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Best dimensions for a small contest tank?

Johnson18

New Member
Nov 1, 2022
17
22
Tucson, AZ
Debated if this should go in Equipment or Aquascaping. I guess it’s kind of a discussion of both, but since aquascaping is the goal, here we are. Lol.

I’ve decided I would like to put together an aquascape for the iaplc/AGA contest. Doing a large tank is not an option. I’d love to use my new 90p for it but it’s just too damn big. What are the best dimensions for a small contest tank? Less than a 60p.

My tank size limitation is mostly due to what I can physically handle, I’m disabled due to back problems. As I don’t work, overall cost is also a concern. Luckily, I’ve been hoarding hardscape materials for many years and have a decent collection.

This first attempt will happen in an ADA 60F because I already have one that’s not being used. It probably won’t get set up in time to enter this year, as getting the 90p running is the priority. The 60f doesn’t seem to be the ideal size for this though.

When I decided to build a competition tank, I went through the last several years worth of iaplc/AGA entries in the size range (AGA 2022 was 28-55L) to see what dimensions were most common. While I certainly did not try to collect that data to determine what’s actually used most, there were a few that showed up often. Most seemed to be 30 or 45cm tanks. Much larger and you end up being the small end of the next category up. The 60cm tanks like the 60F, are mostly so short it seems to be a big limitation. Like for the scale to work you end up limited to only tiny plants or moss. Obviously, tiny plants are pretty standard in small tanks but it seemed to be the most common feedback from judges. Looking through the aquascapes there are definite trade offs as you change ratio between length/height/width.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if you had to choose a small tank for this purpose, what would you choose? What would your ideal dimensions be for a small tank with this goal in mind? Something like the UNS 45U ( 45x30x30, iirc) seems like a good balance to me.

Since I’m currently downsizing from almost 30 tanks a few years back and selling a bunch of stuff, I will have some extra funds for the hobby. Figured it was a decent time to consider replacing the 60f with a better tank for the goal. Thoughts?
 
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I feel that anything smaller than a 60P is too small for compititions. Ive seen some great tanks come from them but the plants take up most of the tank. Ive got an Aquamax 12 long which is terrable for scaping. My UNS 60u is good but havnt done much with it yet. Id say a 90p or 90u would be perfect. Not to big, not to small.
 
The UNS 45U would be a good example of a small tank with proper aquascaping proportions - as tall as it is deep. For aquascaping, height and depth are key to allow you to use composition techniques.

The challenge with small tanks is that plants don't scale well. You are limited to very small plants or plants that will do well with heavy trimming. This makes finding a good aquascape very hard. However, that is the point with small tank aquascaping- how well did you manage the limitations. The point is to focus on that and not compare them to larger tanks that don't have the same limitations.

My suggestion is to think about the aquascape you want to create in a small space like the 45U. Design the hardscape with good composition techniques, meaning scale, vanishing point, perspective, etc. Then find plants that support the bones you just created and transform it to be a planted tank.

Tiny aquascapes can be beautiful and follow many of the rules and techniques of their larger cousins!
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I'm far from the level of having a competition tank, but on any of my aquqscapes, I've found I could always use more depth front-to-back. I would say a tank with an equal depth to height ratio would be ideal.
 
I feel that anything smaller than a 60P is too small for compititions. Ive seen some great tanks come from them but the plants take up most of the tank. Ive got an Aquamax 12 long which is terrable for scaping. My UNS 60u is good but havnt done much with it yet. Id say a 90p or 90u would be perfect. Not to big, not to small.

I agree with this in general, however I am limited in the size of tank I can physically maintain due to back problems. I’ve got a Landen “90p” (90x50x50, so in between the standard 90p and a 90u) which would be awesome but I can no longer handle the trimming and other regular maintenance required of a high tech tank that size. Honestly, my high tech 60p kicks my ass most of the time. For me to do this, whatever becomes the competition tank will probably have to be my only high tech/light/maintenance tank for the duration.

I'm far from the level of having a competition tank, but on any of my aquqscapes, I've found I could always use more depth front-to-back.

I’ve never had anything I’d consider near the level of a competition tank either. Seemed like a good challenge. Having started with a 29g and several 55g tanks, I completely understand that need for more depth front to back! When I originally got a 90p, having an equal height and width felt like such a luxury!
The UNS 45U would be a good example of a small tank with proper aquascaping proportions - as tall as it is deep. For aquascaping, height and depth are key to allow you to use composition techniques.

The challenge with small tanks is that plants don't scale well. You are limited to very small plants or plants that will do well with heavy trimming. This makes finding a good aquascape very hard. However, that is the point with small tank aquascaping- how well did you manage the limitations. The point is to focus on that and not compare them to larger tanks that don't have the same limitations.

My suggestion is to think about the aquascape you want to create in a small space like the 45U. Design the hardscape with good composition techniques, meaning scale, vanishing point, perspective, etc. Then find plants that support the bones you just created and transform it to be a planted tank.

Tiny aquascapes can be beautiful and follow many of the rules and techniques of their larger cousins!
View attachment 1488

Thanks for that information, Art. This echos everything I’ve found about aquascaping small tanks for contests. They’ll never compete with the big tanks but that’s fine with me. I’m approaching this as more of a way to challenge myself within the hobby rather than trying to compete with anyone else. I don’t have the skills necessary to win, but it’s not my goal either. Took the same approach to triathlon several years ago as a fat guy who had never run a day in my life. Had a ton of fun for a few years, got way out of my comfort zone, I was never competitive but who cares. With that in mind, a small aquascape fits my requirements. The limitations of a smaller aquarium are just part of the challenge & appeal. I’m always amazed at what people are able to create in such a small space.

I was already working on drawing up a layout for the 60f but realized, after I pulled the tank out of storage a couple days ago, that I was working with the newer 60f dimensions. Mine is only 18cm high while the newer ones are 25cm, made a difficult challenge into a rather silly one. It seems like changing my layout for a tank with better dimensions will be the way to go.

There don’t seem to be many tanks in this size range that have the right proportions. Lots of bookshelves and cubes lol.
 
I have had experience with 45cm by 30cm by 30cm, and they work well. My current iaplc entry tank is a similar size, at around 45 by 30 by 40 cm. My advice when scaping small tanks is to use plants thank have small leaves and fine textures to keep a sense of scale and make it look bigger than it is.
 
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