An aquarium light guide is a helpful resource that both novice and experienced fishkeepers can refer to whenever they decide to install new lighting in their home aquariums.

That is exactly what this article aims to be: an easy-to-understand and accurate guide on all things related to aquarium lights and how to make the most of them.

This aquarium lighting guide will teach you about the different types of aquarium lights available, the best lights for specific tank setups, and our experts’ tips on effective lighting for planted aquascapes. There are a lot of topics to shed light on, so let’s get right to it.

The Importance of Proper Lighting

You might be wondering why it is necessary for you to provide aquarium lighting in the first place. The answer to this query is quite simple: we need to provide adequate aquarium lighting to prolong the lives of the fish and plants that we house in fish tanks.

Keep in mind that most of the fish and plants we raise in home aquariums were taken out of their natural habitats. That said, if we want them to be at their healthiest and happiest state, we need to mimic the parameters that they would have enjoyed in the wild.

In addition, providing adequate lighting for the fish and plants in your aquarium can result in several benefits. Take a look at the table below to learn more about these proper lighting benefits.

For Fish and Other Creatures Adequate aquarium lighting helps fish see, guides their feeding and resting cycles, and bring out the full pigmentation of their scales
For Aquarium Fauna Proper lighting facilitates the photosynthesis cycle in plants, results in stronger stems and leaves, and lush growth

Buying Aquarium Lights: Things To Consider


Before you head out to your local fish store to buy a set of aquarium lights, you should take a number of things into consideration. This will save you time and money, as well as prevent any frustration you might experience if you end up getting the wrong kind of light. Below is a list of factors to think about before purchasing any kind of aquarium lighting setup.

– Type of Aquarium

First, what kind of aquarium do you have? Are you maintaining a reef aquarium or a freshwater tank? Do you have plants in your aquarium, or are there only fish in the tank? These questions sound simple enough, but they should help you whittle down your choices when it comes to the type of aquarium light you want to purchase and install.

Different types of aquarium will fare better under specific kinds of lighting systems. For example, if you have a fish-only aquarium, you can look for standard fluorescent or LED lights. However, if you have plants in your tank or are maintaining fish species that are sensitive to light levels, then you will need a more customized lighting system.

– Lighting Purpose

Another factor you should consider is the main purpose that your lighting system will serve once it is installed in your fish tank. Are the lights you aim to buy strictly for aesthetic purposes only? Are there plants in your tank that need exposure to light for a set number of hours daily?

Identifying the purpose of your lighting system will help you choose the right type of lights and is an effective way to prevent overspending on this part of your aquarium setup.

– Budget Range

You will also need to set a specific budget range for your ideal lighting system. There are a lot of high-end options available nowadays for aquascaping lighting. These kinds of lights can easily cost you $500 to more than $1000, depending on the size and type of your aquarium.

On the other hand, there are also light fixtures that can be bought at a lower cost. There are a variety of aquarium lights that cost anywhere from $20 to $100, again depending on their intended purpose and aquarium specifics.

Beginner fish keepers might try looking for a lighting system that gives the best value for their money, while the more experienced aquarists might prefer the higher-end lights due to personal preferences, aesthetics, or plant requirements.

– Lighting Control

This is one factor that even seasoned fish keepers often overlook when they go out to buy aquarium lights. What kind of lighting control would best suit your lifestyle? There are light fixtures that need to be manually operated.

This means that you will need to make a habit of switching the lights on and off to avoid exposing your fish and plants to too much light. Of course, there are also lighting systems that are fully automated.

Consider whether or not you are willing to personally monitor the duration and intensity of your lighting system on a daily basis, or if you would rather program this into a computer that will take care of the necessary adjustments for you.

– Ease of Installation and Maintenance

Finally, you should also consider how easy or difficult a particular lighting system will be. If you are a beginner, you might want to look for lighting systems that are easy to install and only have a small number of parts that will require future maintenance.

However, if you are a more experienced fish keeper, then you might want to explore with more complicated light fixtures or combining different types of light sources for a single aquarium. Taking future light maintenance needs into consideration now will help you plan more realistically when it comes to your aquascaping lighting.

Types of Aquarium Lights

Your local fish store is bound to have several types of aquarium lights for you to choose from. But which type of aquarium light is the best?

Read our experts’ descriptions about the different types of fish tank lighting to come up with a more informed decision.

1. LED Lighting

This is the newest type of aquarium light. LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. This type of light comes in all kinds of colors, shapes, and forms.

Though it is considered a relatively new technology in the fish keeping hobby, it is quickly becoming a favorite among aquarists. You can read more about this type of lighting in our LED aquarium lighting guide found in the next section.

Pros
  • highly customizable
  • compact
  • does not emit heat
  • can last up to 10 years
Cons
  • more expensive than other types of lighting

2. Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent Lighting is the most common lighting system used by aquarists all over the world. Fluorescent light bulbs depend completely on electric currents in order for them to emit both light and heat.

