A Guide to Proper Aquarium Lighting

What is the right type of aquarium lighting for my tank?

Aquarium Lighting Infographic

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Tis’ the season for stringing lights around our homes but we must not forget the aquarium lighting. The quality of aquatic life is directly related to the quality of the aquarium lighting. Since the sun naturally provides light for all life on earth, the same is true for marine life. If the spectrum and intensity of the lighting is insufficient the survival rate for all the aquarium’s inhabitants, be it plants, corals or fish, will be poor as well.

When designing the aquarium lighting, you should aim to duplicate natural aquatic life conditions. Many factors should be considered when choosing the proper lighting system. However, with all the options available, you may get a bit confused. You should consider the possible variables in your aquarium before you go shopping:

Size of Aquarium

The first step to picking out the proper aquarium lighting is determining how large of a space the lighting will need to cover. Larger aquariums will require an LED whose light coverage has a widespread intensity. Whereas, a smaller aquarium will require a smaller, less intense LED.

Type of Aquarium

The most important thing to determine is what life forms your aquarium will contain. Aquarium lighting for a fish-only environment will require different spectrum and intensity than an aquarium with both plants and fish.

Here is a breakdown of each type of aquarium to help you determine what type of aquarium lighting system you’ll need for your aquarium.

Aquarium Lighting for Fish with Artificial Plants

Aquariums, in which the only livestock included are fish, tend to be more forgiving to a lack of light. Although light is still important for survival, the intensity does not need to be as high. Typically, 1-2 watts per gallon is enough to imitate a full day-night cycle.

Recommended Lighting System: Standard or Power Compact Fluorescent System

**Do not use light bulbs that need to be changed. Instead, opt for LED lights.**

Aquarium Lighting for Fish with Live Plants

Because most freshwater plants grow in shallow rivers, these plants are accustomed to a wide spectrum of light. Choose a standard fluorescent light ranging from 2-5 watts per gallon. Keep in mind that these lamps will give off quite a bit of heat, so if your aquarium is a bit shallow consider raising the lamp to provide more room for oxygen flow.

Recommended Lighting System: Standard or Power Compact Fluorescent System

Aquarium Lighting for Fish with Invertebrates, Coral and Live Rock

The depth of the water that invertebrates and coral reside in naturally varies. Some live in very shallow/ well-lit waters while others live in deeper, darker waters. So, finding the right lighting for these creatures can get tricky. The best way to be sure you are providing the proper light to all the aquarium inhabitants is to purchase only invertebrates and coral which require the same level of light.

Generally, using an aquarium lighting system of 4-8 watts will keep the marine reef aquarium healthy.

Recommended Lighting System: T-5 HO, VHO, Power Compact, Metal Halide/HQI, LED


Lastly, of course what fits into your aquarium lighting budget is a big factor. The aquarium lighting options today are vast and range greatly from high cost to low cost. Each of the available systems has different features. After you determine the requirements for your aquarium, all you’ll need to do is compare pricing.

If you are interested in finding the best aquarium lighting in Crystal Lake, give Living Art Aquatics, Inc. a call at (847) 737-5151. We have been providing custom aquarium designs for new and old aquarists throughout the Chicagoland area since 2005.

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