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calculating amount of needed substrate

No it's not really worth it because that would just create more confusion. Aim for whatever substrate depth you want. It's your aquascape so do what you want. If 3 inches looks good to you use 3 inches. If 5 inches looks good then use 5 inches.

My understanding was that you need a certain amount in there to allow the substrate to buffer the water column if not dosing EI? Or have I just made that up?
Sorry mate, yeah, I reckon you might have dreamed that up some time ago....or, it might have been original programming when you were still trapped in The Matrix. The only thing you should worry about is:
A) Does it look cool.
B) Is there enough depth to hold the plant when you stick it in so that everything doesn't float away.
C) Can I afford it.

You do like your Matrix references ;)

Cheers Clive. Definitely over-depthed my current tank then! I'm not sure any depth of cat litter will ever hold a plant though :p.

How does a bow front affect the calculation? I've got a Vision 450 that I'm going to use eco-complete in. Should I measure using the widest point or the shortest? Thanks :)

I have alway's gone with 2 lbs. per gallon and this has worked well for me .with usually some left over.
If you have a strange shaped tank, but you know how many litres it holds, you can divide those litres by the height, and multiply the result by the depth of substrate you want to give how many litres of substrate you need.
Basically all the calculation never works. When I did my vision 180 I ended up having a 12.5Kg bag of sand left over and had to order two more bags of Fluval substrate.
Well, in the end I ordered as many bags of eco-complete as I can afford (6) and will go from there. Fingers crossed!

Use these calculators to find volume of odd shaped tanks

Substitute tank height for gravel depth will give you gravel volume

Use 1/4 of cylinder volume for bow front corner tanks

Bow front use the average size to calculate or just use biggest size it will be close enough

Aquarium calculators | Volume Calculator