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The AquaSketcher PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ofri Dagan   

I created with the intent of providing useful tools for aquarium keepers. I released the new website on May 2008 and I plan to provide more and more tools. Among the tools that are currently available on the site are: CO2 Calculators, Glass Thickness Calculator, Fertilization Calculator, Problems Diagnose and the AquaSketcher.


The AquaSketcher is probably the most popular tool on the site. As its name suggests, the purpose of this tool is to help an aquascaper design his next project by making a sketch of what the aquascape will look like. The sketch can then be shown to other aquascapers who can then provide their opinions and suggestions to enhance the initial design. One could also use the AquaSketcher to provide additional description when showcasing his tank.

Developing the AquaSketcher

Browsing through several aquascaping contests, I notice people were required to provide some sort of a planting map along with pictures of their tanks.  Sometimes it’s difficult to see what plants are used and how exactly they were planted. I have even seen some contestants submit a hand-drawn sketch with the plant lists.

So at first, I just wanted to provide an easy way to make a planting map for a tank. After doing this it seemed very natural to also display a preview of the planting map.  This is where the whole thing got interesting.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how this display would look like. At some point, I even thought about using 3D models of the plants. Realizing it would be very difficult to get real-3D models of aquatic plants and it will make the program much more complex, I decided to go for a relatively simple, pseudo 3D view. The view mainly consists of 2D images of plants placed inside a (real) 3D tank. As the tank rotates, the plants move correctly in the 3D space, but they will also rotate around the vertical axis to always point to the viewer.

As for the plants images themselves, I decided to use paintings of plants rather than photos – I found it looks much better. To make the preview display more realistic, I added a random factor that effect how the image will render. On every 'update' of the view the plant may look a little different and have a little different size.

In the first version of the AquaSketcher only plants images were included, but as people were repeatedly asking for hardscaping ability, I quickly added rocks and driftwoods.

Using the AquaSketcher

Since the purpose of the Aquasketcher is making a sketch of an aquascape, and not a realistic 3D picture, I wanted the program to be as simple as possible to use. Unlike most 3D programs, all of the work with the Aquasketcher is done in a 2D space - the planting map. This, in my opinion makes everything much simpler to use. Of course it also has some disadvantages that have to do with flexibility, but in this case I chose the simpler-to-use way.

Here is how you can make a sketch using the AquaSketcher:

Figure 1 AquasketcherStep 1: Select Your Plants and Hardscape

When creating a sketch, you will first choose the objects (plants, rocks and woods) you are going to use in your sketch. This is done in the "Plants Manager" window (figure 1), by selecting the objects you want and clicking on 'Add'. When you are done choosing the objects, click on 'Continue' to close the plants manager – you will now see the main window (figure 2).



Figure 2: AquasketcherStep 2: Set Tank Dimensions

Next I recommend you set the tank's dimensions (figure 2). Simply enter the 'length', 'width' and 'height' fields (centimeters) and click on 'update'. You should see the tank and map change, unless your new dimensions have exactly the same ratio as the default ones.










Figure 3 AquasketcherStep 3:  Set the Hardscape and Plants

Like in a real aquascape it is best to first set the hardscape. To add a rock (or any other object like plants and woods) choose one from the 'Plants Pool', pick a color for that object group (this will only effect the planting map – not the preview display), adjust it's height and finally "plant" the rock by clicking on the map (to delete a "pot" use ctrl+click on the pot). You should see a small circle on the map and the object added to the preview display (figure 3).


Figure 4 Aquasketcher


Step 4: Insert Plant species

Keep adding your rocks and woods to get the desired hardscape. Add the foreground, midground and finish the sketch.


The Future of the AquaTools

The AquaTools will be developed further to meet the needs of planted tank hobbyists. The first version of the program didn't include hardscape or the ability to save the sketch. Both of those features (implemented now) are a result of comments made by the people in the forums. There were also some suggestions I didn't implement, such as: different backgrounds, different bottom colors and texture, adding slopes, planting on rocks and more.  I'm not going to implement all of those ideas, mostly because it will hurt the simplicity of the program – I need to consider the benefit versus the complexity.

Among the features I do plan to implement are: starting from a template-sketch instead of starting from scratch, to show plants names when the mouse moves over them, adding fish and adding more plants, rocks and woods.

I always listen to what people on the forums have to say, and try to keep up with the demand. I will continue to build on – suggestions will be appreciated.

Sketch Results 




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