Glass vs. Acrylic Aquariums

The Disadvantages of Glass Can be Engineered around — Acrylic’s Fatal Flaws Cannot

Acrylic is often popular with manufacturers and hobbyists because it’s lightweight and relatively easy to fabricate. Manipulating heavy sheets of glass also costs much more, so many use acrylic for its lower production cost, instead of structural or clarity benefits.

Aquariums can be created with simple and inexpensive equipment, but the end product is not always durable, and we never skim on durability.

Below is a chart that compares the haves and have-nots of both materials.

Glass Aquariums Acrylic Aquariums
Scratch-resistant
Ridged Panels
Free of Fabrication Flaws
Non-Porous
Resists Absorption of Chemicals
UV Safe/Won’t turn yellow
No Visual Distortion
Lightweight
Curved Panels

Why We Prefer Glass to Acrylic

Overall, we prefer glass to acrylic. We found that tank manufacturers sacrifice the long-term benefit of glass for the short-term benefit of acrylic.

Now, this doesn’t mean that glass is perfect. Our goal is to mitigate the disadvantages of glass aquariums through our fabrication, moving techniques, and ultra-clear material options.

Read further for more glass-acrylic comparisons!

Regular clarity vs ultra-clear glass

Acrylic Aquariums Scratch Easily

Acrylic is a type of plastic. Take as many precautions as you want using so-called “acrylic friendly” scrapers and scrubbers, but all it takes is one mishap to have scratches all over. Glass aquariums can scratch, but they have a much higher resistance.

Over time, acrylic aquariums will age quicker than glass aquariums. Unlike a reptile cage where you can swap out scratched acrylic panels, there is no practical way to fix a severely scratched acrylic fish tank.

You can buff acrylic scratches, but you’ll have to drain your whole fish tank. You may also introduce a series of chemicals/buffing compounds that can harm your fish. And, even when buffing scratches out, restoring its original clarity will be difficult.

Acrylic Aquariums Are Prone to Fabrication Flaws

Since acrylic is flexible and non-rigid, the tank’s design and the welding quality are critical to its integrity; much more so than a glass aquarium with rigid panels.

When welding the joints of an acrylic tank, even the slightest oversight can lead to air bubbles. This compromises the integrity of that joint, and the tank as a whole.

Since glass panels are much more rigid, the joints don’t need to be as perfect as an acrylic tank. Over time, it’s far less probable that a glass aquarium fails than an acrylic one.

Acrylic Aquariums Become Yellow and Brittle

Another inherent flaw of acrylic is it can’t stand up to UV light, turning yellow over time. Many plastic materials claim to be “UV Resistant”, but no acrylic is UV-proof. And no additive can make plastic/acrylic stand up to UV light as long as glass.

Like an old faded billboard, it was likely printed on UV-resistant vinyl. It may have held up for 5 years instead of a few months, but eventually, it will fade and become brittle.

When an acrylic aquarium breaks down because of UV light, from the sun or aquarium lights, it will turn yellow, become brittle, and even crack and fail. The more UV lights you have on your tank, or the closer it is to a window, the more accelerated this process will be.

Acrylic Aquariums Have Porous Material

Many people don’t consider acrylic a porous material because water containers are made of it. But although water doesn’t visibly pass through acrylic, it is still absorbed and slowly leaches out the other side.

The chemicals and bacteria in the tank or the outside air may deteriorate the acrylic and fester at the microscopic level.

Like a plastic container that’s sat outside for years… UV light takes its toll, and the chemical elements are impregnated in the material, changing its composition forever. A pane of glass, however, can endure the elements for generations. After a good cleaning, it will come back to nearly its original condition.

Acrylic Aquariums Have More Visible Distortion

Clarity can vary a lot depending on the grade and brand used by the manufacturer, so it’s important to know the exact clarity you’re getting.

Second, because acrylic panels are so flexible, the acrylic can bow significantly in the middle, creating visible distortions. Large acrylic fish tanks must have thick and expensive panels to prevent this. Unfortunately, acrylic this thick is often prone to impurities, making it less clear.

Thirdly, the strength of an acrylic aquarium relies heavily on the weld rather than the panel’s rigidity. Much of the strength and potential distortion is placed on the weld, making human error a much more significant factor.

Glass aquariums, on the other hand, are very rigid and come from the factory perfectly flat with tight manufacturing tolerances. We also offer a low-iron, Ultra-clear glass option to improve the optical clarity of the fish tank.

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