Aquarium Light Guide: The Best Light for Your Aquarium

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Aquarium lighting is an important component of a fish tank setup. Proper lighting can draw the attention to the aquarium and the beautiful fish inside of it. In fact, good lighting is one of the key components to enhancing the aesthetics of your aquarium.

However, aquarium lights are not only for aesthetics. In an aquarium, the artificial lighting serves many important functions. It is there to replace what the sun would do in a natural environment. For example, lights helps the fish see while swimming, enables the fish to experience a day and night cycle, and allow plants to complete their photosynthesis. Therefore, a quality and reliable lighting system is necessary.

The Best Aquarium Light

There is a great abundance of lighting products in the aquarium hobby, and not all products perform equally. After reviewing many different types of lights, we believe the Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 is the best aquarium light on the market today. These LED aquarium lights are very capable, producing 2350 lumens of light, even for the smallest model. In addition, they have the flexibility of producing a full spectrum of color temperatures ranging from 3000-25000K. The most interesting feature of this light is its flexibility. With the use of their smartphone app, you are able to customize the light intensity and color temperatures. Light cycles can be preset on the app in order to turn the light on and off automatically as well. Regardless of whether you have planted tank or a tropical river tank, you can customize the light settings for your specific tank.

If you want to place your aquarium under the best lighting, but you are looking for a more affordable option, you may want to consider other options. Most lights are not adjustable, so it is important to understand what your aquarium’s needs are, and which lights can meet those demands.

Aquarium Lights
Aquarium Lights are an important part of an aquarium setup.

Choosing the Best Light for Your Aquarium

Especially if you are new the aquarium hobby, choosing the best aquarium light for your aquarium can be a challenge. Choosing the right light can have a significant impact on the overall look of the tank. In addition, lighting systems can be expensive, so you would want to avoid investing in the wrong light or a light that you do not need. It is important to consider the specific lighting needs of your aquarium, and choose the right light based on those needs.

 If you are only keeping fish, and there are no plants, you may be able to get by with a relatively basic lighting system. A light that simulate natural light and brings out the best colors of your fish would be ideal.

For aquariums with plants, you may need a slightly stronger light. Consider what plants are in the tank, and how much light each plant needs. Some plants require more light than others. High intensity light should be installed for plants that require bright light. If your tank is tall, the light may struggle to reach the bottom of the tank.

Keep in mind that strong lighting can cause algae growth. In order to avoid algae, make sure that there are no excessive waste buildup in the tank. You may also want to consider CO2 injections as well.

Reef aquariums will require lights with high output in order to grow corals. While corals have the ability to adapt to different light intensities, different light intensity will impact their coloration and growth. Light spectrum can also influence the coloration of the corals as well. Typically, a lighting system for a reef aquarium will consist of 50% white light and 50% blue light.

Lastly, you must consider your needs as the owner of the tank as well. You may not wish to have intense bright light in the middle of your living room. Intense LED lighting right next to your couch, where you are trying to relax, may not always be a good choice. You must find a light with the right intensity and light spectrum that will suit the needs of you and your aquarium.

Purpose of Aquarium Lighting

In order to fully understand what type of aquarium light you need, it is important to understand the purpose of it.

Aquarium lighting is necessary to sustain the life inside of an aquarium. Similar to how organisms in nature benefit from sunlight, artificial lighting in an aquarium supports the life inside of it. Without light, fish and the life inside the aquarium will suffer. Here are some of the reasons why aquarium lighting is important:

Cycle Day and Night

In nature, the sun provides the cycle of day and night. Most tropical fish live in an environment where sunlight is present during the day, for approximately 10-13 hours. The rest of the time, they experience darkness, signaling a time for rest for most fish.

Different species of fish have different requirements. While it may be a challenge to identify the optimum light cycle for each fish, starting with a standard cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness is a good start. Next, it may be helpful to understand the daily light cycle of their natural habitat and the seasonal changes in that area. The important thing is to provide a regular cycle. Most people use an automated timer switch to control the light.

Lighting for Aquarium Plant Growth

Aquarium plants require light to grow, just like plant that grow on land. The light energy is used for photosynthesis, which allows plants to generate chemical energy. Some plants require more light than others, but all plants require some light. This includes both freshwater and marine plants.

If you wish to keep healthy plants in your aquarium, it is important to identify each plant species’ lighting needs. This includes the light spectrum and light intensity that the plant requires. Healthy plants will not only grow beautiful foliage, but also help maintain good water quality.

Impact of Light on Fish

Lighting is important for fish. At the most basic level, fish will need light to be able to swim and find food. However, light has a significant impact on growth and development of the fish as well. For example, the growth of fry and juvenile fish can be influenced by light duration. Fish that are reared without proper lighting can become stunted. Light intensity can also affect the pigmentation of the fish as well.

