Updated: April 19, 2021 - By: - Categories: Equipment

One of the most important equipment you need to make your aquarium fully functional is the lighting. Different tank types will require different types of aquarium lights to thrive. In this article, we will look at some of the best LED aquarium lights that you can choose for your fish tank. There are many options for many tank types including fish-only, freshwater planted, and saltwater reef.

How to choose LED lights for different tank kinds?

Choosing the right type of aquarium light involves more than just your preference and budget. It’s about the kind of setup you have in your tank and also about the community of fish. Each tank setup has varying lighting needs, and you need to consider this when buying an aquarium light.

For freshwater planted tank

10-gallon-fish-tank

Planted tanks have more demanding lighting needs mainly because live plants need enough light for photosynthesis to occur. There are two primary factors to consider (right type and enough quantity) when buying an LED light for planted tanks.

color-temperature

Color temperature (wikipedia.org)

For choosing the right type of aquarium light, color temperature (Kelvin rating) is used. The bluer the light is, the higher the Kelvin rating is. The redder the light is, the lower the Kelvin rating is. Aquarium plants can thrive in a wide range of color temperatures, but the white range from 5500 to 7500K works best for both plant growth and visual effect.

For quantifying, PAR (photosynthetic active radiation, unit µmol/m2/s) is best used. The PAR measures the amount of radiation that plants can use for photosynthesis and growth. Using this measurement, you can determine if a product can provide enough light for your planted tank.

Marineland planted LED light PARMarineland planted LED light PAR

Previous is the PAR measurements of a planted tank LED light. As you can see in the picture, further spots from the light get lower PAR readings. For plant growth, the higher the PAR value, the better. But not all plants require the same PAR. Low light plants need about 15 to 30 µmol/m2/s, medium-light plants between 35 to 65 µmol/m2/s, and high light plants between 65 to 120+ µmol/m2/s.

The ideal light should be bright enough to light up the tank and cater to your plants’ photosynthetic needs. You will need to place different light-demanding plants in different spots in your tank so that all the plants receive just enough light of their needs.

Go to the detailed page for planted aquarium lighting if keeping freshwater plants is the main purpose of your aquarium. https://portlandaquarium.net/planted-aquarium-led-light/

For freshwater fish-only tank

20-gallon-fish-tank

Freshwater fish-only tanks have the least lighting demands, just enough for you to see the fish as well as for the fish to search for foods. Different kinds of fish have different needs of lighting and the type of light you choose will largely depend on the species in your tank.

Most freshwater aquarium fish are from shallow water streams covered by dense trees above, where they tend to receive 10-12 hours of shaded sunlight daily. An aquarium light with 5500-8000K white replicates this kind of light best.

Some aquarium fish are shy, and others like to hide. You need to consider this when buying the light. If the light is too bright, the fish might be uncomfortable. It’s vital to understand the lighting needs from the perspective of your fish before purchasing.

For tanks that have fish that love light and those that don’t, you can remedy the situation by having multiple dark, hiding places to keep the fish that prefer shading comfortable as well.

For saltwater fish-only with/without live rock tank

live-rock

Like freshwater tanks, saltwater aquariums also come with various setups that have varying lighting requirements. The most basic of these is the fish only or fish with invertebrates (shrimps, snails, and crustaceans) setup. This set up requires just enough light to see the fish and make the colors of the fish glow.

You should avoid white light to avoid algae problems. Blue light in the range of 8,000 to 12,000K is perfect for saltwater fish-only and fish with invertebrate setups. This range is blue enough to make saltwater fish glow and offer the most attractive view for enjoyment.

If you have live rock in your saltwater aquarium (FOWLR), it has slightly higher light requirements than fish-only tanks. Live rock is commonly used as a decoration and filtration system in saltwater aquariums. It’s a coral rock that contains living organisms like algae, small inverts, and countless beneficial bacteria. Some need light for their living activities.

For reef aquarium

reef-aquarium-light

The reef tank usually features fish, corals, and other invertebrates. They have the highest lighting demands to cater to all the living organisms, especially photosynthetic corals.

Unlike freshwater plants originating from shallow water streams in forests, corals reside deeper underwater where only blue lights with higher energy can penetrate. So, if you have a reef aquarium, ensure the light you choose can produce blue light anywhere from 10,000-20,000K.

