Planted aquariums need the proper LED lighting or they won’t grow—or they may reach a certain stage and stop.
What type of light you need depends on a variety of factors. What plants you’re growing, the amount of CO2 in the water, and how much you want your plants to grow all matter.
Even after figuring out how much light you need, choosing a light that matches those needs can be challenging. There are many options available on the market and narrowing it down to just one can be extremely difficult.
Luckily, we’re here to help you accomplish both tasks. We’ll start with some reviews of the top LED lighting kits on the market. Then, we’ll help you choose which lighting options are best for your aquarium.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites
|Current USA Satellite Freshwater Aquarium LED Light
|Aqueon Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On LED Light
|Koval LED Aquarium Light
|Tetra ColorFusion Universal Color-Changing LED Aquarium Light
|Marineland LED Fish Aquarium Light
The 10 Best Aquarium LED Lighting
1. Current USA Satellite Freshwater Aquarium LED Light – Best Overall
|Multiple sizes available
|White and blue
Out of all the options on the market, the Current USA Satellite Freshwater Aquarium LED Light is easily the best overall aquarium LED light.
It features custom color-temperature settings so that you can choose the best setting for your plants and fish. This light allows you to have complete control over your aquarium’s lighting. It includes both white and blue LED lights, and you can use them together or independently.
On top of being practical, this light also has some other cool effects. For instance, it can make the appearance of lightning storms, lunar light, and evening dusk light. This system is easy to set up but also high-quality enough for the experienced aquarist. It is easy to adjust as necessary and uses low-voltage LEDs for safety.
This system comes with everything you need to set up the light. It even includes an LED remote control so that you can change the lights without messing with the light itself.
2. Aqueon Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On LED Light – Best Value
|Designed for 20-gallon tanks
|Blue and white
The Aqueon Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On LED Light is perfect for smaller tanks. Assembly is straightforward, as the light clips onto the side of the aquarium. It can be mounted to both framed and frameless aquariums without difficulty. The light features 21 different LEDs, making it suitable for tanks up to 20 gallons.
You can control the lighting settings quickly with soft-touch controls. We found this light perfect for those who just want to light up their aquarium a bit—though it may not be suitable for light-loving plants.
This light is much less expensive than other options. It is not as bright, though. Therefore, we don’t recommend it for heavily planted aquariums. For that, you’ll likely need something else. However, this is the best aquarium LED light for the money for those who need a little light.
3. Koval LED Aquarium Light – Premium Choice
|Three sizes available; up to 156 LED
If you want only the best of the best for your aquarium, we recommend the Koval LED Aquarium Light. This light promotes vibrant plant growth in heavily planted tanks. If you have light-loving plants, this light may be a solid option. It includes a full spectrum of LED lighting, including white, blue, pink, red, and green. This produces a bright light that can be easily adjusted for real-world effects.
A moonlight mode is perfect for viewing, but it doesn’t mess with your plant’s growing cycle. It creates a cool blue hue that provides a beautiful effect—primarily due to the full-spectrum lighting. This light features an aluminum shell that is both lightweight and durable. It is energy-efficient, providing up to 50,000 hours of operation or more.
Currently, it comes in three sizes that can be extended to fit a variety of tank sizes. You should be able to fit this light onto most tank sizes.
4. Tetra ColorFusion Universal Color-Changing LED Aquarium Light
Depending on the light’s purpose, you may be able to use the Tetra ColorFusion Universal Color-Changing LED Aquarium Light. This color-changing LED stick isn’t going to help your plants grow much. Instead, it is designed mainly for backlighting an aquarium.
It comes with everything you need to set it up, including one LED strip, a frame clip, a light switch, and a low-voltage transformer. This light automatically filters through different colors. You can click the pause button to choose your favorite color. However, you can’t select the color independently—you have to wait for it to show up.
You can easily hide this strip underneath the frame or hood using the routing clips. Installation is extremely straightforward. However, it is essential to remember that this strip is mainly for decorative purposes – hence the lower price. It isn’t nearly bright enough to help plants grow and make your aquarium really light up like other options.
5. Marineland LED Fish Aquarium Light
|Three sizes available; up to 30 inches long
|White and blue
Marineland LED Fish Aquarium Light features both white and blue LED lights. The white ones produce a sunlight display for the daytime—while the blue LEDs are perfect for use at night. They provide a moonlight glow that won’t disturb the growth of plants.
This light runs cool and lasts a very long time. They are pretty bright, though not necessarily as bright as some other options. You can use it for both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. It is pretty light and slim. It is mainly designed with a glass canopy, while other lights can be used without one. If you already have a glass canopy, this isn’t a huge deal. You may not want to go out and purchase one just to use this light, though.
Rubber feet prevent the light from slipping around on a glass canopy, which is one of the reasons you need one to use this light properly.
