Acrylic vs Glass Aquarium: All You Need to Know!

Acrylic vs Glass Aquarium

In keeping an aquarium, many beginners usually need answers on the choice of aquarium type to keep, and the differences between the common options. The two common choices are the aquarium made from acrylic material and the one made from glass. Actually, there’s also the plastic-type, which is usually small and not very popular compared to glass or acrylic.

Acrylic is a plastic-like material that is just clear and transparent just like glass. They are both commonly sold in aquarium stores for the same purpose and in various sizes but are interestingly quite different in some specific aspects.

Acrylic vs. Glass Aquarium: which is better? In making the choice of the better type of aquarium, note that both acrylic and aquarium types have their advantages and disadvantages and suit different needs. However, for reasons which will be discussed, the glass aquarium is chosen as the more preferable option of the two.

Differences Between Glass Aquariums and Acrylic Aquariums

Okay, if you are familiar with fish tanks or aquariums generally, it is likely that you are more aware of aquariums made from glass. They are more common and of course easier to come across in shops and fish keeping stores.

Most aquarium keepers are at first excited about the idea of glass aquariums that they don’t even consider any other thing. However, thanks to experts in the field, we can now understand the details about the individual types of aquarium.

The first noticeable difference between these two is that acrylic aquariums cost more than glass aquariums. This usually comes as a surprise to many beginners, hence the thought that acrylic ones are better for some reason such as quality. This is however not exactly the case.

The difference in cost is simply due to the fact that glass is a more frequently demanded material than acrylic is, and is therefore produced more, and is thus cheaper. Shipping of acrylic is a different process from shipping or producing glass, hence the disparity in cost.

The second difference that is equally noticeable is in the weight. A glass tank is a lot heavier than acrylic. Acrylic is more portable and easily transportable when it comes to how heavy it is.

Noticing this, many would quickly opt for the acrylic tank, but it does have its perks too. Mostly, glass is heavier because it is thicker. But then, glass and acrylic of the same thickness would still weigh differently.

One other obvious difference between acrylic and glass is that acrylic is less likely to brake suddenly. Looking at the weight of both, it is crystal clear that glass needs more protection from accidents that would break it. Glass, on the other hand, cannot boast of the same feature. The first victim from an accident or a fall is usually glass.

Acrylic vs Glass Aquarium

In addition, when you go to the store to get a tank, one difference you would notice again is that acrylic usually comes in more interesting and creative shapes, while glass is restricted to mostly box-like shapes, such as squares or rectangles. This appears to make acrylic seem more aesthetically appealing to buyers.

Once you notice a tank in a different or peculiar shape or style of structure, then it is most likely going to be acrylic and not glass.

Consequently, this makes it easier to modify and improve the appearance of an acrylic aquarium compared to glass, although curved shaped glass is not that difficult to come across these days.

These differences seem to portray acrylic as a more beneficial choice, except for the higher cost of acrylics. However, as earlier stated, glass is a more preferable option, as it is more durable and better suited for the average or moderately sized aquariums.

Although it is established that glass is more likely to break in an accident, it is actually quite thick and very unlikely to suffer such a fate in normal circumstances.

Consider the reasons why glass is truly seen to be the better option;

Glass aquariums are made from such clear, thick and sturdy materials, such that it can perform its functions without the fear of easily getting scratched or worn. Thus, you can use your glass aquarium for a really long time without it looking old and battered. And considering the cheapness coupled with this benefit, glass is a sure way to go!

Glass aquariums don’t get scratched easily, except mostly by deliberate means. Even though glass seems more likely to get chipped or cracked upon impact, this is usually avoidable. Acrylic, on the other hand, gets scratched on every slight impact. Thus, over time your acrylic aquarium looks like something that a cat had a fight with.

Now imagine if you really did have a cat that can reach and scratch your aquarium. That wouldn’t be good. Acrylic doesn’t support constant contact from users or viewers who get interested in your fishes.

Even when cleaning your acrylic aquarium, you must be careful not to use a scrubbing material that can further scratch it. This requires a special type of cleaner and even extra care.