For quantifying, soft and LPS corals have low-average light requirements but SPS corals demand higher light levels to thrive. The right aquarium light will depend on the type of corals you have in your aquarium.

More about reef lights: https://portlandaquarium.net/led-light-for-reef-tank/

For saltwater planted tank (lagoon/estuary tank)

lagoon-aquarium

This is a kind of saltwater aquarium that has live rock, macroalgae, some low light corals, and fish. Macroalgae and corals in the saltwater planted aquarium require light for photosynthesis. You can use a white or bluish-white LED light (7,000-10,000K) for growing macroalgae in a lagoon tank.

BeamsWork EA White BlueBeamsWork EA White Blue

For quantifying, a freshwater planted tank LED light (average light level plants) or a lower output reef light works well for a lagoon tank. Species in this kind of aquarium usually require less light than those of reef tanks. You can choose the BeamsWork EA White Blue LED light for the tank.

For saltwater refugium

refugium

Growing Chaeto algae in a refugium

Having a refugium containing macroalgae under the main tank is a great way to keep the nitrate and phosphate levels in your main tank low, which is very important for saltwater reefs. A refugium is also a great place to culture and export copepods (an important food source for saltwater fish) to the display tank.

Your main purpose is to grow, grow, and grow the macroalgae at the highest level. You don’t need to enjoy your refugium. So, choosing an LED light that is best in growing plants is all you need for a refugium.

Innovative Marine ChaetoMax Refugium LED LightInnovative Marine ChaetoMax Refugium LED Light

Different macroalgae species have different needs of light (colors and intensities). Lights with more blue and red in the spectrum are proven to grow green plants (both terrestrial and aquatic plants) better than white lights. This results in purple/pink LED grow lights. The truth is that you use can an indoor LED grow light for a refugium that grows Chaeto.

Chaeto algae under white lightChaeto algae under white light

Chaeto (Chaetomorpha) is one of the most popular macroalgae used in refugiums because of its many benefits. This green macroalgae grows very fast if provided a light source with more in blue and red.

What is the best lighting cycle for aquariums?

Freshwater Tanks

After finding the right aquarium light, you have to figure out how to use it best to benefit your fish and plants.

Most freshwater fish and plants need about 8 to 12 hours of white light a day. It’s important that you have your lighting setup on a timer so your aquarium can get the same amount of light over the same amount of time every day. It’s important to note that darkness is just as crucial to your tank’s inhabitants as light.

The easiest way of achieving the right balance for your aquarium is trying to replicate nature. The following image is a schedule of a freshwater LED aquarium light that is great to follow.

Nicrew 24/7 lighting scheduleNicrew 24/7 lighting schedule

There are aquarium lights that come with a built-in timer with ramp-up and ramp-down periods, stimulating sunrise and sunset. These allow you to adjust the light intensity as it does throughout the day. Such options are perfect for freshwater aquariums.

Having a soothing blue moonlight (performed by several blue LEDs) and/or a dark period at night is important, too. Fish and plants need a balance of day and night to thrive. If you expose the aquarium to too much light, you could scorch the plants, stress the fish, or start having algae problems.

Saltwater Tanks

Saltwater aquariums are slightly different. But like freshwater tanks, you need to vary light intensity throughout the day. Most saltwater aquarium lights have multiple color channels like blue, red, pink, and white.

Early in the morning, corals in the ocean get lower intensity light than the noon. During this time, you can run the blue channel only. You can run the light at its highest intensity at around noon, with all the channels at maximum brightness. You should keep this mode of lighting on all afternoon.

At night, you should switch to a deep blue with low intensity as you prepare the fish for darkness. At midnight, switch the lighting off. As with a freshwater tank, if your lighting setup doesn’t have a timer, you can purchase one separately to ensure consistency in lighting and intensity.

