If you’re looking for advice on choosing the best grow lights for a variety of applications, you’ve come to the right place. I first got interested in indoor growing when I wanted to construct an all-year-round indoor herb garden so I always have plentiful fresh herbs a few steps from the kitchen when I’m cooking up a storm. However, my research extended to other types of growing and this guide covers everything a beginner to intermediate indoor grower will need for most purposes.
Finding the best grow lights is an integral part of making your indoor garden setup work because we kind of take the sun for granted when we’re outside but that is one powerful energy source and if you don’t have the right equipment to replace it, your yields will suck or your plants will just die.
I suspect I’ll get a range of people reading this guide who have different experience levels and needs so I’ve broken the guide up into sections which you can see by expanding the contents below. I’ve also created a few paths for the main types of audiences who will read this guide, those are;
|Skill / Experience
|Time Poor /
Looking for Results
|Browse via the Contents
|Browse via the Contents
Tinkerer / Budget Conscious people are either or both;
- Like to tinker and understand every part of the system and want to custom design their system to suit their needs
- On a budget and understand that custom designing their system and putting it together themselves can reduce costs
Those that are time poor and/or primarily looking for results are those that are less budget conscious and mostly looking to get a specific result. These people might be more interested in an all inclusive system which requires little setup and customisation.
Click on the appropriate ‘Start Here’ links in the table above or navigate via the table of contents below.
Table of Contents
- Full reviews of each products
- Background Information – Explanations / information about the different concepts
Time Poor / Looking for Results
If you’re in this category then it’s important that I introduce you to some all-in-one products that you can just buy and set up relatively easily without the need to learn about and customise every individual part. However, if you want to read up on anything, you can find all the relevant information in the ‘Background Information’ section.
|AeroGarden Sprout-Black (2020 Model)
|SIMBR Hydroponic Growing System
|iDOO Hydroponics Growing System
Tinkerer / Budget Conscious
If you’re in this category, I’m going to assume and recommend that you start with only a small system so you can get a feel for the equipment and process before deciding if you want to upgrade and expand your system. You’ll probably want to start by learning about all the different related topics such as plant light requirements, the various parts of a typical system and the differences between different types of lights. You can do all of that in the ‘Background Information’ section. In particular, you want to figure out;
- The light requirements for the plants you want to grow (duration, intensity, spectrum and photoperiod)
- Where in your house you can build your setup and whether there are any physical constraints
The two main options that are relevant to you are T5 Fluorescent lights and low cost LEDs and I’ve included the best options in the table below. LEDs are traditionally relatively expensive upfront and prove their value by lasting a long time, having low running costs and an efficient output spectrum. However, there are also now several low cost LED options on the market. I think these low cost options are great for tinkering but just be aware that the reliability and quality control won’t be as good as more expensive LEDs or similarly priced T5s. Also, their efficiency and output won’t be comparable to upmarket LEDs. If you’re really on a budget then I’d stick with T5s that are more reliable but if you have a bit of a budget to play with then you might get both T5s and LEDs and use them together or run a side by side test to compare.
One key advantage of LEDs is their ability to have different lights in different colors to cover the whole usable spectrum, including for both the vegetative stage of growth and the fruiting/flowering stage. Most T5s will come with bulbs strong in the blue spectrum (6400K) but many of the fixtures will also support bulbs in the red spectrum for flowering and fruiting (3500K). These extra bulbs will usually be sold separately and you’ll need to change them in and out yourself as required.
|VIVOSUN 2ft T5 HO
|T5 Grow Light (4ft 4lamps) DL844s
|Roleadro Full Spectrum 600W
|Roleadro Grow Light Series,75W LED
Time Poor / Looking for Results
If you’re in this group then you’re probably looking to upgrade to a bigger system than the one you already have but you’re primarily concerned with results rather than tinkering or price.
The best thing for you is to look into LEDs which are the undisputed future of grow lights and much easier to setup than the old guard of HIDs. LEDs have a higher initial cost but their running costs and bulb replacement costs are substantially lower while also producing very little heat which reduces the need for ventilation and cooling equipment.
In the table below I’m going to compare the best LED and HID lights which have the easiest setup which is ideal for you. CMD stands for ‘Ceramic Metal Halides (aka CMD or LEC) which are a special type of HID. These are still relatively new on the market and are quite expensive but they do pack an impressive punch and are close to full spectrum which means they can be used for both the vegetative stage and flowering/fruiting stage without having to switch bulbs. They’re also 10 – 20% more efficient than standard HID lights.
|Yield Lab 1000w HPS+MH
|HPS & MH
|4 x 4
|iPower GLLECX630D2CDMK4 CMH
|CMH x 2
|4 x 4
|5 x 5
|Sun System CMH
|2.5 x 2.5
|Advanced Platinum Series P300
|4.5 x 4
|King Plus 1000w
|3 x 3
|2 x 4
Tinkerer / Budget Conscious
If this is you then you will have had some experience with indoor growing and grow lights before but perhaps you’re looking to upgrade your system or switch from one type of light to another.
