LED Reef Tank Lighting: 6 Things You Need to Know

LED Reef Tank Lighting: 6 Things You Need to Know

Creating and maintaining a reef tank is a challenging endeavor that demands significant effort and commitment. Although lighting is undoubtedly one of the more expensive components of any reef tank setup, it is also one that cannot be overlooked due to its significance. Light plays a fundamental role in providing the necessary energy for coral growth, making it an indispensable aspect of a successful reef tank. In this informative article, we will explore several key points related to LED reef tank lighting that every reef tank enthusiast should be aware of.

What is LED reef tank lighting?

What is LED reef tank lighting

LED reef tank lighting refers to specialized lighting systems designed specifically for reef aquariums. These systems utilize Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) to provide high-intensity and high-quality illumination to meet the specific lighting requirements of corals and other reef organisms.

What are the types of reef tank lighting?

T5 tank lighting

Multiple T5 lighting systems support excellent coral growth and are still readily available. It is advised to start with a minimum of one marine white and one marine blue tube with reflectors, while using two or more of each colour produces even better results. However, T5 lights have certain drawbacks compared with LED fixtures, such as limited control and the need for frequent bulb replacements. Despite these limitations, T5 lights can facilitate coral growth comparable to leading LED fixtures on the market.

Upgrading T5 setups can be achieved by integrating additional LED lighting. Hybrid T5 LED units have gained popularity in America, as many believe that combining T5 and LED technologies offers the ultimate combination of spread, spectrum, and intensity for saltwater aquariums. These hybrid units deliver even light distribution without causing shadows. Nonetheless, it is important to note that T5 lights, including hybrid units, do not provide high light intensity in terms of PAR.

Metal halide aquarium lighting

For a long period of time, Metal Halide lights stood as the sole option for achieving high-intensity lighting necessary for coral growth in reef aquariums. These lights, known as High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps, typically have wattages of 150, 250, or 400 per lamp and are commonly suspended in a large, non-waterproof light unit positioned above the water’s surface.

Before the advent of multiple T5 fluorescent lighting, metal halide lamps were the only option for growing light-demanding corals. Combining fluorescent tubes with metal halide fixtures helps to balance the spectrum and spread of light. However, due to factors such as excessive heat generation, high power consumption, limited control, metal halide lamps have now fallen out of favor and are rarely purchased for saltwater aquariums.

LED Reef Tank Lighting

LED fixtures used in aquarium lighting are indeed more energy-efficient compared with metal halide and T5 lighting systems. LED lights also come with unique drivers that offer customization options. Many aquarium LED fixtures incorporate electronic timers, which automatically control the on/off cycles of the lights. Additionally, these fixtures often feature dimmable capabilities, allowing users to adjust the light intensity, and some even simulate morning and nighttime effects by gradually ramping up or down the lighting. Moreover, certain LED fixtures can be controlled remotely through smartphone apps, providing convenient control and management of the aquarium lighting.

Why choose LED reef tank lighting?

Why choose LED reef tank lighting

Indeed, LED lighting systems have gained significant popularity in recent years, particularly for reef tanks. There are several reasons behind this trend.


LED reef lighting systems offer a significant safety advantage due to their construction. Unlike halide lights, LED lights do not contain metal filaments or gas. As manufacturers increasingly adopt LED technology for reef tanks, they are incorporating additional safety features. Many marine aquarium LED light fixtures now come with splash-proof or waterproof designs, for instance, MOKO LED light systems are well-known for their durability and safety. They have demonstrated the ability to withstand accidental submersion without posing electrical hazards or causing short circuits. This enhanced construction ensures the safety of both the tank inhabitants and the aquarium owner.


The compactness of LED reef tank lighting systems makes them an ideal choice for nano reefs and smaller tanks. Unlike traditional T5 lighting systems, many reef aquarium LED fixtures are designed in compact “puck” forms. This compact size allows for easy installation and placement in confined spaces.

Additionally, LED lights for reef aquariums are lightweight, which further enhances their suitability for smaller tanks. Their lightweight nature enables multiple LED fixtures to be mounted on the rim of the marine aquarium. This not only saves space but also creates a clean and modern appearance, particularly in rimless tanks where canopies are not utilized.

Energy Efficiency

LEDs, being highly energy efficient, have transformed reef lighting. In the past, traditional fluorescent ballasts consumed substantial amounts of energy, leading to significant monthly increases in electricity bills, sometimes reaching $100.


LEDs have a distinct advantage over fluorescent bulbs in terms of longevity. Unlike T5 and T8 bulbs, LEDs can last for years without experiencing a drop in output. In contrast, fluorescent tubes required annual replacements to maintain consistent output. When ordering reef bulbs by mail, there was always the concern of potential breakage during shipping.

Heat Reduction

One of the advantages of LED aquarium lights is that they do not contribute to heating the aquarium water like traditional reef lighting options. In the past, when using metal halides or fluorescent lighting, it was common for aquarium owners to require a chiller to maintain safe water temperatures for the corals.

Intensity and Spectrum Control

LED reef fixtures offer the flexibility to adjust both the intensity and color spectrum of the lighting. This customization allows aquarium owners to create the ideal lighting conditions for their reef ecosystems. Furthermore, certain reef fixtures come equipped with automatic sunrise and sunset settings, gradually simulating the natural lighting cycles of coral reefs.

