How to Pick the Best Planted Aquarium Lights (And Our Top Picks!)


How to Pick the Best Planted Aquarium Lights (And Our Top Picks!)

When designing a planted aquarium, it is important to choose the right type of aquarium lighting. There are many kinds of aquarium lights available and each one has its own pros and cons. Understanding what kind of light works best for your tank and plants will help you create a beautiful and thriving aquatic environment that you’re proud to show off!

Our Top Picks for the Best LED Lights – Read On for a Detailed Review!

Each one of the best LED aquarium lighting I’ve reviewed serves a distinct purpose. I’ve chosen lights for planted tanks, coral reef systems, and a general fish tank light.

My top pick is the Fluval Plant 3.0 thanks to its build quality, customizability, and intuitive phone app. The aquarium light is strong enough for growing plants of all intensity levels.

The other fluorescent and LED aquarium lights here offer useful features like remote controls, ceiling mounts, and dynamic lighting environments!

Everything About Aquarium Lights for Plants

When it comes to picking the best lights for a planted aquarium, the options can be overwhelming. What kind of light intensity do you need? Do you want a light fixture? What about the light spectrum? How about aquascaping? And that doesn’t even get you started considering you’ll have to choose between LED lights, fluorescent bulbs, and metal halides.

LED lights are a popular choice because they come in an array of sizes, shapes, and colors and operate at a fraction of the energy used by other lighting systems. They also produce a good amount of light intensity while using less wattage than traditional lighting sources, so you can save money on your electricity bills.

Fluorescent bulbs remain a popular fish tank light due to their affordability, efficiency with low wattage levels, and their high light output when placed close to plants. They work well for a planted tank and in the past were almost always considered the best fish tank lights.

Metal Halide lamps have been around for many years and are known for their intense light output and color rendition capabilities (sometimes over a million shades!). They also produce more heat than other types of lighting fixtures, so make sure to place them far away from any living organisms in the tank.

Top 5 Best Aquarium Lights

Top LED Pick: Fluval Plant 3.0 LED Planted Aquarium Lighting, 46 Watts, 36-48 Inches

My pick for the best LED aquarium lighting to grow plants is the Fluval Plant Aquarium Light – I actually use this for my own freshwater tank! The unit is IP67 waterproofed using metal so light splashes won’t cause it to short out. Extendable brackets enable you to mount the unit on aquariums that are 36-48 inches long (30-75 gallons).

One key feature of the Fluval Plant Aquarium LED Lights is the FluvalSmart App technology. The unit has a Bluetooth transmitter so it can sync with your phone. Fluval’s app works better than a remote control and offers full customization of the light spectrum, light intensity, and color spectrum.

This led lighting system has a native 6500K color temperature which is close to natural sunlight. There is a little more blue light to counter the warmth so fish colors are made crisp! You can also use the app to create a natural daylight mode. This turns the light intensity up over time, gradually decreasing it again as night approaches.

The only downside is that the color spectrum is optimized for freshwater plants. If you’re looking for a saltwater version the Fluval Sea Marine 3.0 LED Aquarium Lighting for Coral Growth is the exact same setup using different LED bulbs. It also includes actinic blue bulbs that bring out fluorescent pigments in many coral species!

High Quality Budget LED Pick: hygger 36W 24/7 Lighting Aquarium LED Lighting system

Hygger Adjustable LED Light Budget LED aquarium lights are still very effective at growing low light plants. And the hygger 36W planted aquarium light is one of the best on the market. This light fixture has a timer built into the cord so you can set it to run on 6, 10, or 12 hour intervals.

The brand also makes non-integrated timers that can be plugged into the power cable. This and many of their other planted aquarium light models will work with hygger dedicated timers.

Light intensity is not fully customizable but the color spectrum is. The full selection of colors besides white light includes orange, green, red, blue, cyan, and purple. The color rendering index (CRI) of 85 means that the light fixture has a color spectrum that is very close to natural sunlight.