The biggest decision you have to make is whether you’re going to go with HIDs or LEDs. Fluorescents are less useful for bigger grows and their relative inefficiency will start to become more apparent as you add more lights. While HIDs are the tried and tested heavy weights of grow lights, most people now agree that LEDs are the future and the technology will eventually be superior in almost every way. However, currently LEDs are still quite expensive so, again, that leaves you with a choice to make. If you already have experience with HIDs then probably it’s worth sticking with them because there will be a learning curve in switching to LEDs and by holding off you can wait for the LED price to come down and the technology to improve. If you don’t have experience with HIDs and you can afford the higher initial cost, then LEDs might be the way to go. There’s also obviously other considerations such as the size of your space and constraints around heat but those will be different for each person.
|Gavita Pro 1000e
|4 x 4
|Sun System HPS 150 watt
|2 x 2
|HPS + MH (one at a time)
|4 x 4
|Hydroplanet™ Double Ended
|4 x 4
|iPower Elite Double Ended
|5 x 5
|2 x 2
|2 x 2
This section contains reviews and information of a range of different products that are suitable for different situations and budgets. For direct comparisons of different products, refer to the tables in each of the following sections;
- Beginner – Time Poor / Looking for Results
- Beginner – Tinkerer / Budget Conscious
- Intermediate – Time Poor / Looking for Results
- Intermediate – Tinkerer / Budget Conscious
The product reviews are divided into sections based on the types of lights. The sections are;
- All in one systems
For more information about what each of these means and the differences, see the the ‘Types of Lights’ section in this guide’s background information.
All in One Systems
The Miracle Gro AeroGarden is my number one pick for beginners, particularly those looking to grow herbs to use in their cooking. I really wish this unit was available when I first got into indoor growing as it would’ve got me started a lot quicker and with much fewer headaches. They have several different models available but I suggest the 6 pod or the 9 pod units. Some of the plants available with these sets are; Basil, Parsley, Dill, Thyme, Mint and more.
These are ‘all in one’ systems which means it’s not just a grow light but a whole system for indoor growing. The system uses ‘pods’ which include the seeds and will serve as the holder for the plant as it grows. This is a hydroponic system which means there is no soil and the roots sit in a reservoir of water which means no watering is required. This is also how the nutrients are delivered. There are different pre-seeded pods available in each package or they can be purchased separately. It’s also possible to buy pods which you insert your own seeds into if you want to grow something that’s not available from the manufacturer. Your plants should germinate within 7-14 days and will be ready for harvesting in 4-6 weeks. They will continue to produce for 6 months or longer.
The system controls the LED grow lights (these are adjustable in height to allow for the growth of your plants) and prompts you to add water and nutrients (nutrients are included in the pack) when required.
Click & Grow is another great all in one system in which you can grow basil, thyme, sage, parsley, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, rosemary, peppers, flowers and strawberries. It’s a very slick and clean design so it should make a great addition to any kitchen. Similar to the AeroGarden, you don’t need to manually water your plants each day as the water is delivered directly to the roots from a reservoir that sits under the plants. You will need to top up the reservoir from time to time though. Unlike the AeroGarden, the Click & Grow does have a ‘soil’ of sorts which they call ‘Smart Soil’ and it includes the nutrients that the plant needs so you don’t need to add those . The product will come with a certain number of pre-seeded smart soil pods and you can purchase more as required or purchase a ‘blank’ one to insert your own seed into.
This product is very affordable but there are ongoing costs to consider for the replacement seeds and ‘smart soil.’ Also, it seems they have had some quality control issues which is often the case with lower priced products in general.
With this unit all you need to do is keep the water reservoir topped up and the Click & Grow will do the rest. You will need to plug it into the wall socket to power the LED light and there’s no batteries.
This isn’t an ‘all in one’ system as you still have to water the plants and sort out the pots and soil, but I thought I’d include it as it is still a very nice unit that will go nicely in any room if you have the space. There’s a little more work involved to set up your system and maintain it but you can do it in style with this large and sturdy unit.
Each tier (level) has 2 ‘full-spectrum’ (white light) T5 fluorescent bulbs hanging on chains so the height can be adjusted to your plants. These lights should be great for leafy plants such as herbs but might lack in intensity for flowering and fruiting plants. Some people use a system like this for starting or wintering their plants before moving them outside so that’s also an option of you have sun-hungry plants.
