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Pool filter sand can be purchased where you buy swimming pool and spa supplies. In the US we have chain stores for pool and spa like Leslies.

Please wait until you have the space for the 55G before you start a tank with Malawi. The 30" tank would be good for some of the Tanganyikans. If you cannot resist the Malawi avoid the labs and demasoni, go with the saulosi and plan to upgrade within 6 months.

There is a substrate calculator in the Cichlid-forum Library, but you need to fill the tank with rocks so there will not be much floor space left for substrate. Pool filter sand is sold in 50 pound bags so you will have enough for dozens of tanks with one bag.

I found a dark substrate tends to make brightly colored fish turn sooty. The fish changes his pigment as much as possible to blend in with the substrate. Also the blue barred fish are dark and may disappear against a dark background and/or substrate.
 

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The fish that really illustrated the substrate issue for me were leleupi. I had them in a tank with black sand and decided to sell them because they were sooty and dull as they matured.

I netted them and put them in a holding tank overnight for convenient pickup by the new owner the next day. They went in sooty.

Next morning over the light substrate they were brilliant! Too late, sale was agreed-to.
 
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