Best LED lights for tanks from small to large

Model Our rating Ideal for Fixture sizes For tanks LEDs Modes Wattage
Hygger Blue White small clip-on Light editor's ratingHygger Blue White small clip-on Light fish, freshwater, saltwater 9.7 inches 5-10 gallons 24 White + 6 Blue Day/night, adjustable 13 watts
S SMIFUL Submersible LED Strip editor's ratingS SMIFUL Submersible LED Strip freshwater fish-only 19-inch (7/11/15/19/23-inch available) 10 gallons 27 RGB LEDs multi colors, adjustable 2 watts
hygger Advanced 24/7 Lighting Cycle LED Aquarium Light editor's ratinghygger Advanced 24/7 Lighting Cycle LED Aquarium Light freshwater fish and plants 36-42 inches (12-54″ available) 30/40/50 gallons 76 White, 31 Blue, 11 Red, 8 Green, 32 RGB inline timer controller, 24/7 lighting cycle 36 watts
Hygger Auto On Off 48-55 Inch LED Aquarium Light editor's ratingHygger Auto On Off 48-55 Inch LED Aquarium Light fish-only, planted tank 48-55 inches (17-55″ available) 55/75 gallons (48-inch) 140 White, 23 Blue, 12 Red, 11 Green, 62 RGB built-in digital timer controller for multi modes 72 watts
Fluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 3.0 editor's ratingFluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 3.0 freshwater fish, most plant types 48-60 inches (24-60″ available) 48-60 inches 366 total Mobile app control, many preset modes 59 watts
Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus editor's ratingCurrent USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus fish-only, cichlid, low light plants 48-60 inches (18-60″ available) 48-inch fish tank (55/60/75/90 gallon) 96 white + 48 RGB custom colors, weather effects 30 watts
Current USA Orbit Marine LED Light editor's ratingCurrent USA Orbit Marine LED Light saltwater fish, live rock, low light corals 48-60 inches (18-60″ available) 55+ gallons 54 actinic (445nm), 48 actinic (460nm), 35 (8000K), 54 (6500K) remote control, 24-hour timer 48 watts
NICREW Saltwater Aquarium Light 30-inch editor's ratingNICREW Saltwater Aquarium Light 30-inch saltwater fish, live rock, low light corals 30 inches (18-36″ available) 20 long/29-gallon 117 LEDs, 2 channels dual channel timer. 32 watts
NICREW SkyLED Plus editor's ratingNICREW SkyLED Plus planted tanks 30-36 inches (12-54″ available) 29/30 gallons 80 White + 15 Blue + 10 Red Day/night 30 watts
Finnex Planted+ 24/7 CRV editor's ratingFinnex Planted+ 24/7 CRV planted tanks 36 inches (available 20-48″) 30-50 gallons daylight, 660nm red, green, blue 24/7 timer controller, multi modes watts
BeamsWork DA FSPEC LED editor's ratingBeamsWork DA FSPEC LED medium-high light plants 72 inches (20-72″ available) 100+ gallons 102 x 10000K, 32 x Actinic, 22 x Red, 26 x Green Day/night 91 watts total

Fish tank LED light review

Hygger Blue White small clip-on LED Aquarium Light

Being a popular brand among aquarists, Hygger offers top quality, highly functional and adjustable aquarium lighting solutions. It has adopted the same approach with this small clip-on aquarium LED light.

Update Version Wide ClipUpdate Version Wide Clip

Measuring just 9.7 inches, this one of a kind LED light has 30 LEDs, 24 white and 6 blue and is rated for 5 – 10 gallon tanks. There’s also a 21-watt option for 10 -30 gallon tanks.

It offers two lighting modes; day (with all LEDs on) and night (only blue LEDs). The light has an ultra-thin aluminum alloy and plastic shell for quick heat dissipation. The splash-resistant casing makes the light an ideal option for both freshwater and saltwater applications.

The addition of an adjustable gooseneck is a fine touch that gives the light an elegant touch while increasing the installation options and positions.

More clip-on and other options for nano tanks here: https://portlandaquarium.net/clip-on-led-light/

S SMIFUL Waterproof RGB Underwater Submersible LED Strip

The S Smiful Waterproof RGB is a diverse submersible LED strip that you can place in multiple positions, inside or outside the aquarium, in or out of the water. It comes with suction cups for easy placement.

It comes with various features to add a dramatic effect to your tank. Using the remote control that comes with the light, you can choose your preferred lighting mode among multi available colors. The light is also dimmable, which is perfect if you have some species that love soothing light.