Each set of lights has its own cord so you’ll need three sockets to power them all. You can use a powerboard with a timer (sold separately) to manage your light schedules automatically.
The frame is heavy duty, powder coated aluminium and looks great. There is some assembly required at the beginning but once it’s all set up, the ongoing care is about the same as outdoor growing in pots. This unit is perfect if you have a lot of herbs or leafy plants they you want to grow indoors year round or flowering and fruiting plants that you want to start and/or winter indoors before taking outside.
This particular unit from Agrobrite is 4 feet long and includes 4 x T5 fluorescent bulbs but there’s lots of options available including in length (2 and 4 foot options) and in the number of bulbs per fixture (2, 4, 6, 8 or 12).
The unit has powder coated steel housing with a high performance, faceted specular aluminium hood to better light distribution and reflection. It can be hung 3 ways – overhead, vertical or horizontal and it includes a 10 foot grounded power cord. Daisy chaining is possible so you can link several units together to cover a larger grow area.
The T5s that come with this unit are 6400K which is in the blue spectrum, optimal for leaf and root growth. As is common with T5s, intensity ratings are only given in watts (54 per bulb) and lumens (20,000 per bulb). The fixture will also support 3000K bulbs which are better suited for fruiting flowering (red spectrum).
This section of the guide includes all the background information that you need if you want to understand all the different parts that make up a grow light system.
What you need to determine first
There’s a few things you need to have an idea of upfront so you can choose the best grow lights for your purposes. Those things are;
- What plants are you going to grow and what their lighting needs are
- How many plants do you need?
- Budget and space constraints
Your Plants and their Lighting Needs
The first thing you need know is what you’re going to grow because different plants have different light and heat requirements and those need to be matched with the specifications of your grow light/s. If you’ve made it to this guide I’m going to assume that you already know what you want to grow, but if you’re still looking for ideas, here is some inspiration;
- Herbs for cooking – I have a permanent supply of my favourite herbs including mint, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley and even some leafy greens for salads. It’s fun, fresh and healthy to grow and cook with your own herbs and my indoor garden with grow lights are actually much easier to maintain than an outdoor garden (which I’ve also done) because it’s more consistent, inside and less likely to be forgotten about/neglected and away from bugs and critters. It also makes a good conversation piece when I have guests over.
- Small cannabis setups – Several friends have their own setups with some great results. I won’t go into the details but I’m sure you can imagine the benefits of having your own personal setup or a low cost start on a commercial setup. Of course I have to urge you to consult the laws and licenses in your location before making any purchases.
The lighting requirements of plants varies considerably both between different types and at different stages of growth for the same type. There are lots of variables that come into play which can make the process quite complicated. The good news is that you can get results for a range of setups and then look to tweak things based on trial and error and research to optimise your setup.
There are several different types of light requirements a plant can have;
- Duration per day (many plants require some darkness per day to grow better)
- Color (spectrum)
It’s important to note that these things can also change depending on what stage of life the plant is in ie. seeding, vegetative or flowering.
There’s also heat and humidity which aren’t strictly light related but they will be affected by the lights you are using. Some lights produce a lot of heat and some produce only a little.
Before we go any further I need to clear up some confusion around measurement units which has made this topic even more complicated than it needs to be. Here are the basics you need to get your head around;
- Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) – this is the type of light that is usable by plants for photosynthesis. PAR is measured by PPF and PPFD
- PPF is Photosynthetic Photon Flux which is the total light emitted by a light source each second, measured in micromoles per second (μmoles/second)
- PPFD is Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density which is the light that reaches the target (e.g your plants) each second. PPFD is measured in micromoles per square meter per second (μmol/m2/s)
- Lumens (lm) – this is the light visible to the human eye
- Lux – this is a measure of lumens per square meter (lm/m2)
- Foot candle – this is a measure of lumens per square foot
- Watts – this is a measure of energy transfer ie. the energy used by a grow light per unit of time. When a 100W light bulb is turned on for one hour, the energy used is 100 watt hours
PPF and PPFD are the most relevant light intensity measurements for our purposes because they specifically relate to plants. However, Lumens are regularly used both by manufacturers and in discussions because they’re more applicable to the wider industry of lights. There’s also no easy way to make a conversion between the two so you’ll probably have to get used to using both.
Watts are often used as a measurement of a light’s intensity, which is incorrect. The reason for this is that in the past, most lights had the same efficiency so a difference in watts basically meant a difference in light intensity. These days, there’s a huge difference in efficiency between different types of lights so it no longer makes sense to use watts as a measure of light intensity. However, Watts is still relevant and useful as a measure of the amount of power the light uses. You’ll see this referred to as the ‘wattage draw from the wall’ and this will give you an idea of the amount of power the light is using.
