Light is the major source of energy for all living things. This is why saltwater aquarium lighting is one of the many important components in setting up your aquarium.

Saltwater Aquarium with Live Corals

Saltwater Aquarium with Live Corals

There are many types of lighting fixture nowadays for your specific saltwater aquarium lighting needs.

So selecting the proper lighting will depend on what kinds of saltwater fish and invertebrates you are planning to keep.

Most aquariums do very well with just the standard fluorescent or incandescent lighting.

But with the saltwater aquarium’s recent popularity, the demands in lighting are now high.

If you are choosing to only house fish and live rocks, my suggestion is to just get an inexpensive standard fluorescent aquarium light. This will be sufficient enough.

Leather Tree Coral

Leather Tree Coral

But if you choose to keep a not only saltwater fish but corals and other photosynthetic animals, then I would suggest getting a lighting system with greater intensity such as metal halide.

And I think that it also makes it more enjoyable to view your tank.

So which one is the right lighting system for your saltwater aquarium?

Let’s look at your options below. This will give you an idea of each light’s benefit, its quality, expense, amount of electricity it consumes and the life of the bulb itself.

  1. Natural Light
    Natural sunlight is inexpensive, provides the entire spectrum of wavelengths, called full-spectrum light. It is an ideal source of light for your aquarium, but is very difficult to control the right amount of it. It is also unpredictable so I don’t think this would be an acceptable source of aquarium light.
  2. Tungsten
    These type of saltwater aquarium lighting were used as a source of light for freshwater aquariums long time ago. It was the incandescent light on those aquariums. Your typical light bulb at home gives out tungsten light.
    • Quality:It burns hot and do not provide full spectrum lighting. They also promote algae bloom in aquariums.
    • Durability:It doesn’t last long and would require frequent changing.
    • Expense:
      Low cost but consume a lot of electricity.
    • Recommendation:
      Do not use this for your saltwater aquarium.
  3. Fluorescent
    All Glass Aquarium AAG25916 Fluorescent Strip Light, 16-Inch
    All Glass Aquarium AAG25916 Fluorescent Strip Light, 16-Inch
    All-Glass Strip-Lights are used with Versa-Tops for proper aquarium lighting; These are exact strip-light replacements for Full Hoods

    Most of the fluorescent lamps that are out in the market are used for freshwater aquariums.It is also popular for saltwater aquariums. It is also what we always see and is very common in commercial office buildings.If you plan to use this type of saltwater aquarium lighting, buy it from your fish dealer.They usually come as a full hood aquarium lights. They can also be purchased separately as a strip lights for glass canopies.
    • Quality:
      Fluorescent light gives cool and bright light and spreads evenly from the light into the aquarium. They come in variety of choices and power output nowadays. Full spectrum lighting is ideal for reef aquarium.
    • Durability:
      It is known to last from several months to two years, dpending on the bulb.
    • Expense:
      It is less expensive than other aquarium lighting. They are very efficient and consume low amounts of electricity.
  4. Power compact Fluorescent
    They are usually U-shaped instead of a straight fluorescent tube.They have a much higher output than the standard fluorescent fixture.They are sold as strip lights or can be purchased as retrofit kit for a standard hood.
    • Quality:It has the same benefits as the standard fluorescent lights. The only difference is that this type produces higher intensity lighting. Full spectrum and specialty lighting are available and work very well for deeper reef aquariums.
    • Durability:
      It also last from several months to two years depending on the bulb.
    • Expense:
      It is more expensive than the standard fluorescent lights but is more efficient and consumes less electricity.
    • Recommendation:
      This is excellent for reef aquariums.
  5. Mercury Vapor
    This saltwater aquarium lighting uses mercury vapor to produce light from spotlights such as above the aquarium.
    • Quality:
      Gives intense, deep-penetrating, full-spectrum light which is ideal for invertebrate aquariums. There are bulbs that have more blue on the spectrum and are available for special reef lighting.They run hot so the light needs to be suspended and ventilated. Be extra careful when you use this as they may produce ultraviolet light that can damage your eyesight.
    • Durability:
      You would need to replace this every eight to twelve months to maintain its maximum efficiency.
    • Expense:
      This lighting is expensive to purchase and operate.
    • Recommendation:It is ideal for reef and invertebrate aquariums.
  6. Combination
    Combinations of saltwater aquarium lighting are now offered for your saltwater aquarium. The common types are the ones that sit above the aquarium. One is metal halide fluorescent fixture that includes multiple light sources.Halides are typically used for photosynthetic corals and invertebrates. They produce high heat and may require a chiller. Shallow water corals will benefit from this intense lighting.They are expensive and offer the best of both:
    • high intensity light for photosynthetic invertebrates and
    • soft fluorescent lighting for pleasant viewing
  7. LED Lights
    Koval 156 LED Aquarium Light Hood with Extendable Brackets, 45-Inch to 50-Inch
    Koval 156 LED Aquarium Light Hood with Extendable Brackets, 45-Inch to 50-Inch
    Bright LEDs with 5 colors, full spectrum LEDs and makes phycophyta vivid; Extendable bracket makes LED light fits different size aquariums in extendable range

    If you want to know what color temperature to pick, check out this LED COLOR SPECTRUM GUIDE from Dr Foster

Top of Page

Return from Saltwater Aquarium Lighting to Saltwater Aquarium Basics

* Disclaimer: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,, Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of, Inc. or its affiliates. We may receive a small commission if you click on one of our links and make a purchase. Thank you for supporting and helping me make it the best site possible!
Last update on 2024-04-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API