You are able to change the speed at which a color changes to another. There are four color-changing modes for choice, including flash, strobe, fade, or smooth. Just choose a mode you like then press the up or down button to change the transition duration between two different colors.

More submersible LED aquarium light here: https://portlandaquarium.net/submersible-led-light/

Hygger Advanced 24/7 Lighting Cycle LED Aquarium Light

This aquarium light comes with an expansive range of features that you can control using its inline controller. These wonderful features make it one of the best options for fish keepers.

Inline timer controllerInline timer controller

Firstly, you can set the lighting time to 6, 10, or 12 hours using the TIMER button on the controller. You only need to set it one time in the morning and the light will repeat your setting day by day.

7 lighting colors7 lighting colors

The color and intensity of the light are customizable and fully programmable. The second button allows you to switch among 7 lighting colors including full-spectrum, red, blue, green, orange, purple, and cyan. With the third button, the light intensity is adjustable in the range from 10% to 100%.

24/7 lighting cycle24/7 lighting cycle

Moreover, you have an option to use a 24/7 lighting schedule that is preset to automatically switch to different lighting colors and intensities at different times of a day. The goal of this feature is to replicate natural lighting conditions. It starts with a warm orange (mimic sunrise) at 6 AM, transitions into a bright white at mid-day, then a starry blue at night, and turns off at 22:30.

The reviewed version is a fixture extendable from 36 to 42 inches, which is perfect for a 30-50 gallon tank. There are other versions from 12 to 54 inches available for choice.

Hygger Auto On Off 48-55 Inch LED aquarium light

This aquarium light from Hygger is perfect for 55 to 75-gallon freshwater fish or planted aquariums. It has a rating of 72 watts and is packed with 140 white, 23 blue, 12 red, 11 green, and 62 RGB LEDs to provide you with flexible lighting solutions for your tank.

Easy-to-program digital timer controllerEasy-to-program digital timer controller

The light comes with a digital timer control unit built into its fixture. You can use the controller to set the light intensities, change its colors (6 single color + white), as well as program the timing schedule.

Automatic lighting cycle with sunrise, sunsetAutomatic lighting cycle with sunrise, sunset

Its automatic lighting cycle also features ramp-up and ramp-down periods between daylight and nightlight, which is critical in replicating the natural light cycle for the comfort of your fish and plants. A special feature is that you can choose another color for the moonlight, not only blue.

Fluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 3.0

The Fluval Plant Spectrum LED is a diverse and technologically rich light that eases the process of keeping an aquarium and maintaining a consistent environment for your fish. It features full-spectrum white enriched in blue and red for optimal photosynthesis and plant growth.

The light is compatible with a mobile app from Fluval that allows you to control and customize its settings. It connects with the app via Bluetooth. Using the app, you can explore many modes preoptimized for different freshwater habitats including Malawi lake, tropical, and planted.

fluval-led-light-color-channel

The app also includes a 24/7 light schedule for automatic control. The schedule is preset and ready to use, however, you are able to fully program its time periods, colors, and intensities to serve your tanks’ requirements. It is easy to customize the light with its 5 independent color channels.

This excellent product is rated at 59 watts and works for most planted tanks of between 48 – 60 inches. There are also other versions available for different tank sizes.

Current USA Satellite Freshwater LED Plus Light

Talking about the LEDs, this aquarium light has white, green, blue, and red LED chips that have various uses. With the remote that comes with this product, you can use a specific color and even adjust its brightness.

You can make your own specific color combination by adjusting the intensities of different colors independently, and save the new setting with any of the four memory slots (M1-M4) available in the remote. Then, you can call a saved color just by only a single click on the corresponding memory button.

It also comes with cool weather effects such as a thunderstorm (flash of bright white light), nighttime (twinkling blue light), cloudy day (dimmed light), etc.

You can turn it off with the remote. If you want to automatically turn it on/off daily, a version with a 24-hour timer is also available for choice, or you can use a compatible timer (sold separately) from Current USA.

With its extendable mounting brackets, it will fit any aquarium that is a bit wider than the light fixture. If you buy the 48-inch version, the legs can fit an aquarium from 48 inches to 60 inches.