Also, if you observe acrylic aquariums that have been used for a long time, you would definitely see that it has gotten cloudy and somewhat yellowish with age.

This is absolutely unavoidable, and you should expect this to happen over time if you opt for acrylic. This unappealing aging happens due to the constant light that the material gets exposed to.

Light has a damaging effect on acrylic and even makes it less strong. This is totally different for glass. Glass remains constant and clear all through, no matter the amount of light coming in.

This being said, you can see how a scratched, yellowed, or battered-looking aquarium simply defeats the joy of keeping some really cool fish in your aquarium.

Glass is more stable, more balanced and generally stronger in some aspects than acrylic. It is also more pocket-friendly and easier to maintain. Beginners, as well as seasoned aquarists, use glass comfortably for a very long period of time.

However, some disagree and rather opt for acrylic due to special reasons. Acrylic has some peculiar benefits which make some say acrylic is actually better than glass, and indeed this might be agreeable due to some reasons.

Why is Acrylic better than glass?

Glass aquariums are only preferable when your aquarium is not too large. This is usually so for starters who need an aquarium with at least 300 to 500 gallons. Once you are going beyond this capacity, acrylic would be a better choice.

This is because such a very large tank in glass would be too rigid to manage, too heavy and simply inconvenient. Moving and cleaning would be very tedious and you would be limited to the things you can do to improve it.

However, acrylic serves this purpose better, as it is much lighter and easier to move. Placing it on a structure wouldn’t be as straining as glass.

Many people that prefer acrylic also a reason that glass breaking is more disastrous than acrylic breaking. And although the chances of such a terrible fall might not be so high for either of them, it is a possibility that must not be ruled out. Once glass shatters, it shatters into many sharp and harmful pieces.

Acrylic, on the other hand, does not break as badly.  It rather breaks into bigger, blunter pieces, and the damage is more controllable. Although no one plans for his or her aquarium to get destroyed, it is necessary to think of such a possibility, while considering the kind of audience that would constantly visit your aquarium.

Also, acrylic sometimes looks better due to the various creative shapes it can come in. You can have your aquarium in several interesting shapes, which you wouldn’t find for glass aquariums.

Also, many people reason that, although glass appears strong, acrylic is better because it doesn’t have to be as thick as glass, yet can accommodate a large volume of water. The surface of the acrylic aquarium doesn’t distort the look of the fishes the way glass does.

In addition, acrylic is better than glass when you consider that it is easier and more possible to drill through acrylic to modify it with a filter, or for whatever purpose.

Furthermore, if you want a very large tank, the cost of acrylic is relatively cheaper than what a glass of that size would be. This is weighed by those who then prefer to go for acrylic for very large tanks, despite the high cost. Looking at the cost of these two sometimes, it might at first be confusing for beginners.

Is acrylic stronger than glass?

When you ask which of the two is stronger, be prepared for a variety of answers because it is quite controversial to determine. Acrylic material is however very strong and can withstand so much pressure.

Acrylic aquariums are designed to be very resistant to impact and would not easily get broken. Glass on the other hand is also strong, but is really not dependable to withstand impact.

However glass aquariums are usually thick and therefore strong as well. But this doesn’t mean it can withstand some amount of sudden impact that acrylic can.

Which is cheaper? Glass or Acrylic?

Well, obviously and at first glance, glass is definitely cheaper. Acrylic costs more because, surprisingly, it is not as easily shipped as glass. Glass is more readily available, hence it costs less.

But when it comes to buying a very large tank, such as 500 gallons or more, the glass wouldn’t be the cheaper option. Glass increases in cost when the size, quality, and special features are more.

This is why large aquarium keepers compare the prices and rather opt for acrylic, which wouldn’t be so much more exorbitant due to size.

How much lighter is acrylic than glass?

One common advantage of acrylic over glass is that acrylic is lighter in weight than glass. This is especially true. Glass can weigh about ten times more than acrylic!

