Lighting Guide


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Lighting Guide

What is light?

Light is something that makes things visible or affords illumination. Light makes things so that we can see. When it comes to aquariums, different Kelvin ratings can determine the color that emits off of a bulb. Without it, successfully keeping coral and or photosynthetic marine life wouldn't be possible. It is a must to have adequate lighting for when you make a reef tank setup. You can't just use any kind of light when you're making a reef setup. You need to buy a light that has been specially designed for the use of keeping light requiring organisms.


What is Kelvin?

Kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. When it comes to saltwater aquariums, different bulbs for light fixtures generally have different Kelvin ratings. Some common ones are 14k bulbs and 20k bulbs. 20k being the bluest. So make sure to check out the different Kelvin rated bulbs when determining what color you want your tank to be set at!


Why do I need lighting for my aquarium?

You need lighting for a variety of reasons. One being that you can see what's inside your tank. If you want to house photosynthetic corals or other photosynthetic marine life, having the adequate amount of light is crucial when housing them. Why would anybody want to have an aquarium without a light anyway? Having a light fixture is a standard piece of equipment on an aquarium. Corals host a photosynthetic algae called Xoozanthellae which needs the adequate lighting in order to survive. Xoozanthellae also provides the color of corals which make them look so beautiful!


What types of lighting is there?

When keeping an aquarium, there are different types of lighting that one can choose from when determining what's best for them. Among the different types of lighting available to aquarium enthusiasts, I shall list off the most common and popular types that you can choose from. Some people have different opinions on to as what type of light you should use but choose the type that seems to fit you best. Some lights come complete with the whole aquarium setup! A good example of this is if you purchase a bio/nanocube aquarium. Those All In One Tanks already have the lighting you need in order to house some corals if you ever so wanted.


Fluorescent lighting
Compact Flourescent lighting
High Output(HO) lighting
Very High Output(VHO) lighting
Metal Halide lighting
Light Emitting Diode lighting(LED)



Fluorescent Lighting:
These are standard lights that come with most aquarium kits and are the most basic of lighting one can have for an aquarium. They typically run from 15 to 40 watts and have a Kelvin of 3,000 to 10,000

Compact Fluorescent lighting: These lights are at a higher level than regular Fluorescent lighting and typically range from 10 to 100 watts and have a Kelvin of 5000 to 10,000. These lights can get hot so they usually come with a specialized fixture with fans.

High Output(HO) lighting: These are very popular in the hobby and are also referred to as T5HO lights. They typically range from 20 to 60 watts and have a Kelvin of 6,000 to 11,000.

Very High Output(VHO) lighting: These lights range from 75 to 160 watts with a Kelvin of 10,000 to 20,000. These lights also have a specialized fixture with fans built in to keep the fixture cool. Depending on the fixture, you may need to have a chiller when using these lights.

Metal Halide lighting: These lights typically range from 175 to 1000 watts and have a Kelvin of 5,000 to 20,000. These lights provide a shimmer effect which is preferred among enthusiasts. These fixtures get really hot as well and require a fan as well. You may even need a chiller as well unless your fixture is suspended from the ceiling.

Light Emitting Diode(LED) lighting: These lights are new to the aquarium hobby and can be very expensive. There's different types of brands that have fixtures already but it's still in the prototype stage for the most part. One can expect new fixtures and improvements within the next few years. On the other hand, they use a lot less energy than the other kind of lighting and can save a ton of money on electricity.

What type of light should I choose?

When deciding what type of light you want to go with, one needs to think about different factors. One of them is cost. The cheapest light fixture you can go with is a regular fluorescent light which isn't suitable for corals. Do you want a shimmer effect, energy saving bulbs, high output, etc? Make sure to research more on the different types of lighting that's available before making your choice. Buying your lighting fixture is an integral part of your complete setup so choose wisely!

What fixture brands are out there for me?

Instead of reviewing each and every brand/fixture that I can come up with, I feel it's best to provide a list of links to online companies who sell fixtures and that way, you can get more information by checking them out. Make sure to research the different brands and check out reviews as well. You don't want to end up buying a fixture that would end up being a piece of crap. Your lighting is an investment! Make it the right one.


List of brands

Current USA:
Coralife: Coralife Marine & Freshwater Aquarium Supplies
Marineland: Marineland - Smart Design. Superior Performance.
AquaticLife: AquaticLife LLC | Premium Marine Aquarium Products
Zoo Med: Zoo Med Laboratories | #1 Reptile Products Worldwide -- Welcome to Zoo Med
Ecoxotic: Aquarium LED Lights, Reef LED Lighting

There's many more brands out there but I just wanted to give a small handful to give people a general idea on what's out there.

Which brand should I go with?

As I stated before, you need to research the different brands and find reviews for different fixtures while deciding what to buy. Feel free to ask on the forum about lighting if you want opinions from the other members here. I also encourage to read other articles as well so you can learn even more about it! From a a personal experience and going by what i've seen other people use, Current USA seems to have some really decent fixtures so be sure to check them out! Make sure to ask yourself when buying a fixture that what do you want to do? Do I want coral? Do I want high light/medium light/ low light coral? Do I want to go FOWLR? Make sure you know what you want before going out and buying.

Closing Statement

I thank everybody for taking the time to read my article. I wrote this to give people a better understanding about light and the different types that they can choose from. I also hope that this article can be used as a reference for people wanting to learn more about lighting or people who are in the process of looking for a fixture to buy.

Written with my sincere intentions

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Thanks for the info. I am still having a hard time deciding. My cube is 18" wide and I feel very limited by what I am finding to use. Seems like everything starts at 24" and up.
Thanks for the info. I am still having a hard time deciding. My cube is 18" wide and I feel very limited by what I am finding to use. Seems like everything starts at 24" and up.
Hope it was okay for an article. The ones I write always seem big when I write them but when I post them, they swem smaller. I should have gotten more details in. Oh well. It's probably more of a reference than a guide.
I would give you an A for affort. I mean effort. ;)

Thanks, haha. I think one of these days, i'll try to spend a good part of the day making a REALLY detailed article. It's been a while since i've ever written/typed things like this so I guess I feel good for myself for trying to help people!

To give you my honest feeling, when I typed this article, it was solid. I was finished up and ready to add the images until I accidentally closed the tab without saving my work.......

I was ready to give up but decided to swallow all the crap and type it again. I felt satisfied again when I finished. Of course the margins when you type a post are a lot smaller than when it's actually posted so it seemed like a lot to me. But now I kinda feel dissatisfied with the length of the article. It could have been way more detailed.

Almost as if my article is a joke it looks short. I'm being pessimistic, sorry. =/