Current USA Orbit Marine LED light for saltwater fish

Marine tanks have different lighting requirements from freshwater tanks. The Current USA Orbit marine tank is designed with this fact in mind. It’s an ideal light for saltwater fish and low light corals and works for 55-gallon tanks and above.

To achieve the perfect lighting atmosphere, the light is fitted with 54 actinic (445nm), 35 (80000K), 48 actinic (460nm), and 54 (6500K) LEDs. The LED chips are separated into four independent color channels for easy configurations.

Remote controlRemote control

The light comes with a handy remote control that allows you to choose and customize its 24-hour timer as well as many other wonderful features. You can set on and off times and customize the spectrum colors and intensities of the 24-hour lighting schedule with the remote.

24-hour timer control24-hour timer control

You can explore various preset lighting modes and weather effects with the remote control. Moreover, you can build and save your own color in the memory slot (M button) to use at any time you want. The lower portion of the remote includes buttons for controlling Current USA wave markers if you have any in your tank.

Nicrew SkyLED Plus full-spectrum aquarium light

The Nicrew SkyLED Plus with its full-spectrum light is a perfect option for planted tanks with its very competitive price compared to other LED lights for aquarium plants. The considerable PAR of 97 at 12-inch depth means it meets the need of most light-hungry plants.

The light is powered by 6500K white, 450Nm blue, and 660Nm red LEDs that work together to create a full-spectrum effect. The inline switch allows you to adjust the day and night color spectrums and the light intensity. You can adjust the lighting channels together or independently, which gives you even more color options.

Nicrew single-channel timer pro (sold separately)Nicrew single-channel timer pro (sold separately)

The light is timer ready, with its standard 2.5mm/2.1mm power connectors. If you want to automatically turn it on/off in a timely manner, simply buy the Nicrew single-channel timer and connect it to the light circuit.

The product includes extendable docking legs that can extend from 30 to 36 inches for easy installation on 20-gallon long tanks as well as 29-gallon tanks.

NICREW saltwater aquarium LED light

Another option from Nicrew but specially designed for saltwater tanks. This saltwater aquarium LED light is not only cheap but also comes with everything you need for the setup, including a dual-channel timer wired within the power cord.

NICREW saltwater aquarium lightNICREW saltwater aquarium light

The PAR at 12-inch depth is 110 that provides just enough light for most low-moderate light corals including most softies, mushrooms, anemones, LPS, and Zoanthids. That are all most saltwater starters want to have in a small reef setup from 20-29 gallons.

Finnex Planted+ 24/7 CRV Aquarium LED Light

This product is what we will recommend to every planted aquarium owner whether they are experienced or new. This product comes with a full spectrum of light and a 24/7 automatic lighting schedule so that your aquarium plants can photosynthesize just like plants under the sun.

24/7 feature24/7 feature

For people who do not know the exact brightness to use, they can easily turn on the 24/7 feature of this light fixture so that their plants will get the right amount of light at different times of a day. You can enter or leave the 24/7 mode and also customize your own with the remote control.

Remote controlRemote control

You can easily adjust the brightness of all color channels independently to create and save your own customized color in any of the four memory slots (M1-M4) on the remote control. Just make sure that you give your plants enough light for photosynthesis.

Another cool feature of this planted aquarium light is its preset weather effects with thunderstorms (flash of bright white lights), cloudy day (dimmed purple light made from combining red and blue lights), sunny day (very bright white light), and moonlight (dimmed blue light).

BeamsWork DA FSPEC LED – 72-inch

The BeamsWork DA FSPEC LED is a practical, minimalist LED light that works perfectly for plant growth. It features a full-spectrum light of 10,000K white, actinic 460nm, red 620nm, and green 520nm LEDs.

The light is not big on customized lighting but offers just enough of what your plants need to grow. It has a daylight mode with all the LED on, and a night mode with only the blue on.

The light comes timer ready. However, you have to buy the timer separately. If you do, the timer should add some convenience and consistency in lighting cycles, which is vital for the growth of plants.

The BeamsWork DA FSPEC has solid structural integrity. The shell is made from structured aluminum for durability and effective heat dissipation. It comes with plastic extendable legs that are easy to install and will work for virtually any 72-inch tank.

This is an all-business kind of light. It doesn’t pack all the bells and whistles. But it focuses on essentials that will improve your chances of success with a planted tank.

