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Do you need a fish tank light?

While having light fixture in your tank is optional if you are only keeping fish, it does make your aquarium look better. If you want to grow some plants, then the dedicated lighting is essential to keeping them alive as well.

Below is Aquarium Blueprints’ starter guide of factors that you should take into consideration when it comes to lighting your aquarium.

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Do you need lights for your aquarium?

Depending on what you are keeping in your aquarium, you may or may not need a dedicated lighting fixture.

If you are only keeping fish, then the ambient light from the sun and/or other lighting in your room should be sufficient enough. This is because fish in nature aren’t kept in glass boxes, which takes in light from all angles, in the wild. As a result, they will live perfectly fine with little lighting; in fact, they usually prefer a dimmer lighting environment in most cases.

To learn more about the the best location to place your tank, you can check out this guide.

With that said, you may want to add a dedicated light fixture anyway to make your fish tank stand out from the rest of the decor in your home. Depending on the spectrum you are using, the lighting will also bring out the colors of your fish.

Furthermore, there is actually some beliefs that the bring lights may also intensify the pigmentations of your aquatic life and, thus, making them grow more colorful as opposed to living in an environment with very little lighting.

Do you need lights for a planted tank?

If you have a planted aquarium, you most likely need a dedicated lighting fixture in your tank. While some plants (such as Hornworth, Java Fern and Java Moss) may only need low lights, the ambient lighting may still not be enough.

With that said, you may be able to get rid of not having any fish tank lights if you keep your tank near the window and/or right under a room lighting fixture that you keep on for an extended amount of time every day.

To recap, your fish don’t need an direct lighting. With that said, if you want your aquarium and its inhabitants to look good, then we recommend getting a fish tank light such as the Fluval Aquasky 2.0 or Plant 3.0. If you want to grow plants, you most likely need dedicated lighting as well.

How long should you light your aquarium?

If you are only keeping fish, then there isn’t any real requirements when it comes to how long you should leave your lights on in your tank.

For planted tanks, we suggest lighting your tank at around 10 hours in the beginning. If you are getting a lot of algae, that could be a sign that your aquarium is getting too much light; thus, you want to shorten the lighting time. If your plants aren’t growing as well, you may want to try extended the length. Ultimately, anywhere between 8 to 12 hours should be fine for most planted plants.

If you don’t want to be too hands on when it comes to turning on and off the light in your tank, then we recommend getting a timer if your fixture don’t already have one built in.

What is the best aquarium light type?

The best type of aquarium lights is LED. This is because the lights do not lose their effectiveness over time when compared to setups that use bulbs. While it will take many years for your LED to be replaced, you have to replace the bulbs after several months of usage.

In most cases, LED also use a lot less energy when compared to the other types. Because of the low energy usage, it won’t produce much heat, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally overheating your tank.

Even though aquarium lights that use bulbs may have more affordable upfront costs, we still recommend getting one with LED lights due to its long lasting nature and energy efficiency.

What is the best color temperature?

The best temperature, whether you decide to keep plants or not, is a range between 5500 to 10000°K. The most natural lighting, if you want to mimic the sun, is between 6500 to 6700°K. If you have a lot of plants, especially those that requires high lighting, to grow, then you may want to aim for 10000°K. If you are keeping just fish, anywhere between 5500 and 6500°K is fine if you want to see their natural colors (otherwise, you can aim for a lower color temperature).

Shop lighting vs. aquarium lighting

As a cost saving method, fish keepers who own a lot of tanks use regular shop lights to illuminate their many aquariums. Although they aren’t as effective, a shop lighting fixture gets the job done, even if you have plants to require high lighting.

The only issue that you want to keep an eye on is potential water damage, which can come from splashes or evaporation. If you decide to use shop lighting, we highly recommend using a top to cover your tank in order to protect your fixture.

How many lights do you need in your tank?

Most rectangular fish tanks measure at 12 inches in depth from front to back. As a result, most dedicated fish tank lights are built to illuminate the same 1 foot length.

If you have a tank that is a lot of longer in depth (from front to back) and want to grow plants everywhere between the foreground and background, then you might want to get an additional lighting fixture.

Recommended aquarium lights

If you are only keeping fish and/or low light plants, then you don’t a high-tech lighting setup. If you fall into this category, we recommend taking a look at NICREW ClassicLED Aquarium Light, which is not only affordable but also very effective at lighting your tank.

You can purchase the ClassicLED Aquarium Light with this link on Amazon.

If you have plants that need a lot of lighting, then you may want to opt for a high-tech setup. In this case, you should take a look at the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED KLC Aquarium LED Light as it provides a full spectrum for plant growth in addition to sunrise/sunset modes and more.

You can buy the Finnex Planted+ via this link on Amazon.

When picking a lighting setup, please make sure that you get the right fit for your aquarium. Measure the width of your tank beforehand and then choose the right size options.

If you want a light that is waterproof, then you might want to take a look at the MingDak Submersible LED.


Although not a necessity, having a dedicated aquarium light will bring out the colors of your fish. If you are planning to grow plants, however, it may be a good idea to get some light into your tank.

We recommend getting LED lights as they last longer and typically use less energy when compared to other types. You should keep the fixtures on anywhere from 8 to 12 hours (you can adjust the length based on the algae growth and plant health).

As for the color temperature, we recommend somewhere between 5500 and 6700°K. If you want a more natural look, then you can narrow the range down to 6500 and 6700°K.