The freshwater planted tank is the pinnacle of the freshwater tank hobby. You may have seen incredible aquascaped aquariums with great looking plants and competitions at trade shows. A successful freshwater planted tank starts with proper lighting and spectrum. The best freshwater planted lights these days are LEDs as they provide great functionality and customization. Picking the best LED lights for planted tanks can be a little bit tricky because there is so much out there, but I hope this guide is just as comprehensive and as information as our Best Reef LED post.
In a hurry? The best LED Light for planted tanks is the Twinstar E Series LED
Freshwater LED lighting can be broken down into three elements:
Step 1 – Understanding Planted Tank Light Spectrum
There isn’t a lot posted online about planted tank light spectrum, which I find disappointing given the amount of LEDs on the market. The goal with planted tank spectrum is a balance spectrum with an emphasis on red and blues.
What you will find in many LED models out there is that spectrum is deficient in red and blues. You want to have 40-70% of the light in the red and blue spectrum. This may mean you will have to either shop around, purchase a higher end light, or customize the spectrum on the LED model if customization is available. In general, most manufacturers aim for a 6500K spectrum light. While this is the standard you will see, other factors will matter such as the spread and intensity of the light. The Kevin rating is just a visual rating of the light.
Step 2 – Intensity Measurements With PAR
Just like saltwater reef tanks, plants need to have certain intensity that we can measure in PAR. We can break down PAR levels into the following categories:
Low Light Plants
25-50 PAR. This is best suited for shade aquarium plants or low light requirement plants like Java Moss.
Medium Light Plants
100-150 PAR. With this light level and proper C02 regulation, you can grow any available plant with this intensity level. You may not get the best coloration with red colored plants though. This light level is ideal for carpet plants like Eleocharis Dwarf Hairgrass.
High Intensity Light Plants
150-250 PAR. This level of intensity is ideal for red colored aquarium plants. This lighting intensity allows for great plant density and mitigates shading effects of larger plants. Because this is more intense light, this required more maintenance to prune down plants and control algae issues.
A more detailed listed is below by Species from The Barr Report forum:
Measuring Your PAR In Your Planted Tank
Measuring PAR with a tool can be crazy expense as the tool available are designed for reef aquariums. There is a good video from AquaPros that shows you how to make your own DIY PAR meter with the Apogee sensor and a digital multimeter that will work for a planted tank. The video is below for your reference. Using a meter like the video along with the PAR guidelines above will ensure you have the proper intensity for your plants of choice. Some manufacturers will publish the PAR data of their aquarium light fixtures, but many will not have figures published.
Other alternatives would be to use the Seneye Reef Aquarium monitor, which comes with a PAR meter, borrowing a PAR meter at your local aquarium club, or renting it from a local fish store.
Step 3 – Understanding Aquarium Light Spread
Spread is a major concern with densely populated planted tanks as taller plants will shade smaller plants as they grow. This is why having a setup that has two or more light sources is ideal for a showcase level planted tank.
If you go with a single bulb or fixture it is very possible to have a very high PAR level in certain areas of the aquarium and have edges or shadows completely void of adequate PAR. This is especially worrisome if one is looking at LEDs as LED themselves are focused lights versus eventually distributed like T5. The quality of your lenses and their degree angles will matter with LED lights for planted tanks.
To provide an example, a wide angled LED light pendent may have certain parts of the aquarium shadowed by the aquascape and plants but a T5 fixture or a wide angled LED array will not have such an issue. When look for LEDs, you want to look at LED arrays versus pendents
Our Planted Tank Lighting List
Working off the knowledge I just shared let’s start to look at the best LED Lights for planted tanks that you can buy. Just so you know, Aquarium Store Depot may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page (affiliate disclosure).
This is not your typical list that you may have seen from other sites as I am including some high end fixtures as well as budget friendly items. These have been carefully selected with the three core elements in mind – Spectrum, Intensity, and Spread.
The 7 Best LED Lights For Planted Tanks (Aquariums)
Let’s get into the reviews and see who’s the best!
1. Twinstar LEDs – Pro Level LEDs for Planted Tank Enthusiasts
The Twinstar Series LED lights are the premier light on this list. The main selling point with this light is the spectrum. The spectrum is fully tuned for the best colors and plant grow performance. It is a full light spectrum with wavelengths of 400nm to 700nm that is required for plant growth.You also get a very sleek design with acrylic brackets that make the unit easy to mount and look pleasing to the eye when installed in your aquarium. The mounts are designed for rimless tanks, so keep that in mind if you have a rimmed aquarium.
Twinstar is also one of the few makers on this list that openly publish their PAR ratings, which takes out the guesswork with the unit. Below is are the PAR ratings for the unit.
If you are looking for a high end light for your high end planted tank setup or rimless tank, this is a great light to consider. It is the go to light for pro aquascapers. See the full review for more details.
- Great spectrum setup for planted tanks
- Sleek design
- Ideal for Rimless tanks
- Not as much controllable features as there should be
2. Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 LED- Excellent Light With All The Bells and Whistles
The Fluval Plant 3.0 is a massive improvement to the old Freshwater 2.0 models. This is one of the more technology advanced planted LED lights on the list. It has a programmable, gradual 24-hour light cycle settings of sunrise, midday, sunset, and night. You have full control of your light spectrum with 6 unique waves that you can modify to dial in the color and spectrum you desire with this light. Fluval also does the homework for you with several pre-set such as Lake Malawi, Tropical, and Planted. The LEDs themselves are built of next gen High Thermal Eddiciency (H.T.E.) LEDs that improve output and performance. The light itself is protected by IP67 waterproof related aluminum casing.
The main selling point is the control on this unit. In the video above, you can see how easy it is to control this light to add your timer, change spectrum, and use presets all on your mobile device. All of this is backed by Fluval’s ironclad 3 year warranty, easily the best warranty on this list.