What color spectrum is best for reefs?

What color spectrum is best for reefs

Natural coral reefs grow in some of the sunniest places on Earth, but sunlight’s spectrum alters as it flows through the ocean. While sunlight is considered full-spectrum, certain wavelengths are filtered out when it enters the water. Red is the first spectrum to be filtered, then orange, yellow, and green. Eventually, even violet light gets filtered, leaving behind predominantly blue light, which penetrates the deep ocean depths before darkness takes over.

Blue light is particularly crucial for corals as they have adapted to photosynthesize in the presence of abundant blue light found in their natural ocean habitats. Therefore, to replicate this environment, reef tank lighting should provide the appropriate blue spectrum and an optimal level of brightness to simulate the light exposure that occurs on a natural coral reef. This is what most aquatic life is adapted to and dependent upon for their growth and well-being.

What is the ideal reef lighting schedule?

What is the ideal reef lighting schedule

Several variables, including the kinds of corals you have and the sorts of lighting you’re using, affect how much light your reef tank needs. With a wide range of lighting options available, it’s important to find a starting point that suits your coral’s needs. Here are some general guidelines to consider.

A lighting period of 9-12 hours each day for aquariums housing corals is recommended. Corals require at least 8 hours of strong light for photosynthesis. Dimmable light fixtures are ideal for simulating natural lighting cycles and allow for easy adjustment of the light cycle.

If your corals appear to be turning brown or their colors seem dull, gradually increase the light period by one hour each week. The brown coloration is often an indication that the corals are not receiving enough light.

If your corals are exhibiting signs of bleaching (turning white), reduce the light intensity to around 75%. In the case of T5 setups, you can switch off a bulb or two. Alternatively, you can reduce the maximum intensity lighting period to 4 hours.

It’s crucial to remember that each aquarium is different and that these are simply a starting point. Your corals will tell you their needs through their appearance and growth. You may make more adjustments by watching how they react to the lighting.

It’s also crucial to avoid keeping the lights constantly on as this can stress the fish, lead to coral bleaching, and promote unwanted algae growth. It’s recommended to align the lighting schedule with your presence in the room. For instance, if the aquarium is located in an office, begin the lighting period at 7 am so that you can enjoy it while you are at work. If the aquarium is at home, you would like to relish the beautiful reef aquarium when you relax and unwind in the evening. In this case, start turning on your lights in the early afternoon. Consistency in the lighting schedule is key. This is where timers come in!

What to consider when buying LED reef tank lighting?

What to consider when buying LED reef tank lighting

Whether you have a small nano reef tank or a large mega reef system, investing in high-quality LED lighting is crucial and should not be overlooked. To help you make an informed decision and avoid purchasing an inferior product, consider the following top buying tips:

Make Sure the Lighting Is Appropriate

Proper lighting is crucial for a reef tank, and not all lights are equally suitable for this type of aquarium. It’s important to ensure that the lighting product you choose is specifically designed for reef tanks. Finding the ideal wavelength and light intensity combination is crucial for coral development and health.

To create the ideal lighting conditions, you may need to install multiple types of lamps. A successful approach often involves combining an actinic lamp, which provides a blue spectrum, with a variety of daylight replicating lamps. This combination helps to simulate the natural lighting conditions found in reef environments, promoting the growth and vibrant colors of corals.

Ease of Use

High-quality LED reef tank lighting should provide a user-friendly experience. This typically involves convenient controls that are easily accessible and straightforward to operate, allowing you to adjust the lighting according to your requirements without any hassle.

In addition, it’s important to consider the ease of mounting the lighting fixture. Some options are specifically designed for rimless aquariums and offer seamless installation, while others may pose more challenges when used with tanks that have a rim. It’s essential to keep this factor in mind when selecting your lighting system to ensure compatibility and ease of installation.

Opt for Quality Brands

Choose lighting systems from reputable and trusted brands that have a track record of producing reliable and efficient products. To be exact, Mokolight is a reliable LED light brand with 16+ years of experience in this line. Check customer reviews and feedback to assess the performance and durability of the lighting system.

Seek Professional Advice

If you are unsure about which lighting system to choose, consult with experienced aquarists or seek advice from reputable aquarium stores. They can offer advice based on the particular tank setup and coral needs.

By following these buying tips, you can ensure that you select a high-quality lighting system that meets the needs of your coral and helps create a thriving and visually stunning reef aquarium.

Mokolight-Your Reliable LED Reef Tank Lighting Supplier

We are confident in offering reliable and cost-effective LED lighting for the well-being of your reef tank with our 16-year professional experience, robust R&D team and good after-sales service. We will conduct a 100% testing on the products before packaging and shipping. Give it a shot and contact us right now!

Written by ——
Sushant Kulkarni
Sushant Kulkarni
9+ years of experience in implementing and debugging elector-mechanical systems, successfully leading multidisciplinary engineering teams and completing projects. Reach Me Now>>
Sushant Kulkarni
Sushant Kulkarni
9+ years of experience in implementing and debugging elector-mechanical systems, successfully leading multidisciplinary engineering teams and completing projects. Reach Me Now>>
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