2018’s Best LED Lighting For Freshwater and Reef Tanks

shining bright
Fish tanks are an amazing device that can help you de-stress and relax. They are well known to help calm your mood and can be very therapeutic. However, not only are they great for relaxation and peace, they are also great to look at and add a sense of character to the room. This is especially true when you consider the number of features that you add to your tank to make it look better, as well as help the wildlife inside to remain healthy and happy.

One of these features is LED lights. They help add a sense of depth to the fish tank and bring out an assortment of colors that can wow guests and bring your tank to life. The LED lights are also a fantastic method to promote plant growth and to stimulate fish. Read our reviews of the best LED aquarium lights on the market.

Best Aquarium LED Lighting

There are a lot of different options available. With so many different brand and choices, one can become easily confused. Well, luckily for you, we’re here to help. This guide will go through some of the best lights for your fish tank or aquarium – 9 to be precise – so you can make an educated decision on which one to buy depending on your goals and needs.

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light

This is an excellent piece of equipment that is used primarily for marine fish tanks and reef aquarium that have live coral – which often needs special light spectrums and intensities to remain healthy. This is also one of the first marine fixtures to have a dual daylight system to allow natural patterns, as well as dual blue actinic LED chips, all in one system.

The fixture can spread light very evenly among the tank using the 120-degree lenses. This allows the light from the fixture to spread across the entire tank, getting in all the cracks and crevices. It can also be controlled remotely. Great if you happen to be in a separate room. The LED also has a Ramp Timer Pro adaption, which creates a normal day cycle consisting of sunrise, sunset, and even moonlight. This allows the fish to have a natural cycle and doesn’t subject them to shock.

As previously mentioned, the fixture creates a necessary spectrum for the marine and coral in the aquarium to flourish. This is produced through the 8000K white LEDs and the 445nm actinic blue LEDs, enabling the marine life to stay healthy.

The Issues
– The instructions aren’t the best during the setup – beginners beware!
– It isn’t great if you want to have custom lighting (there isn’t enough color variety)
– It spreads light evenly but it is not the brightest on this list


Aquatic Life LED EDGE Aquarium Light Fixture

This LED fixture is not just limited to either reef/marine designs, it is also available in freshwater designs as well.

The freshwater LED fixture is 36 inches and has a lot of different colors. The fixture has 6,000 White, 9,000 White and 10,000 White, Blue, Red and Blue Lunar LED lights. This range allows the fixture to have a 120-degree spread across the tank and creates the entire light spectrum for the coral and marine life in the tank.

The fixture is also great if you are wanting to replicate the natural cycle of a day. The LEDs (lunar) can be used to mimic moonlight and the device can be programmed for sunrise and sunset. This enables the fixture to turn off and on every 10 minutes during a two-hour time period. The three-channel timer is also a great feature for customizing the output easily. These fixtures come in three different sizes.

The marine reef version of this fixture is similar in size and includes more blue light than the marine reef counterpart. The difference in colors includes the addition of violet light and blue 454nm and blue 440nm. The time is also similar to the freshwater fixture. However, this design is limited to two sizes: 36” or 48”.

The Issues

– The LED doesn’t hang over the tank
– Not the best instructions for set-up
– There is no 24” version for the Marine reef design


Nicrew LED Aquarium Hood Lighting

This is a more basic fixture when you compare it to the other options on this list. The light is for freshwater tanks and uses a combination of white and blue lights, which help to mimic normal daylight and moonlight. The difference though is that the daylight option tends to blend the blue and white LEDs together, with the nighttime mode being dimmer.

There is not timers or programming feature with this fixture. As we said, it is very basic. There is a rocker switch on the side which has three positions to control the aquarium lights. You can switch the device off, into daylight mode and into moonlight mode. It should be noted that the intensity of the light cannot be changed.

This is fixed to the edge of the tank and uses U-shaped feet to stabilize, stopping it from falling in during maintenance. The frame width is also adjustable and can be slid out of the fixture itself. This device is available in three sizes: 11-19”, 20-27” and 28-36”.

The Issues

– You can’t hang this device over the tank like others on this list
– There is no timer and dimmer option
– Nothing is hardwired (power adapter, jack, etc.)


