Beginners Guide to Coral Reef Tank Lighting

There’s a lot of information that comes at you quickly when you’re getting started with a reef tank. You have to think about pH, food, coral food, amino acids, and a skimmer. There are thousands of different types of skimmers, so which one should you use?. Lighting, LEDs, T5s, metal halides, natural sunshine, solar tubes. The possibilities are unlimited, and you may succeed with a billion different equipment and technique combinations. Your reef tank will be as one-of-a-kind as you, but that doesn’t mean a little study won’t help you succeed.

I hope you found the article interesting. If you have more time on your hands, reef lighting can be that simple at its core. Most modern lighting fixtures, including as those from AI, Orphek, Ecotech Marine, Kessil, and others, have simple settings that will work well on most reef tanks. Note that all of those merchants sell LED lights. I would recommend using an LED light over your reef tank if you’re a novice. They’re more common now, and more people use them.

Other lighting settings are available to you. I began my career with metal halide lamps a few decades back. They perform great and are the industry standard for reef lights. However they consume a lot of power and are very hot.

Metal halide lights are not programmable or adaptable in the same way that LED or even T5 lights are. The only options you have are the overall wattage and the bulb you use. Distinct metal halide bulbs produce different spectra of light, which is simply a difference in color.

Based on my investigation for this page, it appears that in coral development tests. 14K and above, 14 and 20,000, will provide the highest growth for Acropora. Now, that’s largely white light with a slight blue tint to it. Phoenix makes a pretty common metal halide bulb in a 14K type that you might buy. Many LED manufacturers will feature a program that employs a color temperature of roughly 14K. Which may be referred to as AB+, coral growth, or even Phoenix.


A 20,000 Kelvin light, or a significantly more blue light, is referred to as a 20K light. It also promoted good Acropora growth in the study and may make your tank a little more colorful. Your reef tank will perform fine as long as you keep it largely toward the blue end of the spectrum.

There is another lighting technique that is widely used, and it is referred to as T5. T5 fluorescent tubes are thin fluorescent tubes that are available in a variety of hues. You’ll be able to get exactly the light you want if you prefer mixing different colors and bulbs, and a T5 fixture, such as those made by ATI and other firms, can’t be beat if you like that type of thing. You may mix and match the different bulbs to create the overall hue you desire as you buy the individual bulbs that will go into it.

T5s have a very even color distribution across the tank, which helps to avoid shadows and other problems. That Acropora can experience when their branches expand and shade other portions of the coral.

Metal halide lights, and especially LED lights, produce a disco ball effect in your tank to variable degrees. You’ll notice this in your tank. Especially if you’re using a light like a Kessil Pendant, which is a single source point of light. Some people adore the disco ball effect, while others despise it. If you’re looking for a really little pendant style light, this is something to keep in mind. When you initially start adding corals to your tank, you may want to turn down the brightness of your lights.

In a research I observed, a nine-week acclimatization period for fresh Acropora reduced fatalities by nearly half.

If your lights are dimmable, like most LEDs, you can simply turn them down for a few weeks and then progressively ramp them back up to their normal level. What matters to the coral is PAR, or photosynthetically active radiation.


Most of the food and nutrients that we keep in our aquariums come from little microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates that reside in their tissue, and those little critters, like plants, will use light to manufacture their food. If you’re new to the hobby, you won’t have any method to calculate PAR. You can look up charts online and figure out that you’ll need somewhere between 250 and 300 for more stony corals like Acropora.

Soft corals, Zoanthids, Xenia, and other similar species can thrive in much lower light levels, so keep that in mind if you don’t want to invest in an expensive light right away.

In a reef tank, lighting is one of those things that must be perfect. It provides a lot of the energy that the animals we keep in reef tanks require to exist. Thankfully, thanks to the large number of really high-quality fixtures put out by all of the different manufacturers. Such as the ones I’ve described in this post, it’s pretty easy to get a good light these days. You’re already doing this, so keep up the good work and do your study. You’ll be well on your way to having a fantastic reef tank.

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