6. Aqueon Planted Aquarium Clip-On LED Light
|Small (<6 inches)
|White and blue
For smaller, planted tanks, the Aqueon Planted Aquarium Clip-On LED Light may be a solid option. It provides enough light for some plants while remaining inexpensive. It is pretty tiny, so we only recommend it for smaller aquariums. It likely isn’t going to be suitable for all plants. It still isn’t as bright as some of the other options on this list.
Installation is easy. It can mount onto both framed and frameless aquariums with a simple mounting screw. It features 60 LEDs and can be used on a planted aquarium of up to 20 gallons.
The three-way soft-touch controls make changing the lighting relatively easy. This light doesn’t come with quite as many options as others, though. For the most part, it just has three different settings. Therefore, it may not be a good option for aquariums that need particular lighting.
7. Marineland LED Fish Aquarium Light Hood
|Three different sizes
|White and blue
Many people prefer the Marineland LED Fish Aquarium Light Hood because it works as a hood and an LED light. All you have to do is set it on your aquarium, and you’re good to go! The sleek dome looks quite lovely. However, it only fits on very specifically-sized aquariums. It is a cover, after all. This feature makes it less adjustable than other options. You can’t adjust it to fit different tanks or anything of that sort.
There are three different sizes in production. If your aquarium fits one of these sizes, you’re in luck! If not, you’ll likely have to look elsewhere for a light. The hood is hinged to allow for easy cleaning and maintenance. You don’t have to remove the hood every time you need to access the fish.
The energy-efficient LEDs run cool and cast a sunlight-mimicking light. They can also be switched to a night mode, where the blue LEDs turn on instead.
8. Aqueon Optibright LED Aquarium Light Fixture
|Three sizes available
|White, red, and blue
For those looking for a sleek and adequate light, you may like the Aqueon Optibright LED Aquarium Light Fixture. It is a bit expensive for what it is. However, it does provide you with some extra features that are rare in the aquarium lighting world. Some people may find these features more than worth it.
This light has a sleek, low-profile design. It looks adorable when sitting on top of an aquarium. Attaching is relatively easy. The legs on both sides are entirely adjustable. It can fit many different tank sizes and even comes in three different sizes. Most tank sizes are covered.
The waterproof control allows you to switch between individual LEDs or select a preset mode. It provides a daytime mode and a night mode pre-programmed. The red and white LEDs provide sun-like lighting, while blue LEDs produce a moonlight glow.
You can use this light for medium-light plants and all water types.
9. Current USA Satellite Freshwater Plus Aquarium LED Light
|Four sizes available
Like many of the LED lights made by this company, the Current USA Satellite Freshwater Plus Aquarium LED Light comes with many built-in options.
In total, it can perform 12 real-world effects, including evening dusk lighting, cloud cover, and a lightning storm. The remote control easily allows you to access each mode—and customize the lighting to fit your needs. With full-spectrum lighting, this LED provides you with far more options than others. It even includes red, green, and blue LEDs for a seemingly endless color spectrum.
The light can even save some settings so that you can return to your favorite lights again and again. This system is designed to be easily used by beginners while providing enough options for advanced users. The major downside of this LED is its price. You’re paying a lot for all these extra features (who needs an LED system that can make it look like it’s storming?). Many of the included features aren’t practical.
10. Coralife Marine Aquarium Clip-On LED Light
|Designed for up to 20-gallon tanks
|White and blue
The Coralife Marine Aquarium Clip-On LED Light is pretty straightforward. Its simple design makes it simple to use for beginners and advanced fishkeepers alike. It looks sleek and elegant once installed—which only takes a few moments. It can be used on a framed and frameless aquarium. Just install it using the simple mounting screw.
This LED light has some basic controls. The settings are somewhat constricted, as it only has three pre-set modes, and you can’t control the LEDs individually. This level of adjustability is what you can expect from such a simple light, though. The controls are relatively simple to use, as there are only a few options.
It comes with both white and blue LEDs, allowing you to activate a white or nighttime light as the situation calls for it. For what it is, this light is costly. You can get similar options for much cheaper. This overblown price is essentially why it ended up at the bottom of our list.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Select the Best Aquarium LED Lighting
Choosing the correct light is essential to the health of your aquarium plants. Often, lighting is not as vital to fish, but it can be to certain species. We’ll work you through how to choose the best lighting for your aquarium below.
What Do Your Plants and Fish Need?
Certain plants need different lighting levels. Some hardly need any light at all and can get away with very low light levels. Others need very high light levels and will shrivel up and die eventually.
Fish also need a low level of light. They need to see, though they don’t necessarily need high light levels in some cases. Some prefer dimmer habitats and can be stressed by heavy light conditions. Both plants and fish do best on 12-hour cycles. You don’t want to leave the light on constantly. Otherwise, you can mess with the plant’s growth and the fish’s sleep cycles.
Consider the light level your plant needs, as well as what level your fish would prefer. Generally, you should choose one that fits best with your plants. The wrong light for your plants often leads to their death or improper growth.
Your fish don’t necessarily need specific lights, though it is best if you can match their needs as well.
What Spectrum Do You Need?
