Glass vs Acrylic Aquarium – Deep Dive Comparison

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Aquariums are a fantastic addition to any home or office space, providing a captivating underwater world filled with vibrant aquatic life.

When it comes to choosing the right material for your aquarium, two popular options stand out: glass vs acrylic aquarium.

Each material comes with its own set of advantages and considerations, ranging from durability and clarity to ease of maintenance.

In this article, we will delve into every aspect of acrylic and glass aquariums, as well as provide insights on how to clean and maintain them.

Quick Facts

Clarity over timeStarts off clear, and will remain clearStarts off clear and may turn yellow over time
Scratch resistanceMore scratch-resistant than acrylicScratches more easily than glass
WeightHeavier than acrylicLighter than glass
Impact resistancePoor impact resistanceGood impact resistance
Shape and customizationHarder to shape and customize than acrylicEasier to shape and customize than glass
Visual DistortionAlmost no distortionHas some distortion
PriceCheaper than acrylicMore expensive than glass

My Experience

I personally prefer glass aquariums and all my present aquariums are made of glass.

But I did have an acrylic fish tank a few years ago and did like it.

The only reason I sold it was because it was too big and I was wanting smaller tanks so that I could keep a barb tank and a tetra tank.

I wanted to separate the different species.

I did manage to scratch the acrylic tank but luckily it was at the side so it did not affect the front viewing of the tank.

There is nothing wrong with acrylic tanks and if they were cheaper then I might have considered getting another one.

Durability and Strength

When evaluating the durability and strength of aquarium materials, both acrylic and glass have their own characteristics and considerations.

Glass aquariums have long been praised for their durability.

They are more resistant to scratches, which helps maintain their visual clarity over time.

Glass panels are less likely to show signs of wear and tear, ensuring a pristine viewing experience.

But it’s important to note that glass is a brittle material.

It can be more susceptible to cracking or shattering under excessive impact or pressure.

Therefore, caution must be exercised during handling and placement to avoid accidents that could damage the glass.

Acrylic aquariums, on the other hand, offer superior impact resistance compared to glass.

Acrylic is a lightweight material that is much more flexible and resilient.

It can withstand accidental bumps and knocks without cracking, making it a safer choice in environments where accidents or rough handling may occur.

This feature is particularly beneficial for households with children or pets.

It’s worth noting that advancements in manufacturing technology have led to the production of high-quality acrylic aquariums that rival the durability of glass.

Premium acrylic tanks are often made with thicker panels, reinforced seams, and scratch-resistant coatings, further enhancing their durability and strength.

To summarize, glass aquariums excel in terms of scratch resistance and maintaining long-term visual clarity.

However, they can be more susceptible to cracking or shattering under significant impact.

Acrylic aquariums offer superior impact resistance, making them a safer option, but they may be more prone to surface scratches.

The choice between the two materials depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the environment in which the aquarium will be placed.

Acrylic vs glass aquarium

Clarity and Visibility

When it comes to the clarity and visibility of an aquarium, both acrylic and glass have their own characteristics and considerations.

Glass aquariums are known for providing exceptional optical clarity.

They offer a crystal-clear view of the tank inhabitants without any distortion or haziness.

Glass panels maintain their clarity over time and do not discolor or become cloudy.

This superior optical clarity allows for an immersive and unobstructed viewing experience, showcasing the vibrant colors and intricate details of the aquatic life inside.

Acrylic aquariums, while slightly less clear than glass initially, have made significant advancements in terms of clarity.

High-quality acrylic tanks can now rival the optical clarity of glass.

Acrylic manufacturers utilize advanced techniques to minimize imperfections and create panels with excellent transparency.

With proper maintenance and care, acrylic tanks can also provide a clear and distortion-free view.

Some acrylic tanks can become more cloudy and appear yellow as they age.

One advantage of acrylic is its ability to reduce glare.

Acrylic is a less reflective material compared to glass, which means that there is less light distortion and glare when viewing the aquarium from different angles.

This feature ensures that the visual experience remains pleasant and allows for better visibility, particularly in environments with bright lighting or sunlight.

It’s important to note that both acrylic and glass aquariums can develop scratches over time if not handled and cleaned properly.

However, scratches on glass tend to be less noticeable compared to acrylic.

Acrylic scratches can be more visible, particularly if they accumulate or are not addressed promptly.

Regular maintenance, using non-abrasive cleaning tools, and avoiding contact with rough objects can help minimize scratches on both materials.

To summarize, glass aquariums offer exceptional optical clarity, providing a pristine and unobstructed view.

Acrylic aquariums, while initially slightly less clear, have improved significantly in terms of transparency and can offer a comparable viewing experience.

Additionally, acrylic reduces glare, enhancing visibility and making it easier to appreciate the aquarium from different angles.

Consider your priorities for clarity and visibility when choosing between acrylic and glass, while also taking into account the other factors such as durability, design flexibility, and cost.

Acrylic fish tanks

Design Flexibility

Acrylic surpasses glass in terms of design flexibility.

Acrylic is a thermoplastic material that can be easily molded and shaped during the manufacturing process.