Finnex Planted+ 24/7 Fully Automated Aquarium LED

This is another fixture that is designed for freshwater aquariums and contains heat dissipated properties because it is made from aluminum, also giving it a lightweight feel. This LED sits on the top of the tank and has thumbscrews to secure it against the frame. This gives the fixture a very secure footing and stops it falling in during maintenance.

As for the lights, the fixture contains very high-quality 7,000K red LEDs which produce light near to 660-nanometers and the increase in the red light enables the plant life to grow and maintain health. This fixture is also programmable to produce natural day cycles and it happens to be very detailed. You can have the fixture produce a sunrise, noon, sunset and moonlight. You can also change the presets of the device to mimic weather patterns like storms and clouds. These features are all controllable from a remote control. If you are looking for a custom color, there are 4 spaces in the presents for you to add your own light show.

This LED device is available in many different sizes, including 20, 24, 30, 36 and 48 inches.

The Issues

– Also, the remote control is handy, it is poorly made
– This light only has a 1-year warranty
– The power cord is too short, so make sure you have a plug nearby


AquaIllumination Hydra TwentySix HD

This device is the most recent addition to the Hydra brand and is unique in the sense that the device draws the power that is going to LEDs that aren’t getting used and pushes the power to the ones that are. This is great for the LEDs that work 24/7 and boosts the brightness significantly.

This fixture spreads the light across the tank from 80-degree focus lenses and it gives a good and even spread throughout the aquarium. The benefit of this little device is that it only draws 90W and because it is made from aluminum is absorbs a lot of heat, keeping it away from the water which could damage the fish and plant life.

As for the LEDs the fixture uses, they are all branded. This means that the LEDs are high quality, coming from brands like Osram and SemiLED. Additionally, the fixture doesn’t require a controller because everything can be changed and configured using a smart device or computer.

The Issues

– You need to hang this fixture from a bracket for it to work
– It is very expensive
– The power supply is separate and has to be hidden


Kessil A160WE Controllable LED Light

This little device is designed with freshwater tanks in mind and has a fantastic light spectrum for raising plants and wildlife in the aquarium, thanks to the 6000-9000K LEDs that it houses. The fixture also can create an Amazon-like shimmer in the water which can produce a pleasant therapeutic effect.

This freshwater version similar to the saltwater version, which has two knobs for easy adjustment of the lights. One knob controls the spectrum and allows you to make simple changes, whereas the other allows you to control the intensity of the lights. This device is also easy to daisy chain and can be controlled using a range of popular controllers.

This fixture has to be hung from a bracket and comes in two different models: a blue-light Tuna Blue and a full spectrum Tuna Sun.

The Issues

– You need to hang this from a bracket for it to be functional
– It is very expensive
– The power supply is separate so it needs to be hidden


Kessil A360WE Controllable LED Light

This little fixture is a LED light designed for use with reef/marine aquariums and is made to be attached to a bracket or hung from the ceiling, which may be an issue for some and it can become a time-consuming task.

Like the Kessil reviewed above, the fixture incorporates the dual-knob operating system that lets you change the spectrum of the light very easily with one knob and change the intensity of the light with the other. This allows you to produce custom intensities and perfect the spectrum for your specific tank and wildlife. The device is also easy to daisy chain. The fixture is also able to be controlled by a range of popular controllers and has a light span of 10,000K actinic blue LEDs. Like the Kessil A160, this also comes in Tuna Blue or Tuna Sun.

The Issues

– The power supply is a separate piece and needs to be hidden from view
– The device is very expensive when you compare it other fixtures on this list
– You need to hand this or attach it to a bracket


LED Aquarium Light Fixture for Saltwater/Coral Tanks

This LED light fixture is made to cater towards aquariums that have corals, making it perfect for marine and reef styled fish tanks. It has a customizable color spectrum, as well as timings, and can be controlled through a wireless remote or by the controls on the fixture itself.

The fixture can be used with larger tanks because of the way the controls can manipulate multiple light fixtures, giving an even spread of coverage for even the biggest of tanks. In terms of the LEDs: they provide 90-degree optic lenses which focus the light towards the fish tank. The fixture can provide color temperatures between 8000K and 20000K.