There is a built-in sunrise mode using the gradient orange light, which shifts to gradient blue moonlight at night. The color spectrum is optimized for pleasant fish viewing so plants that need strong light won’t grow. Low light plants like Java Moss or Cryptocoryne sp. will still do well under these lights, however.

Hygger designed this LED lighting to be waterproof as well. So water splashes and even brief immersion will not short the unit out.

Hygger also has units that cover the top of aquariums ranging from 12 to 54 inches in size (2.5 to 90+ gallons).

Remote LED: Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus Full Spectrum Aquarium Light

A dedicated remote control is handy for controlling the light output on your planted aquarium from afar. The Current USA Satellite Freshwater includes most of the best technology they offer on their reef technology designed for saltwater corals.

The dynamic lighting effects enable you to create thunderstorms, overcast weather, rain, rolling clouds, and moonlight mode. Light intensity, light color, timers, and other functions are all accessible on the remote control as well.

A natural shimmer effect is especially pleasing, mimicking the output of hotter, more expensive metal halide lights. The effect resembles direct sun in shallow streams and coral reefs.

As good as the remote is, the Current USA Satellite Freshwater also has excellent full spectrum LED output. The largest unit will cover 72 inches and contains 96 individual bulbs. An acrylic cover plate provide IP65 protection against light water splashes but not immersion. Each unit is crafted out of aluminum so heat dispersion is efficient and the unit runs cool.

The unit is also very thin and takes up next to no visual real estate when mounted on your tank. The overall effect is one of strong light spread from a minimalist planted aquarium light!

Hanging LED: ARKNOAH LED Aquarium Light 165W Full Spectrum Dimmable for Fish Tank Coral Reef Growth in Freshwater and Saltwater 

Sometimes mounting a light fixture over the tank is not feasible. Units like the ARKNOAH LED Aquarium Light hang from the ceiling instead. The higher proportion of blue LED light bulbs makes this unit better suited to saltwater coral reef tanks. Blue light enhances the colors of soft and hard corals, while promoting calcium absorption and photosynthesis.

But you can customize the output to see white light or a full color spectrum light for plant growth. The bulbs have a rating of up to 50,000 hours of run-time before they need to be replaced.

Three fans are built into this LED aquarium light to keep it cool but it does make a little noise compared to the other lights in this collection. That’s the tradeoff for the light intensity, however. At 165W the ARKNOAH system is several times stronger than the other lights.

Since the unit is ceiling-mounted it has no waterproofing or acrylic protective plate (which might melt from the heat). So keep the ARKNOAH far from water splashes.

Fluorescent Option: Aqueon Fluorescent Strip Light, 24-Inch

The fluorescent aquarium light has been around for several decades. LED aquarium lighting is more efficient and customizable. But fluorescent bulbs are easier to source when you need to replace them.

The Aqueon Fluorescent Strip Light covers aquariums that are 15, 20, and 25 gallons in volume. The hard plastic construction is rigid, though not comparable with the metal of many of the planted aquarium light options listed here.

You still need to purchase the flap that covers the front for food and fish access. As well as the plastic cover; this unit is a replacement for the full hood that comes with Aqueon fish tanks. The base is essential since even light water splashes will crack the fluorescent fixture, which runs hot.

An 18 inch fluorescent light bulb is included. But the color spectrum is optimized for fish viewing and not for growing freshwater plants. The ZooMed Tropic Sun 5500K Daylight bulb is a much better plant growth light since it outputs photosynthetically active radiation!

What are the Different Aquarium Lighting Options?

LED Lights

One option for lighting your planted aquarium is LED lights. LED aquarium lights are becoming increasingly popular for planted tanks due to their energy efficiency, longevity, and low heat output. LEDs provide a spectrum of light that can be tailored to the plants needs, allowing for greater control over lighting levels. This means they work for both high and low light plants. Additionally, LED lights are smaller in size which also makes them more versatile when it comes to placement within an aquarium environment.

They offer a variety of color temperatures, ranging from warm gradient white light to cool gradient blue light and everything in between. The pros of using LED lights are that they last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, require less maintenance and produce less heat – all beneficial factors when it comes to growing live plants in an aquarium.

