Aquarium Lighting

In the last few years there has been major developments in the market of aquarium lighting, much of this development has been to application led’s (light emitting diodes) to fish keeping. But before you go rushing off and buying your lighting system take a few minutes to read through my guide to different types of aquarium lights available. Lighting can be split into the following types; fluorescent, metal halide and LED lighting.

Your choice of lighting system is likely to be based on two main factors. Firstly, how much you are willing to spend and secondly if you intend to grow plants as well as keep fish in your aquarium. As you will already be aware plants require light to grow and some aquatic plants require must more light than others to grow. Light is not necessary for fish to survive, but you will struggle to admire your fish if they live in a dark tank.

Without any plants excess lighting will encourage algae to grow, so if you have fish you should limit the amount of hours per day your tank lights are turned on. The correct length of time will vary for each individual aquarium, but I would advise keeping the lights on less than 10 hours a day.


Fluorescent lighting is traditional the most popular type of lighting used in aquariums. Many aquariums available come fitted with fluorescent lights. They usually consist of one or two fluorescent light strips fitted into the aquarium hood or lid, with controller / power pack attached to the power lead normally somewhere near the plug. They are easy to use and provide sufficient lighting for most aquarium plants.

You can buy a range of replacement bulbs, each offering a different spectrum of light. This allows you to adapt the lighting to meet your individual needs. I like to use to two different bulbs, one which mimics nature sunlight and one which gives out a brighter bluer light. I find the mix of light provides a better environment for my plants to grow.

You can also buy reflectors for most fluorescent lighting systems. Reflectors are long metal strips which are fitted above the bulbs forcing the light to back down into the aquarium. Their aim is to improve light within the tank. If you find your fluorescent bulbs are not providing enough light for your plants it is worth try reflectors before investing in more expensive lighting equipment.

Fluorescent bulbs normally last around a year. The price for replacement will depend on the length of bulb required. My fluorescent bulbs normally cost about £30 each and that is to fit a four foot tank.

Metal Halide

Metal halide lighting systems are much more expensive to buy than fluorescent lighting systems, but are said by many to produce a higher quality of light than fluorescent lighting. Metal lighting is popular with marine aquarium owners. Some aquatic plants are really fussy about light and won't grow in anything but the brightest light. If you want to grow those sorts of plants a metal halide lighting system could be a worthwhile investment.

Metal halide lamps are bit more difficult to install than other types if lights. They are suspended above the aquarium. A down side of having the lights suspended above the aquarium is there is gap between the lights and the tank itself allowing light to escape and reflect off other objects in the same room, such as mirrors or televisions. If your television is too close to your aquarium the lighting can become very distracting while you are watching TV.

Light Emitting Diodes (LED's)

LED's are a relatively new introduction to fish keeping. Their advantages over traditional lighting systems are as follows;

They use up less electricity

The bulbs last longer

They produce less heat

Heat production is an issue for aquarium owners during warmer months of the year. Aquariums run the risk of overheating during the summertime and the heat created by the lighting system just adds to the problem.

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