choose the right fish for your tank. Click Here for the General Rules of Stocking Fish.

Go fish shopping!

Step 3 - Laying FoundationsStep 3 – Laying foundations

Now that you have chosen your aquarium fish, it is time to think about the best substrate.

Substrate: When do you need it?

Substrate is the lining at the bottom of your fish tank. The main reason we use substrate in an aquarium may be an aesthetic one. It can mimic natural aquatic scenes or you can choose a fluro color that stands way out there. The size of the substrate is also important. Too fine and it will not allow oxygen to diffuse and hinder root growth for plants. Too large and the substrate creates pockets that trap uneaten food, fish poo, and decaying matter. The right substrate will also help to buffer your water and, if chosen correctly, will help you maintain your desired pH levels. This is especially important for African cichlids and saltwater aquariums.

A substrate is a necessity for almost all planted tanks. A good amount of substrate is recommended for planted tanks (5-9 cm) in order for the plants to establish a root system. A fully planted tank will require a little planning. If you want a serious planted aquarium it is recommended to lay a foundation of a nutrient rich layer. Plants take up nutrients through their root systems as well as their leaves. We recommend products such as Miracle baby plant substrate, before you add the top layer of substrate.

The livestock that you will be keeping is also a consideration. If you are planning on having bottom dwelling fish a finer substrate or a substrate that the individual particles are more rounded than sharp is also preferred. Mexican walking fish or axolotls are best suited to a fine substrate as this fish species is known to ingest the substrate and larger particles may get stuck in their intestinal tract.

Shop Substrates

But how much?

Let’s discuss how to get the amount you want without guessing. While this may sound complicated, don’t worry – you won’t need to be an algebra whiz to get it right

These simple formulas should calculate how many kilos of a substrate you need to meet your desired depth, no matter what shape or size your tank is.

The first thing you need to know is the area of your tank. The area of a square or rectangular shape is the length multiplied by the width.

For example: a standard 60 L tank is 60x30x33 cm, so it has an area of 60×30 = 1800 cm^2 (centimeters squared). Once you know your area, you simply multiply it by your desired height of substrate. So if you wanted 5 cm of substrate in your standard 60 L aquarium, you would need enough substrate to occupy a volume of 5×1800 = 9000 cm^3 (centimeters cubed or cubic centimeters), which is equivalent to 9 litres

Now that you have calculated the volume, you need to calculate the density (weight to volume ratio) of your substrate. We’ve done an example for you. It should be noted that the size of each individual grain of a substrate will vary per bag, so we are not dealing with an exact measurements, this is a simple guide. The following volumes will give you a rough estimate per kg of what I will call fine substrate and medium substrate. These formulas are not calculated on substrates where the individual particles are consistently more than 5 mm size.

Fine Substrate (.25-.50 mm): 1 kg occupies about 600 cm^3 = 600 mL
Medium Substrate (1-3 mm): 1 kg occupies about 1000 cm^3 = 1 L

So how does this work again? Look at the example of the 60 L tank. If you want a planted tank with 5cm depth of substrate, you will need 9 L of substrate, i.e., 15 kg of fine substrate or 9 kg of medium substrate. So the formula is as follows:

(L x W x DH (desired height of substrate))/Volume (choose the fine or medium substrate)

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Formulas for Figuring Out the Area of Your Tank:

Cubes and Rectangles

Cube tank: length of any side multiplied by itself (L x L)
Rectangular tank: width multiplied by length (W x L)

Corner Tanks

This gets a little trickier; thankfully, most corner tanks are right triangles with equal lengths as they are designed to fit into a corner, and that type of right triangle is just a square cut down the middle through two corners, so we can calculate it by this formula: any of the two sides (NOT THE FRONT) of your corner tank multiplied by itself and divided by 2 will give you your tank’s area:

Hexagon Tanks

This isn’t as tricky as you may think. A random hexagon whose opposite sides are parallel is really two triangles and a rectangle (or square), so all you need to do is divide your hexagon tank into 3 different parts. The area of a rectangle is easy (L x W); now figure out the area of your 2 triangles (1/2(bh)) and add them to the area of your rectangle. If you have a regular hexagonal tank (all sides and angles are equal) then there’s a very simple formula given below.

Regular Hexagonal Tank: 2.6 (L x L) (side length)
Random Hexagonal Tank: (L x W of rectangle part) + (2(L x NW)/2 of the triangle part).

Circlular Tanks

This is for cylindrical tanks. It’s probably difficult for you to figure your radius, so what you need to do is measure the diameter of your tank. Make sure your measuring tape goes through the center of your tank; your radius is half your diameter the formula is Pi x Rx R (3.1416 * radius * radius).

So once you calculate the area of the base of your aquarium simply multiply it by the desired height of substrate (DH) and you’ve got the volume need. Take the volume and divide it by the volume of 1 kg of the substrate you want (fine or medium) and you’ll know how many kilograms of substrate you’ll need.