These aquarium lights are great to grow plants regardless of your aquarium size. In addition, LEDs are very energy efficient which can help reduce operating costs while providing consistent lighting while growing aquarium plants.

The cons of using an LED light fixture is that they tend to be more expensive up front and some may be too bright or harsh for certain plant life in your freshwater tank. Additionally, because they produce light in multiple wavelengths at different intensities, it is important to choose the right type of LED system for optimal growth as some plants prefer certain spectrums compared to others.


Do fish like LED lights?

Yes, most fish do not mind LED aquarium lighting as long as they are bright enough and provide the correct wavelengths of light for your fish tank. LED lights can also be used to simulate a natural environment for active fish who need more stimulation during the day. They come in multiple colors and can be programmed to change color throughout the day, creating an interesting aquatic environment for both fish and plants!

Fluorescent bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs are another popular type of aquarium lighting that can be used in planted aquariums due to their relatively low cost and easy installation. These bulbs come in a variety of sizes and wattages, making them suitable for tanks large and small, similar to led aquarium lighting. They emit light that is readily absorbed by plants, providing the photosynthesis they need to thrive.

Fluorescent bulbs are available in both full-spectrum and specialized varieties that target specific wavelengths ideal for aquatic plants. The full-spectrum versions mimic natural sunlight, which improves the appearance of the tank and helps keep the fish healthy by providing balanced UV light exposure. Specialized bulbs are designed to focus on different parts of the color spectrum depending on which wavelengths the planted aquarium needs most, such as red or blue spectrums.

Pros of fluorescent bulb lighting include their affordability, ease of installation, wide range of sizes available, and energy efficiency. This kind of aquarium light does a good job for freshwater plants in fish tanks given the wide light spectrum.

Some of the drawbacks include their short lifespan compared to more expensive alternatives such as LED lights, as well as limited customization options when it comes to spectral output (we know, it’s a bummer!). While these bulbs produce a wide range of colors, they tend to be less energy efficient than LED lights and don’t last as long. Fluorescent bulbs also create a lot of heat, which may prove harmful for some plants or fish species.

However, despite these drawbacks, fluorescent bulb lighting remains one of the best choices for planted aquariums in terms of cost-effectiveness and achieving desired results without breaking the bank.


Metal Halide

Metal Halide lighting is a popular choice for fish tanks because of their high efficiency and ability to provide powerful light spread illumination. This type of light is favored by saltwater enthusiasts because it can support the growth of saltwater corals and other photosynthetic invertebrates. They truly can showcase some eye popping color rendition on corals!

Metal halide lighting has a wide range of advantages, including its intensity and the quality of the light it produces. This can be beneficial for plant development compared to other lights. By producing an intense light, it allows for more efficient energy consumption, providing the tank with plenty of illumination without excessive wattage usage.

Its white color temperature also adds naturalistic appeal, making it look like sunlight shining on a reef scene. Another advantage of the light intensity is the benefits for deep tanks that otherwise might not receive enough penetration.

The downsides to metal halide lighting are they require regular maintenance like bulb changes or cleaning, as well as additional cooling systems added to the tank to prevent overheating by the bulbs. These lights can also be expensive due to their increased wattage requirements, but they will pay off in terms of savings over time in electricity costs associated with lesser bulbs.

Additionally, Halide lights are generally only suitable for larger tanks due to their higher wattage requirements – if used in a smaller tank, they may cause overheating issues which can harm your fish and plants.

Overall, metal halide lighting for aquariums is an excellent choice for those looking for strong lighting with naturalistic appeal. They are good for saltwater tanks and help foster coral growth while maintaining efficient energy consumption levels despite their high wattage requirements.

While expensive upfront and requiring regular maintenance, metal halide lighting pays dividends in terms of energy costs over time, so long as cooling measures are taken to avoid issues associated with overheating in smaller tanks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do aquariums need special lights?

Yes, aquariums need special lights in order to foster the growth of plants and corals. Different types of lighting vary in intensity and cost, making it important to pick the right kind for your needs.