Using Sunlight as a Source of Light for Aquariums

Many people have explored the idea of using sunlight as a source of aquarium light. While the sun does provide natural light, using sunlight is generally not recommended for most aquariums. There are a few drawbacks to using the direct sunlight as a source of light:

  • Sunlight delivers lots of heat. This can overheat an aquarium rapidly. This can be an issue especially for smaller aquariums.
  • Sunlight can cause algae growth. Direct sunlight can cause lots of algae to grow, especially since fish are producing waste constantly.
  • Fish can start swimming in an angle. Usually, when sunlight is shining on an aquarium, it hits the tank from the side. Over time, this may cause the fish to swim in an angle.
  • While sunlight can brighten the room, it does not illuminate the inside of the tank very well. The room will always be brighter than the inside of the tank, making the inside of the tank look darker. A LED or fluorescent light shined from the top of the tank will illuminate the tank much better.

 While sunlight can be a good source of light for an outdoor pond, it is usually not a good choice for indoor aquariums.

Types of Aquarium Lights

There are many types of aquarium lights, offered under various brands. However, the majority of the lights available can be broadly categorized into three types of lights. The three types of aquarium lights are LED lights, fluorescent lights, and incandescent lights.

Incandescent Light for Aquariums

Incandescent lights are standard light bulbs with a wire filament that is heated up until it glows and emits light. They were developed and commercialized in the 1800’s and they are widely used to this day. Many aquarium lights in the past were incandescent lights, but they are becoming less common today. They are still used as a light source for small aquariums sometimes, but they are rarely seen in larger aquariums.

While incandescent lights are less expensive than other types of lights, they are less efficient. In fact, only 5% of the energy is used as visible light in an incandescent light. The remaining 95% of the energy is converted into heat. This equates to about only 10-20 lumens of light per watt. In addition, incandescent light bulbs only last approximately 1,000 hours, which is much shorter than other types of light.

While the initial cost may be less expensive, considering the running cost and need to replace the light bulbs frequently, incandescent light bulbs are generally not the best choice for most aquariums.

Fluorescent Lights for Aquariums

Fluorescent lights are designed to efficiently convert electrical energy into visible light. They are able to produce approximately 50-75 lumens per watt, which is several times more efficient than an incandescent bulb. They are able to convert about 22% of the energy to visible light. Since they are more efficient in producing light, they generate less heat. In addition, they last a long time, typically lasting approximately 10,000 hours. While fluorescent lights are slightly more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they are usually the better option. Considering the running cost and longer life cycle, they will end up being more cost effective over the long term.

Their effectiveness and efficiency can be further improved by installing a reflector behind the light.

Today, fluorescent lights are the most common type of aquarium light system. This is the recommended light system for most budget aquarium setups.

LED Aquarium Lights

LED lights are very efficient lights. An LED light bulb is able to produce approximately 100-175 lumens per watt, making them the most efficient type of light commonly available for aquariums. In comparison to incandescent lamps, they only required 10% of the energy to produce the same amount of light. LED lights are significantly more efficient than fluorescent light as well. Since LEDs are efficient at converting the energy to visible light, they do not emit very much heat either.

LED lights last a very long time, with an estimated lifespan of over 30,000 hours. Most unit will run 8-10 years before you need to replace them. This is much longer than incandescent and fluorescent lights.

If you wish to grow aquarium plants with LED lights, you can choose a full spectrum LED light. These LED lights offer lights in desired wavelengths in red and blue, in addition to white lights.

LED lights are often considered to be the best type of aquarium light. They are efficient, last a long time, and it can display an aquarium beautifully. However, many aquarists have been refrained from installing an LED light system due to the high cost. Compared watt-for-watt, they are more expensive than other types of lights. Fortunately, cost of LED lighting have been reduce greatly over the years, and adoption in aquariums have increased gradually. Today, they are becoming the one of the most popular type of aquarium light.


How long should aquarium lights should be on?

Aquarium lights should be turned on for approximately 12 hours a day. By giving the fish 12 hours of light and 12 hours of relative darkness, this will mimic their natural environment. This cycle will give them a sense of day and night, which will allow them to stay active during the day and properly rest at night, even with an artificial light source.

In nature, the sun is not shining for exactly 12 hours all of the time. Of course, the length of available sunlight will vary depending on the region and season. However, most fish live in an environment that receives 10-13 hours of sunlight every day. Since it is not crucial to mimic the exact amount of sunlight the fish would be receiving in nature, 12 hours of light each day is a good rule of thumb.

How many hours of light do aquarium plants need?

