The Best Aquarium Lighting: How to Choose Aquarium Lighting for your Fish Tank

Trying to decide what lighting you need to fit in your aquarium can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not really sure why exactly it is necessary. Learning why your aquarium lighting is important is the first step in making the crucial decision and here at Pond Planet we wanted to make this process a bit more simpler by breaking down your options for you to understand and to help inform your decision, so your aquarium can be well cared for.

What To Consider Before Choosing Your Aquarium Lighting

There are a few different things you need to consider when choosing the lighting for your aquarium:

  1. Is your aquarium freshwater or marine?
  2. Will your aquarium house fish, plants, or both?
  3. What size is your aquarium?
  4. What’s your budget for lighting?

Once you’ve answered these questions you’ll be in a much better position to begin to choose your aquarium lighting.

Benefits of Aquarium Lighting

The main purpose of installing aquarium lighting is to recreate and simulate an accurate copy of the natural conditions which the aquarium’s inhabitants would usually live within the wild. Ensuring that they’re comfortable and have the ideal living environment that they require. Fish mainly need to understand the difference between night and day, whereas aquarium plants and corals need the lighting in order to grow. The key is to find the balance of the right amount of lighting; enough for your plants to grow, but not too much that you’ll have algae taking over your aquarium.

Colour Temperature

When choosing your aquarium lighting you will come across the term ‘colour temperature.’ In the 19th Century Lord Kelvin devised a temperature scale. During his experiments, he heated a black radiator which at first turned red, as the temperature got higher it turned yellow, until it was a bright white light at its highest point. These light colours follow this particular pattern at different temperatures, measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Light consists of seven colours, sunlight, which is measured at approximately 5500k, emits all seven of these colours, which is why it appears as white. But, what does this mean for your aquarium?

If you need lighting that simulates sunlight then you need to make sure you’re choosing the right colour temperature. A high colour temperature should only be used for saltwater aquariums. To add another level to consider, the colour of the light can also change the further down into the water – so this is definitely a more complicated aspect of choosing your aquarium lighting.

Fish Only Aquarium

Your aquarium’s lighting is simply to provide your fish with the light and dark cycle that they would be used to in the wild, for heat you would need a heater.  Generally, fish only aquariums are the least complicated when choosing the lighting; lighting is mainly used for aesthetic purposes. 

Coldwater/Tropical Freshwater Lighting

For this set up, little or no lighting can be acceptable. As long as your aquarium can get lots of natural lighting, then this is normally sufficient. As long as you don’t keep your fish in darkness then lighting will not affect the health of your fish in a fish-only aquarium.

Aquarium Plants

Lighting is most important when it comes to the plants you choose to have in your aquarium. All plants need light energy, carbon dioxide and water for photosynthesis, allowing them to produce their own food and survive.

The majority of freshwater plants are from natural conditions that mean they are exposed to light through murky water. If you have aquatic plants then it is important that your aquarium lighting emits the full spectrum of light, just like sunlight, with a kelvin rating of 5500 degrees kelvin.

Marine Fish Only Aquariums

Recommended for more experienced aquarium owners, owning marine fish is much more complicated than the usual aquatic fish. The species of your fish will depend massively on your lighting and the cycle of your lighting as some marine fish are awake during the night, for the purpose of avoiding predators. However, the basics are still the same, fish only tanks lighting isn’t a necessity if the tank is placed in the right area as it is usually just for added effect.

Fluorescent Lighting 

The most common form of aquarium lighting is fluorescent, available in long T5 or T8 Tubes. The tubes come in a range of sizes and sit in the hood of your aquarium; offering a range of lighting to the full tank. You can get fluorescent lighting in different wavelengths: from warmer, reddish light perfect for tropical fish, to daylight simulation bulbs ideal for growing plants and even blue marine bulbs. The difference between the T5 and T8 bulb is that the T5 is a newer, narrower diameter compared to the older, larger T8 bulb. The T5 holds an advantage that they emit a brighter light with their compact design, lasting longer too.

Fluorescent lighting is cheaper and more easily accessible than other options, with a wide range of options to suit your own tank’s preferences.

LED Lighting

LED is one of the most modern forms of aquarium lighting available and with so many positives to choose from it is becoming a number one choice for many. LEDs provide a consistent colour spectrum throughout their whole lifespan, are compact and can fit into any aquarium with ease. Despite being more expensive in the short term, buying LED lighting for your tank will save you money in the long term with low running costs. The biggest, most positive difference between LED and fluorescent lighting is the ease in which some LED units can be controlled to replicate different biotopes and environmental effects to create an even more natural home for your aquariums inhabitants.

Metal Halide Lighting

Metal halide lighting produces powerful light from an electric current passing through a bulb that contains a mixture of mercury vapour and metal halides. This form of lighting creates a similar type of lighting to LED and in the same way has low operation costs and lasts a long time. Most of the bulbs will need to be hung from the ceiling above the tank unless you’re able to work with a smaller unit that can be fixed straight to the aquarium.

The initial costs of metal halide lighting can be much more expensive and the bulbs do generate a lot of excess  heat, which in turn mean higher running costs which you would probably need to consider if you opt for this type of lighting.

How much light should my aquarium get a day?

To provide both fish and plants with the lighting they require, 10 to 12 hours a day is enough; to emulate the day/night cycle and give them the light energy they need to survive. It’s important to bear in mind that light can also help algae to grow, be aware of the algae production in your aquarium and prepare to alter your lighting cycle to adapt to this if required.

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot to consider before you make the jump and purchase your aquarium lighting. Hopefully this guide has highlighted some of the key factors you need to consider before you purchase. Browse our full range of aquarium lighting today and put your new knowledge to the test.

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