There are two types of Fluorescent bulbs that you can attach to the top of your aquarium: the traditional T8 tube and the modern T5 tube. This type of aquarium lighting is highly accessible and has since been developed to fit various kinds of aquariums, making it popular among both new and veteran fish keepers.

Pros
  • cheaper than other types of lighting
  • easy to access, install, and use
Cons
  • emits heat (fish tanks with this type of lighting might also need to be outfitted with a chiller)
  • light quality and color fade after some time
  • bulbs need to be replaced more often than other aquarium lighting types

3. Metal Halide Lighting

Metal Halide Lighting has been used in the fish keeping hobby since the early 1900s. This type of lighting produces bright and penetrating lights by passing electricity through a bulb that has a combination of chemical gases and metal halides.

There are still shops that carry this lighting system, as well as knowledgeable technicians who can help you with the installation process.

Pros
  • able to mimic the quality of sunlight
  • long-lasting
  • low operating costs
Cons
  • generates heat (aquariums with this type of lighting will also need a chiller to maintain cool water temperature),
  • more expensive than most Fluorescent lights and cheaper LED lights

Planted Aquarium Lighting Guide

Aquariums that only have fish and other invertebrates as their inhabitants will be easier to light up compared to tanks that have live plants aside from the regular aquatic creatures. This is because plants are more sensitive and dependent on light when compared to fish.

While fish do benefit from a dedicated light source, they will nevertheless survive in a dim environment.

On the other hand, aquarium plants that are forced to live without even the aid of natural light for extended periods every day will most likely succumb to a slow death.

This is why aquarists who maintain planted tanks must take care in choosing and installing light fixtures in their respective aquariums. A consistent light source makes for happier and healthier plants. This, in turn, leads to your aquarium inhabitants enjoying cleaner and more aerated water. Here is a brief guide on how to provide enough light for your planted tanks.

1. Identify the Amount of Light Your Plants Need

Though all live plants need light to survive, some kinds of fauna need more light than others. If your aquarium has more hardy plants than sensitive ones, you can set up a lighting system that will only produce the minimum number of lumens needed per liter.

However, if your tank has plants that require bright lights and long hours of exposure, you need to adjust the type of lighting system accordingly.

Take a look at the table below to learn more about the aquarium lighting for plants.

Easy Plants (examples: Java Moss, Java Fern, Hornwort) 10 to 20 lumens per liter
Moderate Plants (examples: Pygmy Chain Sword, Amazon Sword, Pellia Moss) 21 to 40 lumens per liter
Difficult Plants (examples: Red Ludwigia, Moneywort, Staurogyne Repens) 41 lumens and above per liter

2. Consider Using LEDs for the Long Haul

While each type of lighting has its share of advantages and disadvantages, LED lights are by and large the most efficient and sensible to use.

This is especially true for planted tanks. LEDs provide superior lighting for aquarium plants and the most value for your hard-earned money.

Not only are these lights beautiful and consistent in terms of the colors they produce, but they also do not emit heat. Ultimately, this means that your aquarium inhabitants can enjoy consistent lighting without the risk of rising water temperature.

If you have the extra budget to shell out for your aquarium lighting system, investing in customizable and durable LEDs for the long haul is the way to go.

3. Create and Follow a Lighting Schedule

Once you’ve installed the lighting system of your choice, you should create a schedule that will dictate when and how long the lights should remain on. Even the most sensitive of plants do not need light 24 hours a day.

It is recommended that you keep your aquarium lights on for a minimum of 8 hours. You can increase this duration up to 10 or 12 hours, depending on the needs of your aquarium plants and their current health conditions.

That is, if several of your plants appear to be weak or suffering from stunted growth, you can consider increasing their light exposure time.

4. Experiment With Different Shapes and Forms of Light

If you are using LED lights, you will find that a variety of shapes and forms are available for you to use and experiment with. Both beginner and experienced aquarists can find satisfaction in mixing and matching different LED lights to change the mood and aesthetics of their aquariums.

Some lighting ideas that you might find interesting are:

  • Installing fully submersible yellow or light green lights behind your main rock fixtures
  • Placing individual LED spotlights above areas of interest in your tank
  • Installing lights that automatically change in color depending on the time of day

Conclusion

There are so many things to learn about proper aquarium lighting. In this article, we covered several basic concepts regarding aquarium lights. Take a look at the list below to refresh yourself on what you just read:

 

  • Proper aquarium lighting is beneficial to both fish and live plants.
  • There are some factors you need to consider before you purchase any kind of aquarium lighting system.
  • There are three main types of aquarium lights available for fish keepers today.
  • Planted tanks require a reliable and consistent light source.
  • Different plants have different requirements for light exposure and brightness.

Now that you’re familiar with these concepts about aquarium lighting, you should have a better grasp of what kind of light you want for your tank and how you can make the most of it.

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