This characteristic allows for a wide range of design possibilities that are not easily achievable with glass.

Acrylic aquariums can be seamlessly formed into curved or bowfront panels, creating visually striking and aesthetically pleasing tanks.

The smooth, flowing lines of these designs offer a unique and captivating display, enhancing the overall visual appeal of the aquarium.

In addition to curved shapes, acrylic tanks can also be custom-made to specific dimensions, making them ideal for fitting into unconventional spaces or creating aquariums with unique shapes and sizes.

This versatility in customization enables hobbyists and aquarists to have more control over the final look and layout of their aquarium, allowing for creative expression and the ability to tailor the tank to their specific vision.

Glass aquariums, while not as flexible as acrylic, still offer various standard sizes and shapes to choose from.

Rectangular and square glass tanks are widely available and have been popular choices for many years.

Rimless glass tanks, characterized by their sleek and modern appearance, have also gained popularity in recent times.

However, customization options for glass tanks are generally more limited and may require specialized manufacturing processes, which can be more expensive and time-consuming.

It’s worth noting that the design flexibility of acrylic does come with some considerations.

The lightweight nature of acrylic requires additional support structures, such as sturdy stands or frames, to ensure the structural integrity of the tank.

Acrylic panels may also require thicker construction compared to glass to maintain stability, particularly for larger aquariums.

These factors should be taken into account when planning and designing an acrylic aquarium.

To summarize, acrylic aquariums offer unparalleled design flexibility due to their ability to be easily molded and shaped.

The possibility of creating seamless curves and unique custom designs allows for stunning and visually captivating aquarium displays.

Glass aquariums, while more limited in terms of shaping options, still provide a variety of standard sizes and shapes to choose from.

Consider your preferences for design aesthetics and the level of customization you desire when deciding between acrylic and glass.

The design flexibility of acrylic can offer a truly unique and personalized aquarium experience, allowing you to bring your vision to life.

Glass Aquarium

Insulation and Weight

Insulation and weight are important considerations when it comes to choosing an aquarium material, as they can impact the environment inside the tank and the practicality of handling and installation.

Acrylic aquariums excel in terms of insulation properties.

Acrylic is a better insulator compared to glass, which means it can help maintain a more stable water temperature within the tank.

The superior insulation properties of acrylic minimize heat loss, making it easier to regulate and maintain the desired temperature for the tank inhabitants.

This is particularly beneficial for species that require specific temperature ranges or for hobbyists who want to reduce energy consumption by minimizing the use of additional heating equipment.

Glass aquariums, while not as effective as acrylic in terms of insulation, still provide some level of thermal stability.

However, glass is a poorer insulator compared to acrylic, which means it may require more energy to maintain a consistent water temperature, especially in colder environments.

Additional heating equipment or insulation methods may be necessary to compensate for any heat loss in glass aquariums.

When it comes to weight, acrylic aquariums have a significant advantage over glass.

Acrylic is a lightweight material, making acrylic tanks much lighter compared to their glass counterparts.

This reduced weight makes acrylic aquariums easier to handle, transport, and install.

It’s particularly advantageous when dealing with larger tanks or if you anticipate the need to move or rearrange the aquarium in the future.

In contrast, glass aquariums are heavier due to the nature of the material.

The weight of glass provides stability and reduces the risk of accidental tank movement.

This can be beneficial in situations where you want to minimize the potential for the tank to shift or tip over.

However, it’s important to consider the load-bearing capacity of the surface on which the aquarium will be placed, especially for larger or custom-designed glass tanks.

To summarize, acrylic aquariums offer superior insulation properties, helping to maintain a stable water temperature inside the tank.

This can contribute to energy savings and provide a more suitable environment for temperature-sensitive aquatic life.

Acrylic is also significantly lighter than glass, making it easier to handle, transport, and install.

Glass aquariums, while providing some insulation, may require additional heating equipment and are generally heavier, offering stability but requiring more caution during installation and placement.

Consider your priorities for temperature control, energy efficiency, and ease of handling when deciding between acrylic and glass aquariums.

The insulation properties and lighter weight of acrylic can provide practical advantages, but the stability and heft of glass may be preferred in certain situations.

Acrylic tank cost

Visual Distortion

One aspect to consider when choosing an aquarium material is the potential for visual distortion.

Both acrylic and glass can exhibit certain forms of distortion, although the extent may vary.

Glass aquariums are known for providing excellent optical clarity, offering a clear and undistorted view of the aquatic life inside.

But very large glass panels or tanks with thinner glass may experience slight bowing or distortion along the edges, particularly when filled with water.

This phenomenon, known as “bowing effect,” is a result of the inherent flexibility of glass and the pressure exerted by the water.

It is more common in tanks with longer dimensions.

While the bowing effect is usually minimal and does not significantly affect the overall viewing experience, it’s worth noting for those who have a keen eye for detail.

Acrylic aquariums can also experience visual distortion, but in a different form.

Acrylic has a lower refractive index than glass, which means that light passing through acrylic can be slightly bent or refracted.