This one uses a whole range of colors, including 8 white, 6 cool white, 6 neutral white, 20 royal blue, 7 blue, 2 green, 2 red and 4 violet. It should also be noted that the fixture is designed to be hung above the tank and it comes ready with a kit to allow this. However, if you don’t want to use the kit you can also use a custom bracket. As for sizes, it comes in 16, 24 and 32” designs.

The Issues

– Has to be suspended from the ceiling which can be a fuss
– Because the light only uses a few green, red and violet LEDs, the quality isn’t the best
– The LED screen for the controls is constantly lit


What is So Great about LED Lighting?

Light emitting diodes are a revolutionary concept that has enabled the world to glow brightly. They are a lot more efficient than your standard light and are used in nearly all installations. LEDs work in a very similar fashion to standard bulbs, but with the exception that when the electrical current goes into the diode the electronic chips inside begin to glow. These chips last for a long time and also require less power to work..

LEDs are near enough used in every aspect of life, but they never used to be this versatile. They used to be restricted to industry control panels but now they are used everywhere, including the home. They have upgraded the lights on vehicles, street lamps and concerts and they have also been incorporated into aquariums and fish tanks. These lights help to create a healthy environment for wildlife to grow and stay healthy in fish tanks – with the addition of colored lighting corals and marine life can be maintained.

There is a range of LED lighting that you can get for your aquarium and they range from advanced/high-tech to basic/low-tech. The low-tech installments are basic lighting that can be used to brighten the tank and are perfect for a simple, average-sized fish tank. They don’t have any fancy equipment or features – their sole purpose is to illuminate the fish tank. The high-tech fixtures not only brighten up the fish tank but they can also be remotely controlled and customized to accommodate to particular fish tanks, like coral and marine life. They can include various colors and settings that allow them to mimic natural day cycles.

Why Use Reef Aquarium Lighting?

lit upThe fact of the matter is that coral is a living thing. The invertebrates in coral and reef aquariums have algae residing in the tissue and these algae need the right environment in order to stay healthy and alive. It is important that coral and reef have algae growing in the tissue because algae actually produce food for the coral, enabling it to stay alive. This happens through photosynthesis, giving important nutrients and mineral that the coral can absorb. However, if the coral or reef is not lit properly or is living in an inappropriate heat, it will die.

The process when coral is exposed to inappropriate conditions is known as coral bleaching and can be avoided with proper lighting from the correct LED fixtures. These lights have a lot of benefits and prevent the coral and reef from being bleached. This is because they can copy the natural rhythms of the day – with sunrise, sunset, and moonlight. The fact that LED lights don’t emit a lot of heat means the temperature of the water is cool.

Pair these features with the fact they last for years and don’t require a lot of power to run, you can begin to see why they are used in aquariums so often.

LEDs That Mimic Daylight

In order for the reef and coral to experience photosynthesis, it needs to be exposed to a lot of light which needs to be spread evenly across the tank so that all the wildlife can benefit. To accomplish this you want to find a fixture that has an even, large spread which will cover a lot of the aquarium, activating the algae in the invertebrates of the coral.

You also want to find a fixture that can mimic daylight (around 10000K) and you will also need to find a fixture that emits blue actinic lighting, which acts as a mimic for sun penetration into sea water. A lot of fixtures have a range of colored LEDs that allow the light to mimic the way it looks when it reaches deeper into the water – producing colors like red and green. A lot of these color schemes are pre-set but some let you mess around with the setting to create custom color temperatures.

As for the fixtures themselves, they often have to be attached to the side of the tank or are placed on top. If you have a large tank you may have to hang it above.

Freshwater Lighting

Unless you have a reef or a coral you may only need a freshwater LED fixture. Unlike their coral/reef counterparts, freshwater fixtures are built to produce natural light that shines down on the water, copying the way the sun shines on a still lake or freshwater river.

Unlike corals and reefs, freshwater tanks need the whole light spectrum is needed for the wildlife to thrive and stay healthy. In a similar instance to the coral, the wildlife will die if it does not get an adequate level of natural light. The light that is required to maintain the health is measured in Kelvin and needs to range from 5000K to 7000K. Some fixtures will sit within this range but some will even work in accordance with the natural cycle of the day.

You can normally control the settings of the light using controls on the device but some allow you to set timers to activate sunrise, sunset, etc. Some fixtures allow you to control them via remote control. Additional, you will need to assess the size of the freshwater fixture to make sure it fits on the tank you’re using.