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Choosing New Aquarium Lighting for Your Tank

aquaticlife T5HOThe choices for lighting your aquarium have never been so vast. Whether you are setting up a new aquarium, replacing an old light fixture, or adding to your existing light, there are many decisions to be made.  New technology, and improvements on older lighting methods, provide today’s aquarium hobbyist with a dizzying array of lighting choices for any aquarium. So, how do you choose? What is the best light for your aquarium?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself, to help you with the decision:

Is the light that you are looking for only going to be used on your current aquarium habitat, or are you planning on a more advanced aquarium in the future that may require a higher output light source? You may want to consider a stronger light than you need for your current livestock, as basic lighting may limit what you can keep in the tank down the line.  

With these future goals in mind, what kind of lighting should you look for? This is going to require a little research on your part, but the internet is a great resource for finding the information about the needs of the livestock you want to keep in your aquarium.  There is a great deal of information, and care requirements for all the livestock that we offer here at TFP, you can go directly to our livestock section.  More advanced aquariums. like those populated with live plants or marine corals, have high output and specific light spectrum requirements.

WaterplantsThe size of your aquarium will also factor in your lighting choice. Deeper aquariums require more intense lighting, as the water’s depth will limit light penetration.  A tank that is 30 inches deep will require a much more intense light than a tank that is 18 inches deep.

Once you have answered these questions, you will have a pretty good idea of what you need, and are ready to look at the options available.  To try and keep it simple, I will break the lighting systems up into four groups; basic, intermediate, high performance and accent lighting, based upon the light output levels of the lights.  Follow the links to each different type that we offer and you will find detailed information about the specific light fixtures.

Basic:  If you have decided that you are setting up a basic fish tank, probably freshwater, with nothing photosynthetic like live plants or corals, you’ll be looking for a simple lighting option.  If your tank is fairly small and not very deep (18”-20” max), a standard output fluorescent fixture, or low output LED fixture will work well.  These basic lights are available as stand-alone strips that can be used over a glass canopy, or as part of a complete aquarium hood.  Some good examples of basic aquarium lighting are the Perfecto Fluorescent Reflector Strip Lights, and the Marineland Single Bright and Double Bright LED lighting systems. If you have a deeper tank, you want a very brightly lit tank, or you may want to keep live plants or coral, you will want to move up to next level of lighting.

Intermediate:  If you are setting up a larger or deeper aquarium (18”-24” deep), or you plan to have some live plants or corals in your aquarium, basic light is not going to get the job done. You will need to move to a more powerful light source, one that uses higher output bulbs, as well as special spectrum bulbs specifically to support the needs of live plants or marine life.  Many intermediate level lighting options include built-in timers or control systems, and may also include moonlights for nighttime viewing.  An excellent choice for you is a T5 HO Fluorescent light fixture, like the Coralife or AquaticLife T5 HO lights.  Higher output LED light fixtures like the Marineland Plant and Reef Capable LED systems, or the Ecoxotic Panorama LED fixtures are excellent choices for an upgraded light system, as well.  These better-than-basic light systems are where your options really start to increase, with the number and types of bulbs included in the fixtures.  Some manufacturers offer specialized models for freshwater and marine aquariums, that come with special purpose bulbs to support live plants or corals.  T5 HO fixtures are available with 2-8 bulbs each. The deeper your aquarium, or the higher the demand for light the species you keep, will determine what model is the best choice.

Cannon LEDHigh Performance:  If you have decided to set up a very large or deep aquarium (24”+), a heavily planted tank, or full reef aquarium, your stock will have a high light demand.  You are going to need the most powerful lighting available for your tank to thrive.  For shallower tanks (<24”) that have live plants or live corals, multiple bulb T5 HO fixtures can still be a great option. You can also use higher output LED lighting for these tanks, like the AquaticLife 1.0W Expandable system, or the Maxpect Razor LED system.  For deeper tanks, you’ll want to move up to a Metal Halide light fixtures or reflectors, or to larger or multiple High Output LED fixtures like the Ecotech Marine Radion, the AquaticLife 3.0W Expert Series, or the Ecoxotic Cannon LED light systems.

Accent Lighting lets you have a little fun and make your tank truly unique.  Most accent lighting is supplied by LEDs, and is generally intended to be used in conjunction with your main lighting source, to add a little extra output, color or decorative effects.  Accent lighting is available in several forms, including moonlight modules, compact strip lights, or submersible strip lights.  Some new decorative LED accent lights are incorporated into air stones, bubble wands, and water pumps, capable of producing dramatic night time colored bubble effects.  Some examples of LED accent lights are the Current USA TruLumen Lunar LED system, the Marineland Accent LED system, and the LED bubble wand systems from Marina, Marineland, and Aqueon.

I hope that gave you a good idea of what is available for lighting your aquarium, and gives you some direction for choosing the best light for achieving your goal.



Waterplants image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ghostsword

One comment

  1. avatar

    The data provided in this article is extensive. Thanks for your time in posting this particular.

About Dave Acland

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After graduating from Coastal Carolina University with a BS in Marine Science in 1996, I started my professional career in 1997 as an aquarist at Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, SC. This was an amazing experience, in which I gained invaluable hands on training in exhibit design and construction, as well as husbandry skills for a wide range of animals. In 2000 I started working at That Fish Place as one of the staff Marine Biologists, with the responsibility of maintaining one of the largest retail fish holding systems in the world. I presently hold the position of Director of Aquatic Science, where I oversee the operation of our 35,000 gallon retail aquarium systems, and provide technical support for our mail-order and retail store customer service staff. As an aquatic product specialist, I also provide support for our purchasing and marketing departments, as well as contribute web content and analysis. As a Hobbyist I acquired my love of aquariums from my father who was keeping a large aquarium in early 70’s, and set up my first aquarium when I was 12 years old. I have now been keeping aquariums for over 35 years, and through this time have kept more aquariums and types of fish than I can remember. I set up my first Saltwater aquarium in 1992, which led me down the path I still follow today.