Choosing the Best Aquarium Lighting Guide

Last Updated: 3rd October 2019

The aquarium lighting is one of the most important basis of your aquarium, right after aquarium substrate. The right lighting in the aquarium is the basis of life for most living organisms. Especially plants, but also fish need light for a healthy environment. In this aquarium lighting guide you will learn about the different types and possibilities of lighting, so you know how to choose aquarium lighting correctly. Based on other recommendations and my own experience, I have included some of the best aquarium lights that are available in the market for you to buy (Contains affiliate links so I can afford to keep the site running). I will also show you what can be done wrong and what is especially important. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and we will be happy to answer them. So let’s learn, why lighting is so important.

Imitating nature with the aquarium light

Aquarium lamps are the best way to imitate nature in an aquarium. You should never go without lighting for your aquarium and put the aquarium in the sunlight. The sun is too intense. It warms the water to unhealthy temperatures and rapidly accelerates algae growth. Why doesn’t this happen in nature? Quite simply: nature has completely different prerequisites. The amount of water is much greater than in an aquarium and the light comes in from above and not from the side. In addition, currents, leaves and plants prevent direct sunlight.

Aquarium light cycles

If you already have your light and no timer, you should go back to the store immediately. In order to imitate the sun, seasons and weather conditions, at least one timer is required. With the timer you can simulate the beginning of the day - sunrise and the end of the day - the sunset. You should also take a lunch break with the light to avoid stress. This serves to simulate clouds or bad weather.

If you like it even more professional, you can get a dimmer. With this one can copy not only day beginning and day end harmoniously, but also cloudiness and similar fake. There is no fixed rule for the duration of lighting. You can try it out a little and see how plants and animals react. If you look at the seasons, you will notice that the brightness and duration of the sun’s illumination is much longer in spring than in autumn and winter. But one should not look too closely at the lighting conditions where you live, but rather at where the plants and fish actually come from.

If you don’t have a dimmer, you can let your light run 9-12 hours a day with a lunch break of 2-3 hours.

Types Of Lighting For The Aquarium

It is not only important to provide enough (but not too much) light, but also to buy good aquarium lighting. This does not necessarily mean that it has to be very expensive. If you know what you are looking for, depending on the requirements, you can buy aquarium lamps cheaply as well.

First of all, we differentiate between different techniques used in lamps:

  • Fluorescent tubes
  • LED lamps
  • Halogen bulbs
  • HQI burners

In addition to the different techniques, there are also different types of mounting, such as pendant or surface mounted. There are also some accessories such as matching reflectors, which significantly increase the efficiency of the aquarium lighting.

Aquarium Fluorescent Tubes

Aquarium Fluorescent lamps

On Grandpa’s aquarium, the slightly violet fluorescent tubes were indispensable, but the trend is going away from fluorescent tubes. These glass tubes have particularly thin glass and are therefore particularly susceptible to defects. Once a fluorescent tube is broken, chaos is inevitable. One will have trouble finding all the broken pieces again. The only thing that helps here is to replace the entire aquarium floor and clean everything. Otherwise the fish could injure themselves.

The glass tubes are brought under high pressure by a light gas to deliver light. But we don’t want to just make the fluorescent tubes bad. Most aquarium owners still probably have fluorescent tubes in operation. This is surely due to the fact that they are extremely cheap and also easy to replace. In addition they have a very long running time. Beginners often opt for this aquarium lighting for price reasons and ease of maintenance. If you are on the budget, there is nothing wrong or bad to go with aquarium lamps using fluorescent tubes.

Fluorescent tubes usually come as T5 and T8. It is important to replace the tubes after the operating hours have elapsed:

  • T5 10,000 hours
  • T8 20,000 hours

Aquarium LED Lamps

Aquarium led lamp light

LED lamps are becoming more and more popular and technology is constantly improving. They are slightly more expensive than fluorescent tubes, because they have extremely long life and some great extra functions. In terms of luminosity, they can easily keep up with fluorescent tubes, but are inferior to halogen lamps or HQI burners. However, the luminosity is best suited for a standard aquariums (example: 200 cm long, 60 cm deep, 60 cm wide). We run our own aquarium with LED lamps and cannot say anything negative about illumination or plant growth. With deeper aquariums you should have a look at other aquarium light types.

By the way, LED lamps often have not only built-in dimmers, but they are very flat with a sleek design and can also shine in different colors. However, the latter is really not necessary and probably rather disturbs the fish. In any case, red light, for example, will make the leaves develop very narrowly or not at all. Green light, for example, cannot be absorbed by plants at all. Therefore one can say as a conclusion to the coloured LED lamps that this is rather a nice party gag.

Halogen aquarium lamps

Aquarium halogen lamp

Halogen aquarium lamps have an extremely bright light, which is directed without reflector only to a certain point. Usually it is used to set light accents in certain areas. If you want a place in the aquarium to be particularly bright, then this aquarium lighting is particularly suitable. If you want to enlarge the area, you should either use a different light source or work with a diffuser or reflector. But even with this, a large pool cannot be completely illuminated sufficiently. Halogen lamps also have a significantly higher power consumption than the last mentioned lighting systems. If you have a shallow or not too deep aquarium, you should keep your fingers off this light source, as it is much too bright.

HQI Burner For Aquarium

Now the brightest light comes next to the sun. As the name suggests, this light burns and is not for small aquariums. The HQI burner is even brighter than a halogen lamp and really only suitable for professionals. Too bright light can cause a lot of damage and also damage the fish in their environment. Fish do not have eyelids and cannot pinch their eyes, so too much light is an enormous stress factor. The HQI burner works with mercury vapour. Therefore you have to be very careful and take some protective measures.

The big advantage of the HQI burner is its extremely bright light. The disadvantages are the cost-intensive constant exchange of the lamps and the high current consumption. Another factor that should not be underestimated is the enormous development of heat in the pool and its surroundings. This has to be taken into account. The HQI burner is used when flat lighting of particularly deep aquariums is required. The advantage compared to halogen lamps is that not only one point is illuminated but a large area.


Our favorite for ordinary fish tanks is the LED lamp and the one we suggest for every regular aquarist. Sooner or later, it will become established in aquarium lighting and take over the market. This is not only due to the low power consumption (which becomes more and more expensive), but also to the longevity. If you don’t have much money, you can also start with fluorescent tubes.

It is important for all lighting systems that they are splash-proof. If you have a little more money, you can get dimmers to simulate rainy days, clouds and different times of day and also moonlight. With the right lighting, you can optimally control the biorhythms of plants and animals and thus influence their development.

For beginners there are beginner sets, which cost sometimes more and sometimes less. It is good to be informed about the topic, when making the decision about the environment you want in you aquarium. In you are just getting started into fish keeping, it might be worth reading our guide about How To Start an Aquarium. Hopefully, now you will know how to choose aquarium lighting for your needs!