Light spectrum does matter—not just the number of LEDs provided. Certain plants need a fuller light spectrum. At the same time, the spectrum also affects how the light looks. Low ratings often produce a yellowish light. Fuller spectrum colors will look more like sunlight, as they contain a higher range of light – just like the sun.
Specific wavelengths move through the water better. Blue light moves very quickly through the water, for instance. Therefore, it is often a better choice for aquariums. If you want the light to reach the bottom of your tank, blue light must be included. Otherwise, much of the light will stop near the top of the tank.
Deeper tanks will require a different light spectrum than shallower tanks—simply because the water will stop specific wavelengths as you move deeper. If you want to keep heavy-light plants near the bottom of a more bottomless tank, you’ll need a lot of blue light. Otherwise, a bright, white light may be plenty.
Do You Need an LED?
There are many different types of aquarium lights. LEDs are only one of them. However, they are one of the most popular options and likely what you’ll find at your local pet store.
LED lights come in all different shapes and sizes. They use less energy than other lights, don’t heat up, and often last longer. If you’re focusing on keeping your aquarium at a specific temperature, then having a light that doesn’t heat the water can be pretty helpful. They often last for several years without losing their intensity. Unlike other lights, they don’t slowly die, which can affect plant growth if they aren’t changed right away. Instead, they last with their average intensity and then die all at once.
Many LED lights are very programmable. However, different systems will have different levels of programmability. Some can be easily programmed, while others just come with a few different settings.
Do You Need a Night Cycle?
You can’t leave bright, white lights on all the time. It’ll mess with both your fish and your plants. Plus, having light on all the time will promote algae growth. Those without live plants may need as little as 8 to 10 hours of light to prevent algae growth.
However, your ability to see your tank will be significantly compromised if you turn off all your lights. Sometimes, this doesn’t matter much. If you go to bed, it probably makes more sense to turn off all the lights anyway.cBut for those who want to view their aquarium at night, this can be a bit of a problem. For this reason, we recommend purchasing an LED that comes with a night cycle. Usually, this program uses blue lights only, which look a lot like moonlight.
If you need a night cycle, it could limit the LEDs you can choose. Only certain lights have this option, after all. If you don’t need it, you may be able to purchase a cheaper option.
Lighting and Algae
There are a few misconceptions regarding algae and lighting. Many people believe that excess lighting can cause excessive algae growth. While this can occur, algae are more likely to grow when there are excess nutrients in the water. It’s nature’s way of purifying the water and keeping everything balanced. If the nutrients build up, you’ll get algae even if your lighting is correct.
If you have a planted aquarium, having high-output lighting will likely not lead to algae growth. The plants will use much of the nutrients in the water, leaving the algae without anything to eat. Of course, this assumes that your plants are using all of the nutrients in your tank. If they aren’t, then you may end up with algae. However, the lighting level won’t have anything to do with this. You’ll just need to add more plants!
Manage nutrients with a chemical filter media, regular water changes, and waste reduction in the aquarium. Don’t stick a high-powered light on an unplanted aquarium. But if your plants need it, there is no reason to avoid it!
LED lights come in many different sizes. Longer lights are going to have more coverage. They stretch over more of the aquarium and, therefore, will reach more of your plants. However, the spread of the light also matters. Some LEDs spread out their light over a larger area. They may be small, but the spread allows them to cover a large area.
Both features matter when you’re choosing the right light for your tank. You want one that covers the whole tank. Whether it accomplishes this by being long or having a large spread doesn’t particularly matter.
Be aware that lights with larger spreads may not have the appropriate light spectrum for some plants. They may also not create the best lighting for your aquarium, even if they have light-hungry plants.
What Color LED Light Is Best for Fish?
If you aren’t worried about plants, you’ll likely choose a light for your fish. Generally, your fish isn’t going to care what color the light is. As long as they can see, they’ll be just fine. Some fish prefer dimmer lights, as they are used to living in shaded streams and pools. In these cases, you may want to choose a dimmer light to keep them happy. Heavy lighting may cause stress. If you don’t need it for plants, there is little reason to choose a high-light option for fish.
Some fish colors do look better under certain lights. For instance, blue fish will look best with white light. It will cause their blue colors to pop, making them look more dramatic. However, other fish may look better with red lights. Sometimes, getting a full-spectrum light is necessary to fine-tune it to your fish’s colors—if that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in doing.
Lighting is essential for the health of your fish and plants. Without it, your fish may not see correctly, and your plants won’t grow. Even low-light plants need some light. Plus, if your aquarium isn’t lit up, it probably won’t look its best!
We recommend the Current USA Satellite Freshwater Aquarium LED Light for most aquariums. It should work for most set-ups and isn’t quite as expensive for other options. If you’re looking for something less expensive, the Aqueon Freshwater Aquarium Clip-On LED Light may be suitable. It is smaller than other options, which is one reason why it is so much less expensive. However, it is also perfect for smaller aquariums.
Hopefully, our reviews and guide will help you choose the perfect light for your aquarium. Your particular plants and fish will thank you for a new set of brights!