Aquarium Lighting

What Type of Lighting Should I Use in my Tank?



Selecting the lighting for your home aquarium is not a decision you should take lightly. Not only does aquarium lighting enhance the appearance of your tank, it also plays an important role in supporting photosynthetic organisms like plants and beneficial bacteria. Because there are so many different types of lighting to choose from, it is wise to learn the basics about aquarium lighting so you can make an informed decision. Certain lighting systems are recommended for fish-only tanks while others are designed specifically to support planted tanks. If you want to make sure your tank receives the proper lighting, you need to learn the requirements of your particular tank and what types of lighting are capable of providing for those needs.

Types of Aquarium Lighting

Standard Fluorescent – Though there are many options in aquarium lighting, standard fluorescent bulbs are still extremely popular. These bulbs are favoured by aquarium hobbyists because they are inexpensive and do not produce a great deal of heat. Additionally, standard fluorescent bulbs come in a variety of sizes and wattages which makes them great for use in freshwater tanks. Because this type of lighting is not as intense as other types, however, it is most recommended for low-light plants.

Compact Fluorescent – Compact fluorescent lights offer many of the same benefits as standard fluorescent bulbs but they produce brighter, more intense light. These bulbs are much smaller than standard fluorescent bulbs which means that you can fit more of them into a standard aquarium light fixture. Compact fluorescent bulbs are long-lasting and energy efficient – they are also less expensive than many other types of aquarium lighting. Because they do tend to put out some heat, however, it is recommended that you use an auxiliary fan or chiller in conjunction with compact fluorescent bulbs.

T-5 HO – One of the most advanced lighting systems on the market, T-5 HO (high output) systems produce light that is up to twice as bright as standard fluorescent bulbs. T-5 HO bulbs are typically about 5/8” in diameter which makes it possible to install several of them within a single fixture. These bulbs run cool so they do not require a chiller or auxiliary fan like some high-intensity lighting systems. T-5 HO bulbs are recommended for planted tanks but should not be used in tanks that are more than 24 inches deep.

VHO – VHO stands for “very high output” and this term describes a type of fluorescent lighting that utilizes ballast to produce up to three times as much light as standard fluorescent bulbs. This type of lighting is similar in design to standard fluorescent bulbs but it offers greater longevity and a wider selection of sizes. VHO bulbs come in wattages from 75 to 165 and are recommended for both fish-only and planted tanks.

Metal Halide – This type of lighting is one of the most powerful lighting systems available for the home aquarium. Metal halide lights are available in wattages between 70 and 1000 and they provide wide-spectrum lighting. Because the light produced by these bulbs is so intense, it also produces a great deal of heat. In order to prevent this heat from increasing the temperature in your tank it is wise to pair metal halide lights with a chiller or auxiliary fan. Metal halide lights are particularly recommended for large tanks and for those that are more than 24 inches deep.


LED - LED stands for Light Emitting Diode, they are comprised of many tiny diodes attached to a circuit board. They are low voltage and energy efficient and produce very little heat compared to every other types of aquarium lighting. PondQuip particularly focus on LED lighting, which can be viewed by clicking here.

LED lights often have a moonlight mode, where it can be switch to blue LED lights to simulate moonlight.

How to Choose Aquarium Lighting


There are several things you need to consider when selecting a type of aquarium lighting. The first factor to consider is the type of tank you have. Freshwater aquariums can be divided into two categories: fish-only and planted tanks. While aquarium fish benefit from full-spectrum lighting, they do not have the same biological need for it that plants do. Aquarium plants utilize light as an energy source to facilitate the process of photosynthesis so planted tanks require more light than fish-only tanks. In order to determine the amount of light your tank needs, remember the rule that fish-only tanks require 1 or 2 watts per gallon and planted tanks need between 2 and 5 watts per gallon.

The size and depth of your tank should also be considered when you are selecting the lighting for your aquarium. Be sure to select a bulb size compatible with the size of your tank. Most types of aquarium lighting offer bulbs in a variety of sizes and wattages to accommodate almost any tank size. While standard and compact fluorescent lights are adequate for most aquariums, those that are particularly large or deep may require a more powerful lighting system like metal halide lights. Metal halide bulbs put out high-intensity light capable of penetrating deep aquarium water.

Tips for Aquarium Lighting


While shopping for aquarium lighting you need to not only decide which type is best for your tank but you also need to make sure you select the proper wattage. In order to calculate the watts per gallon any particular bulb will provide for your tank, simply divide the total wattage by the gallon capacity of your tank. For example, if you have a 30-gallon tank, a 60-watt bulb will provide approximately 2 watts per gallon. If you have a fish-only tank, this is sufficient but a bulb of this wattage will provide the minimal amount of light needed to cultivate a planted tank.