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How To Design Aquascape Aquarium Using The Rules and Layouts

Every art, design, photography, paintings, and other visual-based things have either the rule of thirds or the golden ratio methods applied to it.

From a visual point of view, it should balance correctly. Only then the focal point in the rule of thirds and the golden ratio will pop out. Let’s first try to understand what is the rule of thirds and the concept of the golden ratio.

Rule of thirds

choose aquarium tank

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The rule of thirds is where the design or art is divided into 9 parts. Where 2 equally spaced vertical lines and 2 equally spaced horizontal lines pass through the design or image.

In our case, it is the aquarium we are talking about. The point where intersection takes place is where the main object of focus should be. Placing something appealing will automatically attract the viewer.

To be more precise dividing or breaking the image into 3 parts both horizontally and vertically opens up more space to work. The intersecting of lines is the focal point in the rule of thirds.

Golden ratio

The golden ratio is also known as the golden section which is mostly used in designs, arts, and architecture. This is more of a math-based structural concept.

Using the golden ratio gives you the ability to perfectly balance your design. The concept is very simple but a little hard to calculate compared to the rules of thirds.

Imagine having two vertical and two horizontal lines passing through the image or design. The points where the lines intersect are known as golden points. Where you can keep your most attractive plant, rock, driftwood, etc to make them stand out.

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Importance of the rule of thirds in aquascape aquarium

The rule of thirds is based on aesthetics. You can build your aquascape aquarium without rule thirds, but there are few things you should consider before doing that.

The rule of thirds gives us a visual of where the human eye tends to look first. It is the concept of basically targeting a person to show what is best in your aquascape aquarium.

If you follow these rules, I bet you can make your aquascape aquarium look aesthetically more appealing. It also allows you to come up with some amazing concepts which you will definitely try in the future.

What are the focal point in the rule of thirds and golden ratio?

plants are best for dutch style aquascape aquarium

A focal point can be of two perspectives. That can be divided into natural and artificial. Now in nature, the perspective is already visible.

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If you tend to draw the rule of thirds over it, the object in the foreground should rest on the first or second intersection of the horizontal and vertical line.

In artificial, the focal point is where you want it to be. Place the object that stands out in the foreground.

Draw or imagine the rule of thirds and draw the lines. Position the foreground image where the lines are intersecting.

How to use a focal point to your advantage in an aquarium aquascape?

Starting from the bottom use the two-third of the intersection to place the necessary objects. For the sides, use one-third of the space to fill it with your desirable things as you need.

Make sure you are on the focal points while placing the objects. It can be from left to right or right to left. Placing unique objects like colorful plants (a blend of green, red, and yellow leaves), rocks, and driftwood will appear beautiful and attract the viewer’s attention immediately.

Doing proper research will give you a ton of ideas to workaround.

Creating Depth

natural style aquascape plants

Creating depth is also one of the important aspects of the focal point. The more depth the realistic it gets. It depends on the foreground, midground, and background object you select.

The flow should start from a focal point. You should plan on where you going to place the hardscape.

The first step is to build a base layer with the needed substracts. Make sure the layer is thick. The base should rise gradually from the front to back making it a proper slope.

The slope doesn’t have to be perfect. You can enhance the slope in the area where you particularly want to place the hardscape. Make sure the layer is balanced with the additives, soil, and sand.

Over adding of anything can cause future problems in the aquascape.

The second step is to place the hardscape. Make sure you place the big ones in the foreground and smaller ones in the mid-ground and background.

The placement of the hardscape should be in layer format. You can fill the left out space with hardscapes like rocks and driftwoods. This creates a depth effect on the layout of the aquascape. - For all your creative needs!

Different layouts in Aquascape

Now, before we move on to the next step we should know the layouts of the aquarium.

  • Triangle layout
  • Concave or U-Shape layout
  • Center layout or Convex
  • Linear layout

U-Shape (Concave layout)

U-shape layout is also known as the concave layout. It has a hollow depth effect. As you could have guessed by now, it is going to look like a U shaped layout inside the aquarium.

The process starts with a base layer filled with composition and soil. Both the left end and right end of the aquarium is occupied by the hardscape.

You can choose stone as the main hardscape and driftwood as support. Once you place the hardscape in place you can fill out the empty places with the plants.

This covers both ends with hardscape and living the center part empty. The center part is the depth in the U-shaped layout.

Triangle shape layout

The main objective of the triangle shape layout is to have a lot of negative/empty space on one side. The aquascape is structured in a triangular manner from one side to the other.

The Play Gym by Lovevery

Imagine a diagonal line running from the top corner to the bottom corner of the opposite side. That is where the layout should be structured making it a triangle layout.

For the triangle shape layout, fill the base of the tank with sand then add the necessary substrate, and finally cover it with soil. You can choose driftwood as the main element for hardscape and add some rocks to give it a natural look.

Make sure you place the hardscape at the very end of the tank. The structure should look triangular leaving the other end empty. As it provides an open space for the fishes to move around freely.

After the layout is structured start planting. Fill the foreground with plants. Use the rocks for support. For carpet, you can go with Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae or any other alternativeIt should be planted in the foreground as it adds more quality to the aquascape.

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Fill the empty surface with some other plants. Try to add plants in and around the driftwood and rocks for balance.

Central or Island Shape Layout (Convex)

Central or Island layout is also called a convex composition layout. As it bulges from the surface of the tank looking like an Island. The main structure is built in the center of the aquarium.

The hardscape and plants are placed in the center with open space on both sides making it look like an Island. The focal point is the center as it the only thing which is viewable.

The main base structure for the island is a hardscape. You can choose driftwood and other variety of rocks for the hardscape. The hardscape should be covered with plants in such a way that it should look like a mountain.

It is recommended to go with a slow growth rate plants such as Cryptocoryne Usteriana, Monosolenium Tenerum, Sagittaria subulata, etc. As it will keep the layout structure even for a while.

Changing the water regularly is highly recommended as it will help in algae control. To cover the surrounding area of the tank, you can go with a carpet plant-like Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae or you can choose gravel to fill the surrounding space.

Linear Shape Layout

The linear layout is first revealed by James Findley when he built ‘Crimson Sky’. This layout is a new addition to the aquascaping world. Crimson Sky of the linear layout is very different from any other layout as it breaks all the rules.

The rule of thirds and the golden ratio probably don’t apply to this layout. The focal point is guided in a linear direction to create the flow. It works best with shallow tanks as it gives depth to the aquascape.

The hardscape materials are added linearly on the midground. To create the contrast added different color plants in the foreground and background area.

The only way to create such a masterpiece is to comprehend the rules and styles of the aquascape.


For beginner knowing all these things are important!

Following the rule and working accordingly will make you a professional. But, if you once master all the new styles and methods, the sky is the limit. Just like James Findley did with the linear layout.

People who are experts in aquascape follow proper rules to understand the layouts, styles, and structure. They experiment and expand their knowledge overtime. Don’t be hesitant, just go with the flow and build your first aquascape.