So what’s the catch here? Well, mostly the price. It’s one of the more expensive lights on this light, but it is also one of the most comprehensive lights on here. You can’t go wrong with this light and that warranty along with the Fluval name is amazing!
3. Chihiros RGB Aquarium LED – Pro Grade Planted LED at a Budget Price!
I’m starting off the list with a pro grade aquarium led light – the Chihiros RGB Aquarium LED. This is a great light for a fully planted tank and offers a quality spectrum and a great price for what you get. Many people in the US may not know about this light, but this is a very popular like among planted enthusiast in Asia.
It offers a very slim profile that can mount on top of your aquarium, giving you a very clean finish and the light array spreads the entire length of the fixture, which is something I mentioned earlier as a key to a quality LED setup.
It is a simple to use fixture. It has no controller and just comes with a manual dimmer, which allows for adjustments from 100% – 30%. Because it doesn’t have a controller, it will require a time to get full on and off automatic functionality.
Overall, it’s a great light with no frills. This light is all about the output and performance so if you want a pro grade light without the price tag, this is a great consideration.
- Affordable for a pro grade light
- Great spectrum
- Slim Profile
- No controller
- Dimmer only adjusts in percentages of 10% down to 30%
4. Finnex FugeRay Planted+ – Name Brand Light With Great Performance
The Finnex FugeRay Planted+ light is a staple in the planted tank and refugium niche. In saltwater tanks, this is sometimes used for sump refugiums as a reasonably price fuge light and for planted tanks it makes a balanced light for all sorts of planted tanks.
The main thing that puts this light on the list is their more evenly spaced LED alignment which gives you a more reliable spread on the tank. There are also moonlights here for light and ramp down lighting and a true 600nm red LEDs. The lenses on this light is the ideal 120 degree that I refer for LED light spread. Overall, it’s a solid package for a reasonable price.
The main downfall with this light is that it is designed for dual purpose. It is made for both saltwater fuges and freshwater planted tanks. A 100% dedicated freshwater planted tank would have offered more reds and blue. The light has more whites than I would like.
- Dual purpose with planted tanks and saltwater fuges
- Reasonable price
- Easy to Use
- Low controllability
- More whites than there should be
5. Hydrofarm T5 Fixture – For Us Old School Aquarists!
A T5 light in the middle of an LED light blog post?!? What madness is this? Well, I’m an old school aquarist and know the value of T5 fixtures. This T5 fixture from Hydrofarm is a great reasonably priced option for those needing to light a longer tank.
T5s continue to have their place for planted tanks as well as reef tanks. This unit offers no frills, but gets the job done at a reasonable price. The main thing is selecting the T5 bulbs. For a 4 bulb package – here would be my recommendation:
- 2 x Pink Bulbs – Zoomed Flora Sun
- 1 x Purple Bulbs – ATI Purple Plus
- 1 x Orange/White Bulb – Agromax 3K
There some obvious downfalls with this unit. It lack any control functions so you will need to use a timer and have to live with no ramp up or ramp down features. Being a T5, they will draw more power and will need to replace the T5 bulbs at least every year.
- T5 spread
- T5 bulbs are idiot proof for getting the best spectrum
- T5 bulbs will need to be replaced
- Consumes more power than LEDs
- Lack of control features
6. Kessil Tuna Sun – High End LED Pendant Lighting for Planted Tanks!
The Kessil Tuna Sun is the premier pendant light for planted tanks. What sets it apart from other pendant lights is the Dense Matrix LED, which emits more high-quality light than other pendant fixtures.This Dense Matrix creates shimmer effects and provides a great color mix that really shows off in a planted tank. They work best in 24 x 24 setups so if you have a 3 or 4 foot tank setup you will need to purchase another unit. They have goosenecks and bracket mount options that give you a lot of flexibility with install.
The main con here is the price, these are very pricey lights, but the Kessil name is known for producing top notch and reliable products in the industry. You won’t be disappointed if you choose to go with them.
- Kessil name and reliability
- Lot of models
- Dense Matrix make this an ideal pendant for planted tanks
- Multiple units requires for tanks longer than 2 feet
- Spectrum tuner required for fully customization
7. NICREW SkyLED – Perfect Cheap LED for Low Light Planted Tanks
Most of the lights listed here so far are comprehensive LED lights that can handle a wide variety of plants. However, not everyone needs a high powered planted LED light and you can build a very successful and beautiful planted tank with just low light plants. That’s where this NICREW SkyLED Planted Tank Light comes into play. This is one of the best budget planted tank LED lights available that work well for low light plants.
This light is a super thin light that will look sleek and modern in any planted setup. It comes with basic lighting and moonlights that will allow you to grow low light plants.It does not have any of the controllable features like say the Fluval 3.0 has, but it gets the job done. The price for these are hard to beat and they are used for many low light plants with a lot of success.
I do keep mentioning low light plants and you are probably wondering what those are. Here would be a few examples:
It’s a great choice if you are planning for a simple low light planted setup.
- Easy to use
- Lack of controllable features
The Best LED Lights for Planted Tanks (Our Recommendation)
Usually this would be tough choice but I feel there are three easy picks here. I believe that the Fluval Planted 3.0 LED light is the overall best value on this list, but I know everyone can’t afford it. For best budget, I feel that the Chihiros is a great balance between price and performance. The Twinstar LEDs are excellent as well, but they are best for rimless, high end setups which I know everyone isn’t going to do.
Conclusion To Best LED for Planted Tanks
LEDs have come a long way since they debuted. They have a wide variety of features and hopefully this list helps narrow down your decisions. A planted aquarium is a lot of fun and can be simple to setup. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. Thank you for reading.