We suggest to buy alittle more substrate than you think you may need. Batches from the same supplier sometimes vary. Some is often lost in the cleaning process and it is handy to have on hand for future renovations or additional setups.

Some situations you won’t need substrate:

Now that we’ve discussed how much substrate you will need, let’s look at situations when you may not need any. Some breeders prefer to have a bare-bottom tank for fry and, in some cases a bare-bottom tank is easier for breeding.

We hope we’ve helped you get to the bottom of your substrate needs!

So keep these points in mind when you look at our substrates. We carry a selection of substrates for freshwater and marine aquariums in 1,2,5,10 and 20 kg quantities.

Shop Substrates

Step 4 - DecorateStep 4 – Decorate

This is the part where you can be creative. Create an aquatic world, an underwater masterpiece, or a fun playground for your fish. Click here to see some of the things you can use:

  • Artificial Plants
  • Ornaments
  • Driftwood/Rocks
  • And More!

Step 5 - Get gardeningStep 5 – Get gardening

Next you have to choose whether you want live or fake plants in your fish tank.

Aquarium plants can add an ‘authentic feel’ to any fish tank as a decoration while they oxygenate the water. Some plants require more care than others, but the best way to maintain a healthy plant is to take care of the water quality in your fish tank. Double check the habits of the fish species you have in your fish tank as some may be nibblers and destroy any plant in their tanks (e.g. Silver Dollars). Others may thrive with plants (including live bearers such as swordtails so the young can hide from predators). An alternative for your fish tank if your fish species is known to attack plants, is an artificial plant.

Some plants available from our fish shop include:

  • Bunches, Piece, Centre, Hydroponic Pots, Plant Creations, Stem Cell
  • Low Light Plants include Java fern, Anubias, Java Moss, Vallisneria, Elodea, Hairgrass and Wisteria.
  • High Light Plants are more demanding plants and include Lilaeopsis, Glossostigma, Cabomba, Ambulia and Aponogetons.

Shop for Plants

Step 6 - Filter, heat, and lightStep 6 – Filter, Heat and Light

Now that you have the aesthetics of your fish tank organised, it’s time to consider the conditions of the water.

Different fish species require different conditions including filtration, lighting and heating.

There are three types of filtration that every aquarium needs:

  1. Mechanical Filtration
  2. Biological Filtration
  3. Chemical Filtration

1. Mechanical

Mechanical filtration removes the free floating particles from the aquarium water. The siphoning action of a power filter that hangs on the back of an aquarium does a decent job of this type of filtration.

2. Biological

Biological filtration is the most important aquarium filtration type because it deals with the growing of the good bacteria in your filter. The good bacteria are the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite and then converts nitrite into nitrate. This establishment of bacteria is essential to your success with keeping fish.

Ammonia -> Nitrite -> Nitrate

3. Chemical

Chemical filtration involves removing the dissolved wastes from the aquarium water. Often times this is accomplished through the use of activated carbon in the aquarium filter. Activated carbon can also help to reduce odors. It is recommended that activated carbon be replaced every 3 months to prevent the absorbed chemicals from being released back into the aquarium.

Filtration Systems

Air Operated

The simplest form of filtration is an air operated filter, either in the form of under gravel, corner style or sponge filter. These filters are suitable only for the smallest of fish tanks and bowls where the fish stocking level is kept to an absolute minimum. Eg. 2 Guppies in a 3 litre bowl


Internal filters are, by definition, filters within the confines of the aquarium. These include the sponge filter, variations on the corner filter, foam cartridge filter and the under gravel filter. An internal filter may have an electric pump and thus be an internal power filter, often attached to the inside of aquaria via suction cups. These are suitable for aquariums up to 70 litres.

Hang On

The hang on external filter is a quite new filtering system. It consists of a rectangular box that hangs on the aquarium glass by a curved side. The pump is situated in the way in and gets water with a solid pipe, while the way out water creates small falls passing on the curved hang on side of the filter. An advantage of the hang on filter is the extra space available for filter media opposed to the internal filters.


Compared to filters that hang on the back of the aquarium, canister style external filters offer an even greater quantity of filter materials to be used along with a greater degree of flexibility with respect to filter material choice Water enters the canister filled with the chosen filter material through an intake pipe at the bottom of the canister, passes through the material, and is pumped back to the aquarium through an electric pump on the top of the canister. Benefits of this type of filter are that they can provide a high volume of filter material without reducing the internal space in the aquarium, and that they can be disconnected from the tank for cleaning/maintenance and replaced without disturbing the aquarium interior or occupants


A sump is also an external tank but one that has water lines connected to the display tank. They can be any size but are often smaller and placed hidden below the main tank in the cabinetry. Sumps can provide many benefits. They can help with nutrient export by allowing certain algae types to grow uninterrupted from grazing by your herbivores in the display tank. Sumps also increase the total amount of water in the system. For instance, if your aquarium is 200 litres and your sump is 50 litres, you essentially have a 250 litre tank.
This extra tank also gives you the ability to hide ugly equipment (like filters and protein skimmers) that could diminish the look of the display tank. Many saltwater hobbyists add any saltwater supplements to the sump instead of the main tank. Supplements such as iodine, strontium, lime water dosing systems and others are often placed into or connected to the sump.