How many hours should aquarium light be on for plants?

The exact amount of lighting required for aquarium plants will depend on the particular species. Generally, most aquarium plants prefer between 8 and 10 hours of light each day. If you have live aquatic plants in your aquarium, it is important to ensure that they receive enough light to remain healthy. This can be achieved by using an appropriate aquarium light system with timer.

The timer can be adjusted to provide the recommended amount of light each day, which will help maintain optimal growth and color for your plants. Additionally, providing enough light also helps keep algae growth under control.

It is important to note that not all aquatic plants require the same amount of light, so it is best to research the specific needs of each species before setting up your lighting system.

What is an aquarium light timer?

An aquarium light timer is a device used in freshwater planted aquariums to regulate the amount of light available for aquatic plant growth. This type of timer allows you to set specific lighting schedules for different times of the day and night, so plants receive the correct amount of light each day.

The timer can be adjusted to provide the recommended amount of light for specific plant species, which will help promote healthy growth and coloration. Additionally, an aquarium light timer is useful in controlling algae growth as it allows you to control the amount of light available for photosynthesis.

By using an aquarium light timer, you can customize your lighting system to meet the needs of your plants and create a vibrant underwater landscape.

What light intensity is good for aquarium plants?

The wattage of the light you choose for your aquarium plants will depend on several factors, including tank size and the types of plants present. Generally, a single 40-watt bulb is recommended per 10 gallons of water.

If you have multiple species with different lighting requirements, it may be beneficial to provide more than one type of bulb so you can customize the spectrum of lighting for different plants. Additionally, higher wattage bulbs may be necessary for deeper tanks as less light will reach lower depths.

When choosing an aquarium light it is important to select one that provides adequate coverage for all areas of your tank, so make sure you measure your tank before making a purchase.

Which color light is best for planted aquarium?

The best color of light for planted aquariums will depend on the particular species you are cultivating. Generally, most plants prefer a full spectrum light that provides both cool and warm tones. The intensity and duration of lighting should also be tailored to the specific requirements of each plant species.

For example, low light-loving plants such as Anubias and Java Ferns will do best with a low wattage bulb and 6-8 hours of lighting per day, while higher light plants such as stem plants may require more intense lighting and up to 10 hours of light daily. It is important to research each species before deciding on the type of light they need in your tank.

Additionally, adding supplemental lighting such as LED or blue lights can be helpful in providing the right lighting balance for your aquarium.

What is the best way to keep aquarium plants healthy?

The best way to keep aquarium plants healthy is by providing them with adequate light, nutrients, and a proper substrate. When choosing an aquarium light it is important to select one that provides the recommended amount of lighting for your particular plant species. Additionally, make sure to provide an appropriate substrate that can be well-drained and contains enough nutrients for the plants.

Regular water changes are also important in maintaining a healthy environment for aquarium plants by removing toxins from the water. Finally, it is beneficial to prune or replant overgrown plants to promote healthy growth and prevent overcrowding. With the right care, aquarium plants can thrive and provide a vibrant landscape for your tank.

Is fluorescent or LED better for fish tank?

The choice between fluorescent and LED lighting for a fish tank is largely based on personal preference. Fluorescent bulbs produce light in the same way as traditional incandescent bulbs, but use less energy. They are available in a variety of wattages and can be used to provide adequate lighting for most aquariums. LED lights are more energy-efficient than fluorescent bulbs, and they also produce a brighter light.

They can be used to provide intense lighting for deeper tanks or more demanding species, but they may be more expensive than fluorescent bulbs. It is important to research the particular requirements of your aquarium before deciding on the type of lighting to use. Both types of lights are suitable for fish tank setups, and can help provide a healthy environment for your fish.

Where to learn more about planted aquariums?

Learned a lot from their aquarium plant lighting guide?

Aquariums for Beginners has a number of articles you might find helpful, including the Best Nano Plants, the Best Plants for Beginners, and plant specific articles like on Dwarf Sagittaria!


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