Most aquarium plants need a minimum of 8 hours of light per day to survive. However, most aquarium plants will grow faster and stronger with a 12 hours light cycle. Depending on the intensity of the light, and the specific requirements of your plants, the optimum light hours may vary. Since there are many variables to consider, it is best to experiment and adjust the light cycle as needed.  

Keep in mind that more light is not always better. For example, if you give too much light, you may end up with excessive algae growth. This is especially true if your plants are still small and trying to establish itself in the aquarium.

How Many Hours of Light Do Aquarium Plants Need? #shorts

When should I turn off aquarium light?

Aquarium lights should be turned off at night. The general recommendation for most aquariums is to keep the light on for 12 hours, and turn off the light for 12 hours. This will give the fish a sense of day and night, even in an enclosed aquarium with artificial lighting.

How do I set up an aquarium light timer?

Keep in mind that the consistency of the light cycle is equally important the duration of the light. In nature, the sun rises and sets at the same general time. The time changes, but it is very gradual. Since most people are unable to mimic this consistency, it is recommended to use an automatic timer.

In order to set up an aquarium light timer, plug in the socket of your aquarium light into the automatic timer instead of the wall socket. Then, the timer is plugged into the power source. This will allow the automatic timer to control the light at the source. These mechanical timers, which are still the most common type of aquarium timers, can be set up in the steps below:

  1. Turn off and unplug the aquarium light.
  2. Set the time on the mechanical timer by rotating the dial clockwise to match the current time with the arrow.
  3. To program the time you wish to keep the lights ON, push the pins down.
  4. To program the time you wish to keep the lights OFF, push the pins up.
  5. Plug the socket of the aquarium light into the mechanical timer
  6. Plug the socket of the mechanical timer into a power source, such as a wall outlet

If your aquarium light timer was programmed to turn on, the light should turn on at this point. If not, it will turn on whenever it is scheduled to do so.

While most mechanical timers can be set up in very similar ways, different product operate differently. Please follow the manufactures guideline for safety instructions.

AquaSun Aquarium Timer by Zoo Med is one of the most popular aquarium timer. These mechanical timers are simple, easy to use, and very affordable.

How much light do aquariums need?

As a general rule of thumb, in terms of watts per gallon (WPG), you should provide approximately 1-5 watts of lighting per gallon of aquarium water. Keep in mind that the amount of light that is actually emitted from the same wattage of light will vary. If you are using an incandescent light, you will most likely need 5 watts per gallon of water. If you are using fluorescent light or LED lights, you may only need 1-3 watts of light per gallon of water.

Even with the same amount of wattage, different lights produce different amounts of visible light. Therefore, measuring by lumens is more accurate.

In terms of lumens per gallon (LPG), most aquariums should receive approximately 50 lumens of light per gallon of water. While this is on the lower spectrum, this amount of light will be sufficient for the fish. If you wish to have a brighter aquarium, you may increase the amount of light accordingly.

If you wish to grow aquarium plants, you will need a minimum of 50 lumens of light per gallon of water. However, depending on the species of plant, the lighting requirements will vary. Many aquarium plants require over 100 lumens of light per gallon in order to thrive. Here’s a table that describes the approximate amount of light required for aquarium plants:

Plant TypeLumens Per Gallon (LPG)
Low Light Plants50-80
Medium Light Plants80-160
High Light Plants160-190

Keep in mind that if you have a tall aquarium with a lot of height, it will take more light energy to reach the bottom of the tank. Be prepared to get a light on the higher spectrum of this scale if you have a tall tank.

If your light source is a little weak, you may be able to intensify the light with a reflector. For example, if you have a fluorescent tube lighting, light energy is emitted in all direction. By adding reflector on the back of the light, the lost light will be reflected back towards the aquarium.

On the other hand, you may end up with a light that is too strong for your aquarium. Some aquarium lights will allow you to dim the light. However, many aquarium lights do not come equipped with such features. If you are unable to dim your light, you can raise the height of the aquarium light. This will help soften a light that is too intense.

In order to raise the aquarium light, you will need to replace the existing aquarium light bracket with an extendable light bracket with more height. Most LED aquarium lights are supported by four brackets, with two on each end of the light.

By simply replacing the original bracket with a long light bracket one, you will be able to increase the distance between the light and your aquarium.

Another way to raise the aquarium light is to suspend the light from above. By hanging the light from above, the light can be installed at a higher position. This method is recommended if you wish to install the light at a significantly higher position than the aquarium.

If you are unable to suspend the aquarium light from the ceiling, light suspension kits designed for aquariums can be useful. These aquarium light hanging kits will help suspend the aquarium light from a fixture that is secured to the aquarium stand.

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