The temperature of the water depends on your fish species. A range between 25°C and 28°C is tolerated by most species without complications. This can be achieved using a heater from our fish shop in your fish tank and simply adjusting the temperature. All fish benefit from the use of a heater in your aquarium. When selecting the heater for your tank, remember 1 watt per litre of water as a general guide.


There are many different types of lighting for many different types of aquarium setups. It all depends on the type of aquarium you are running and what you are keeping in it. The lighting schedule and the length of time the lights should be on also differ depending on your type of aquarium and what you’re keeping.

T8 Fluorescent

T8 lighting is the most popular type of aquarium lighting and is supplied with most aquariums as standard. T8 tubes are suitable for the most basic of tanks, if you are only wanting to view your fish, or grow low light plants such as Anubias and Java Fern. T8 bulbs come in varying lengths, including but not limited to, 18″, 24″, 36″, 48″ and need to be replaced every 12 months.

Compact Fluorescent

Compact fluorescents, sometimes called power compacts, are brighter and more energy efficient than normal output fluorescent bulbs. Compact fluorescents are single ended, unlike traditional fluorescent bulbs which are double ended and come in a wide variety of styles and sizes including 4 pin or 2 pin. These should be replaced every 12 months.

T5 High Output Fluorescent

T5’s have a higher lumen output than a compact fluro or T8 fluro and are more energy efficient. It has also been reported that T5’s last considerably longer, between 1-2 years, with less degrade in lumen output.

Metal Halide

Metal halide aquarium lighting is the lighting of choice for many reef aquarists and those with the largest of planted aquariums. Metal halides produce more lumens per watt than any other aquarium lighting source.

Below are general recommended timings but again you may need to review it against what your keeping, for example different plants and corals require different lengths of lighting periods.

Freshwater aquarium fish only: 4 hrs min, 8 hrs max of tube lights

Freshwater aquarium planted: 7 hrs min, 10 hrs max of tube lights

Marine aquarium fish only: 4 hrs min, 8 hrs max of tube lights

Marine aquarium with corals: 9 hrs min, 11 hrs max of tube lights

Step 7 - Correct water productsStep 7 – Correct water products

Your fish tank is nearly ready!

Your final step in preparing your your fish tank is to choose water products to prepare the water for your fish species. All Australian tap water is treated with chemicals such as Chlorine and Chloramine. These chemicals are harmful to fish and will inhibit the natural nitrogen cycle. Any fish tank, both marine and fresh that you use tap water to fill and waterchange will need neutralizer. We recommend Biotec’s Water Ager CN, Seachem Prime and Aquamaster ACE. Beneficial bacteria suppliments are also a great idea when establishing a new aquarium. We recommend Biotec’s Amtrite Down and Seachem’s Stability.

Depending on your fish species, you will require additional products to adjust the water parameters to replicate those which are found in the fishes natural environment.

A planted tank will need fertilizers to supply extra nutrients to the plants. We recommend fertilizer balls and the Flourish products from Seachem. A nutrient rich substrate is also important.

The freshwater species in

Group 1 Tropicals may need PH Down, or Seachem Neutral Regulator to maintain a pH of 7

Group 2 Discus may need Seachem Discus Buffer for pH between 5.8 and 6.8

Group 3 African Cichlids may need Aquarium salt and or Seachem Cichlid Lake Salt and Malawi Victoria buffer for pH 7.8 to 8.4

Group 4 American Cichlids may need Aquarium Salt and Seachem Neutral Regulator

Group 5 Goldfish need Aquarium salt and pH up for pH 7.4 to 8.2

Group 6 Livebearers need Aquarium Salt and a pH above 7

Group 7 Natives may need Aquarium Salt and a pH 6.8 to 7.5

Group 8 Axolotls may need periodic addition of pH up for pH 7 and above

Group 9 Siamese Fighters need Aquarium Salt

A marine fish tank will of course need salt. We recommend the brands Ultimate Aquacare, Seachem, Coralife and Red Sea. Marine buffers should also be added. If creating a Reef Tank a specialty reef salt should be used in with Seachem Reef Buffer, Reef Complete and Reef plus.

Anyone wanting to be successful in keeping fish must put forth the time necessary to understand some basic fish tank water chemistry. This will help your fish to not only survive but thrive!

Shop Water Products.