- However "black water fish" (many tetra species) from the Amazon River area, and Labyrinth (Gouramis & Bettas/Siamese Fighting Fish) prefer a dark substrate. Also, if the sand is too fine and too deep (> 1.5 inches), it will set-up an anaerobic environment which will develop a foul odor, and may rot plant roots that penetrate it. A thin layer of sand is fine, but it should be over pea or 1/2 pea sized gravel, and perhaps an organic level beneath that to nourish plants.
Select decorations. It's best to use natural decorations such as driftwood and coconut halves because they are less likely to harm your fish. If you decide to use artificial decorations, find logs, rocks and driftwood pieces that mimic the appearance of the real thing, have smooth edges and are manufactured from non-toxic materials. The safety of your fish should always be top priority.
Buy a black background ( also plain black trash bags or black construction paper). Black adds depth, and makes a tank look so much better than no background or a busy background. Think of it like photography - would your portrait look better if behind it is a busy activity area, or would it look better if you were the main focus on a plainer background? A tank with a black background will pop both in photos and in your living room.
Begin putting your decorations in your tank! Try sloping the substrate to give it the appearance of hills and valleys. It really adds a neat look, and is much more interesting to view than if your substrate was flat all across. If you put some thought to it and do it right, it can also add some depth.
Put your biggest piece (whatever is the most eye-catching or that you want as a centerpiece) to the center-left. It looks better than trying to 'balance' your tank out on two sides, or putting a piece in the exact center. Or, if you found a whole bunch of rocks, try designing it so they go from the left/right to the center. Make sure that you leave ample room for the fish to move about and also to hide. A broken upturned ceramic cup does a neat job and you can easily cover it with some live plants (a wide variety of mosses are all readily available at most pet stores).
Arrange your plants accordingly. You can never have too much depths, so you want to put the taller plants in the back and shorter plants in front to create some more. It will also help you to see your fish more easily.
Try on some different lights. Different lighting can have amazing effects on how a tank looks. You can try the very interesting sunset lighting.
It is required to let the water stand in the aquarium with all the equipment running for at least two weeks before you release the fish. You should occasionally put some fish food in the empty tank. That period is called the fishless cycling. During that time, the good bacteria (which will keep ammonia levels from the fish feces under control) grow in your filter. It is vital you don't skip the fishless cycling and is advised you do some more research on this topic.