Aquarium Light Accessories

Although aquarium lighting technology is more intuitive than ever, it’s hard to find one light that offers everything without breaking the budget. That’s why you might need some accessories to help you get the most out of the light without leaving holes in your pockets.

Timer

BN-LINK 7 Day Heavy Duty Digital Programmable TimerBN-LINK 7 Day Heavy Duty Digital Programmable Timer

BN-LINK Compact Outdoor Mechanical TimerBN-LINK Compact Outdoor Mechanical Timer

A light timer can save you the trouble of running your lights for too long or forgetting to switch them on every morning. The timer will run your light even when you’re away, saving you time and maintaining a healthy aquarium. A socket timer is easy to use and compatible with most aquarium lights in the market these days.

Dimmer

Nicrew dimmer & timer with standard 2.5mm/2.1mm power connectorsNicrew dimmer & timer with standard 2.5mm/2.1mm power connectors

If your aquarium is under constant attack from algae, it’s possible that your light is too bright. Instead of buying another light, you can buy a dimmer, which will lower the intensity of the current light. It’s more economical than buying a new light.

Risers

Aquarium light holder riserAquarium light holder riser

Light risers help to increase the distance between the light and the water in the aquarium providing a wider angle of illumination while keeping the light away from the moisture and its effects. They also work as a dimmer in case the light is too bright for your fish and plants.

PAR meter

Apogee PAR meterApogee PAR meter

When running a planted tank or a reef tank, the PAR measurements of your light is very important. Investing in a PAR meter not only allows you to confirm the performance of the light but also helps you better position your plants and corals inside your tank depending on their PAR requirements to guarantee vibrant growth.

Adapter

DC 12V Power Supply AdapterDC 12V Power Supply Adapter

Most aquarium lights come with their own adapters. Adapters ensure your aquarium light is receiving proper power from the outlet. Without an adapter, your light might not work properly. If your adapter breaks, just make a replacement, don’t need to change the entire lighting system. Ensure the adapter you choose is compatible with your light before making a purchase.

Hanging kit

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3.2ft light fixtures suspension cables kit for ceiling
3.2ft light fixtures suspension cables kit for ceiling

L corner brace bracket wall hanging with screwsL corner brace bracket wall hanging with screws

If you want to hang your aquarium light on a wall or ceiling, you can invest in a hanging kit. It will come with all the items you need to hang the light on. Drill small holes into the wall or ceiling to hold the hanging kit, and once it’s installed, you can attach the light to hang above the aquarium.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which is the best night time light for aquarium fish?

A: Low-intensity blue light is the best for both freshwater and saltwater fish. But it’s also essential to have a few hours of total darkness in your tank. Fish need this time to rest.

Q: LED vs. fluorescent, which is better?

A: Fluorescent tubes are old and inefficient technology. LED lights are more modern, come with more features to liven up your tank, consume less electricity, and produce less heat. LED lights are easily the better option for aquarium uses.

Q: Can you repair an aquarium light?

A: That depends on what is wrong. Some parts of the light like the brackets, cooling fans, remote control,… are replaceable. If any of the LED part breaks down, replacing the light is recommended. It’s easier and safer.

Q: Do aquarium lights bother fish?

A: Yes, some fish prefer shaded areas or low lighting. If you notice some of your fish are struggling with the light intensity, having a densely planted tank or floating plants can help. You can also try to provide the fish with hiding areas. Dimming the light can also help to improve the comfort of the fish.

Q: Do aquarium lights heat the water?

A: Yes, it’s possible for aquarium lights to transfer some heat into the water. This is more so if you’re using old tech like fluorescents or incandescent bulbs that produce a lot of heat. On the other hand, LEDs have minimal impact on water temperature because they don’t produce a lot of heat.

Lucas has been keeping successful fish, planted, and reef tanks for many years. He loves to collect aquatic organisms and keep as many aquariums as he can.

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2 comments

  1. When using a manual LED light dimmer on my Nicrew classic led plus light which is about 70 par, if I set it to be 50 % dimmed, would the par value be 35-ish. Or is it more complicated and less directly proportional than that ? Thanks !

    • Hi Donald. If the measured spot is not too deep, the PAR would be around 35.