This can result in a subtle “prism effect” at the edges of the acrylic panels.

While this effect is typically minimal and not noticeable during normal viewing, it can become more apparent when looking at the tank from extreme angles.

The degree of refractive distortion can vary depending on the quality of the acrylic and the thickness of the panels.

High-quality acrylic tanks are designed to minimize this distortion and provide a clear and distortion-free view of the aquarium.

Visual distortion in both acrylic and glass aquariums is often minimal and may not be noticeable to the average observer.

Those with a discerning eye or specific aesthetic preferences may have different levels of tolerance for distortion.

When considering visual distortion, it’s recommended to view aquariums in person whenever possible to assess the clarity and distortion levels firsthand.

This can help you make a more informed decision based on your personal preferences for visual quality.

To summarize, both acrylic and glass aquariums can exhibit some form of visual distortion, although the extent may differ.

Glass aquariums generally provide excellent optical clarity, with minimal distortion except for potential slight bowing along the edges in larger tanks.

Acrylic aquariums may have a lower refractive index, leading to a subtle prism effect at the edges.

However, advancements in acrylic manufacturing techniques have minimized this distortion, providing clear and distortion-free views in high-quality acrylic tanks.

Consider your sensitivity to visual distortion and your aesthetic preferences when choosing between acrylic and glass aquariums.

Viewing the tanks in person before making a decision can help you assess the visual quality and determine the level of distortion that is acceptable to you.

Glass fish tank costs

Cost Comparison

When it comes to cost, acrylic and glass aquariums differ in terms of initial investment and long-term expenses.

Acrylic aquariums tend to have a higher upfront cost compared to glass tanks.

This is primarily due to the manufacturing process, which involves molding and shaping the acrylic material.

Additionally, high-quality acrylic tanks with advanced clarity and durability features may come with a premium price tag.

However, it’s worth noting that acrylic tanks often include additional accessories like built-in filtration systems or specialized lids, which can offset some of the extra cost.

On the other hand, glass aquariums are generally more affordable upfront.

The cost of glass as a raw material is lower, and standard glass tanks are readily available in various sizes and shapes.

However, customization or special design requests can significantly increase the price of a glass tank.

In terms of long-term expenses, acrylic aquariums may offer some cost advantages.

Acrylic is more resistant to impact, reducing the likelihood of breakage or replacement costs associated with shattered glass.

Acrylic’s insulation properties also contribute to energy savings since it helps maintain a stable temperature, potentially reducing the need for additional heating equipment.

Glass aquariums, while initially cheaper, may require more caution in handling to avoid accidental damage.

Replacement costs can be higher if the glass gets cracked or shattered.

Additionally, glass tanks may have slightly higher energy requirements for maintaining water temperature due to their lower insulation properties.

Ultimately, the cost consideration depends on your budget, desired features, and long-term plans for your aquarium.

Assess your priorities and weigh the initial investment against potential long-term savings to make an informed decision.

how to clean acrylic fish tank

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning an aquarium, regardless of the material, is essential for the health of your aquatic ecosystem.

Here are some tips for cleaning both acrylic and glass aquariums:

  • Cleaning Acrylic Aquariums:
    • Use a soft cloth or sponge to avoid scratching the surface.
    • Never use abrasive materials or ammonia-based cleaners, as they can damage the acrylic.
    • Gently remove algae or debris using a non-abrasive algae scraper or magnetic cleaner.
    • Regularly check the integrity of the silicone seams for any signs of wear.
  • Cleaning Glass Aquariums:
    • Use a glass-safe scrubber or scraper to remove algae or deposits from the glass.
    • Vinegar or specialized aquarium glass cleaners can be used to remove stubborn stains.
    • Avoid using abrasive materials that can scratch the glass.
    • Inspect the silicone seams regularly and reseal if necessary.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and glass aquariums depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Consider the following factors: durability, clarity, design flexibility, insulation, and weight.

If you prioritize durability and optical clarity, glass may be the better option.

However, if you value impact resistance, design versatility, and insulation properties, acrylic might be the more suitable choice.

If you are needing advice about nano tanks then read this article – Nano Tanks


Are acrylic aquariums better than glass?

Acrylic fish tanks definitely have there place. Glass fish tanks are a better option for small and medium sized tanks whereas acrylic is better for large and custom designed fish tanks.

Do acrylic tanks last longer than glass?

No, they don’t last longer than glass fish tanks. Glass tanks are more durable as long as you look after the tank and be mindful of the fact that they can crack and break quicker than an acrylic fish tank.

What is the advantage of acrylic aquarium?

The main advantages of an acrylic aquarium is that they are lighter in weight and much more impact resistant. Acrylic fish tanks can also come in a lot more different sizes and shapes then a glass aquarium does.

Photo of author


Irma Bense is the founder of She has over 42 years of experience in keeping fish.She has kept both freshwater and saltwater fish through the years.She has extensive knowledge in breeding numerous species of fish from Show Guppies, Cory Catfish, German Blue Rams to Apistogrammas.You can learn more about Irma on the 'About' page.

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