Starfire glass is the brand name for a type of low-iron, a high-clarity glass used for one or more viewing panels on an aquarium. The term may be a bit confusing as people often use the term Starfire in a generic way, similar to Kleenex for facial tissues, to describe any aquarium made with low-iron glass.
Low-iron glass is made with silica that has a low iron content that eliminates the greenish-blue tint you see in regular glass applications. The sand used for low-iron glass has just 0.01% ferric oxide, and regular plate glass will have ten times more.
You may not notice the tint in small aquariums with thinner glass, but with thicker glass, it makes a significant difference, particularly through crisp, white reef lights in the 14,000K to 20,000K spectrum.
As you’ll notice when shopping for an aquarium, Starfire and other brands of low-iron glass are more expensive. High-end aquariums will use the low-iron glass on all the viewing panes, the front three sides on a common aquarium. To cut down on costs many manufacturers will just use low-iron glass on the front viewing panel, helping to make the aquariums more affordable.
Is low-iron glass worth the cost?
The best way to see the benefits of low-iron glass is to see it in person. When I bought my first reef aquarium over 10 years ago, I was on a limited budget and just looking for the biggest glass box I could afford. After a few years in the hobby, you began to see more and more low iron tanks, and there was a huge difference in clarity particularly as rimless aquariums gained in popularity. They also cost a lot more than traditional aquariums.
Over the years the price has come down and it is more common to see low-iron glass aquariums of all sizes and budgets. Now, you are more likely to find a low-iron glass aquarium in or around your price range, making it a much easier decision.
However, you also need to weigh in what you are going to use the aquarium for. If you are looking for a quarantine tank or a frag grow out tank that won’t be front and center, you can save yourself a few dollars and go with a traditional plate-glass aquarium.
Is Starfire glass the best?
Just like anything else, you pay for what you get — but you also pay for the brand name. While Starfire may be the most recognizable brand name of low-iron glass manufactured by Vitro, there are others on the market as well including Guardian Industries UltraClear or Ultrawhite glass, Pilkington’s Optiwhite and others you may see like Starlite, Krystal Klear, Diamant and Eurowhite.
You’ll also see generic terms like “low-iron” or “high-clarity” as general descriptions used by some manufacturers. This doesn’t mean the quality is any less as they might be sourcing the glass from several suppliers or getting a generic version that can provide the same clarity and performance at a lower cost. However, if you want peace of mind, then you’ll probably want to know the brand name of the glass.
The bottom line
Low-iron or ultra-clear glass is often worth the investment But just remember, if you hear the term “Starfire” just be cautious that you may not be getting the brand-name of low-iron glass.
Hobbyists and some retailers may throw the term “Starfire” around for the entire gamut of low-iron glass out there on the market. They aren’t trying to deceive you, like in our Kleenex example earlier, people instantly equate Starfire with ultra-clear glass and its easier to say one word vs. three.
When in doubt, ask the manufacturer what brand of glass the aquarium is made from to see if it truly is Starfire or some other form of low-iron glass.