This means glass can be really so bulky and cannot be easily manipulated. Having something ten times weightier is a reason why some people avoid glass.

Is acrylic clearer than glass?

To the casual observer, both glass and acrylic are clear enough. But there is some difference in these two, because acrylic admits much more of the light no matter the thickness.

The thicker the glass, the more distorted it makes objects appear. It gives a greenish tint when it is very thick and wouldn’t give the exact representation of your aquarium inhabitants. Although acrylic gets less clear with age, it is originally and initially clearer.

But if you are looking for long-lasting clearness, then the glass is your best bet. Acrylic is initially clearer but is not resistant to ultraviolet rays which come from sunlight.

And although there are some acrylic tanks that claim to be ultraviolet resistant, they eventually get discolored with time. And with the discoloration comes the brittleness, which makes your acrylic tank more prone to a breakdown.

From this observation, it is thus agreeable again why glass is chosen to be the truly better option.

Is acrylic or glass better for framing?

When it comes to frame glazing, the question of acrylic or glass pops up again. In framing objects, glass or acrylic serves to protect it from spoilage, stains, as well as preserving it to be showcased.

While glass is cheaper and more common for framing, acrylic is lighter and more suitable. When used for big frames, glass are fragile and might be more potentially harmful and prone to breaking.

This is why some museums and art galleries might opt for acrylic instead of glass. Acrylic is however more expensive, even for framing, and scratches easily too, but is actually better to frame and cover large works for display.

Acrylic is less likely to break during delivery if it is well packaged. So in choosing either of the two for framing, you should consider all factors in relation to your needs before making a selection.

What type of acrylic is used for aquariums?

It is only normal to take precautions to ensure that the material used for building your aquarium is safe and healthy for the fishes that would be in it. The type of acrylic used for an aquarium is usually the clear acrylic, which is safe and healthy.

There are no harmful chemicals that would particularly harm your fish. Some of the common names or types of acrylic you would come across include Plexiglas, Lucite, Crystallite or Perspex which basically refers to the polymethyl methacrylate type of acrylic used for aquariums.

Acrylic is however the parent name that is the raw material used for the manufacturing. It is a plastic-like material, and almost all plastics are safe for saltwater tanks. Note however that joining pieces or sheets of acrylic together can be done, but must be done with a safe method and safe materials such as acrylic cement.

The type of acrylic used for aquariums comes in different specifications based on the brands that produce them. Some are ultraviolet resistant while some are not, some are more resistant to abrasion, while some are differently modified. Knowing exactly what you need will help you make a suitable selection.

How thick does acrylic have to be for an aquarium?

Of course, we know that glass aquariums are usually thick and thus heavier. Acrylic, on the other hand, seems light enough to still do the job. This does not, however, mean that acrylic is exactly thin like paper.

That would be disastrous. Yes, it is considerably thinner, but acrylic does need some level of thickness to be used. Acrylic thickness is very important, because the tank would hold several gallons of water and carry equally weighty fishes. It is very necessary to take the thickness into account.

The thickness of an acrylic tank needs to be determined from what capacity it would carry. If the tank isn’t thick enough, it might get too weighed down and then sag in a conspicuous way. The major factor to be considered when thinking about the thickness for your acrylic aquarium is the height that it would be.

For a very tall aquarium, it should be very thick and sturdy so as to hold the weight. The taller the aquarium, the thicker it should be.

And then the thicker it is, the more expensive the acrylic material would be. Seeing this, it is obvious that an acrylic aquarium is a bigger expenditure than glass, and might not be suitable for someone who is on a budget.

Finally, it takes different situations to particularly appreciate the advantages of one type over the other. The better option of the two would largely depend on why you are getting the aquarium and the specific function you want it to serve.

But for the regular fish keeping activity which is managed and maintained by individuals with a passion for fish keeping, then glass aquariums have always been rightly chosen to be the better alternative.

Saurabh Kumar

I am a passionate fish keeper, with years of experience. You will find some really useful tips and information on this blog about Freshwater Aquariums.

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