‘Watts’ in LED Marketing – In addition, ‘Watts’ is sometimes used to signify the potential maximum power draw of a light, particularly when talking about LEDs. A manufacturer might say they have a 300W light because it is made up of 100 x 3 watt diodes (LED stands for light emitting diode). Then in the specifications it says that the light only draws 130 watts from the wall. In this case the 300W is really just referring to the number of diodes and their individual rating, rather than the total wattage of the light. In case you’re wondering why a light whose components are rated for 300W will only draw half that, it’s because they’ve done their calculations and figured out that the diodes give the optimum output at around 50% of the maximum wattage.
Here’s an interesting table with the Foot Candle (ftcd) and Lux measurements for different times of day. This will help you get your bearings when thinking about light intensity.
There are several factors which will affect the difference between the intensity of the light leaving the bulb and the intensity of the light falling on the plant. The main factors are;
- Distance of lights from the plants
- Loss of light / use of reflectors – some light will go elsewhere in the room and not reach your plants. You can minimize this by the use of reflectors to redirect that lost light back to the plants
- Penetration – how far into the plant or canopy does the light penetrate
You can buy a photometer to measure light intensity in lux or foot candles or a spectrometer to measure PPF/PPFD but this is only required if you really want to optimise. You’ll find plenty of advice online for setup suggestions for different types of plants to get you started and then you can do some trial and error at your leisure to find out what works best.
Vegetables, flowering plants, cannabis and the herbs of basil, cilantro, dill, fennel, rosemary and sage all require high intensity light. Herbs like chives, garlic, marjoram, mints and parsley prefer lower intensity light.
Obviously plants outside will have light over the period of the day and then darkness for the night. Many plants, particularly those that flower, have adapted to specific sunlight and darkness proportions and need those conditions to thrive. The length of time a flower is in darkness is known as the ‘photoperiod’ and flowering plants can be divided into three different categories;
- Short day – up to 12 hours of light (10 is a good average)
- Long day – over 14 hours of light (16-18 good average)
- Day neutral – will flower regardless of the light duration
A plant’s requirements will also change based on the phase of growth it is at e.g. 16 hours at seeding, 18 hours at the vegetative phase and 12 hours at the final flower stage.
A light’s color can span from a narrow part of the available spectrum to the full spectrum. Sunlight covers the full spectrum of available light. No grow lights are capable of producing the full spectrum of light but some come close. Most plants grow best with full spectrum light but you can produce a more efficient setup by focusing on specific colors of lights.
The best light for the largest number of plants is in the bluish spectrum which promotes leafy growth. Light in the yellow-orange spectrum is best for flowering and fruiting plants that need a bright light.
How to Determine Light Requirements
Start by determining the sunlight ‘exposure’ requirements for your plant type. This is usually given on the plant when you buy it or can be easily looked up online (I find Almanac and Gardenology to be good). The exposure categories are;
- Full sun – 6+ hours of direct sunlight
- Partial Sun / Partial Shade / Dappled Sun – 3 – 6 hours of sunlight
- Full shade – less than 3 hours of direct sunlight
It’s difficult to match the intensity of the sun’s light with your grow lights but we can make up for a lower light intensity by keeping the lights on for longer. Just make sure to take into account the photoperiod of your plant so that it gets enough darkness to grow and flower properly. The amount of time your light is left on and then off is known as the ‘light schedule’ and is expressed as ‘16 hours on / 8 hours off’ or simply ‘16/8.’ You’ll want to purchase a timer to control this and keep it consistent and easy to manage.
Calculating exactly how much light your plants will need in lux or PPFD is very difficult because there a lots of different variables. A good guideline is that 6 hours of sunlight is equal to around 12 – 14 hours under a grow light. The ideal setup will use reflectors to reflect as much of the light being produced by the bulbs onto the plants as possible and have the bulbs as close to the plants as possible without burning them. If your lights are further away from the plants and/or more of the light is being lost out the sides of your setup, the greater your light intensity and duration requirements will be.
Types of Lights
There’s a number of different types of grow lights to choose from, each with their pros and cons. The main types are;
- High Intensity Discharge (HID) – there’s two sub-types;
- Metal Halide (MH)
- Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH, CMD or LEC)
- High Pressure Sodium (HPS)
- Metal Halide (MH)
- Light Emitting Diode (LED)
This table summarises the main differences between the three types of lights. Keep in mind that this is only a rough guide as there’s a lot of variation between different lights in each category.
|Low – Medium
|Medium – High
|Low – Medium
|Medium – High
|Fans / Ventilation
|Heating in cold climates
Fluorescent lights are popular because they have a good combination of ease of use, efficiency and cost. There’s three different types of Fluoros that you might come across ‘T12s,’ ‘T8s’ and ‘T5s.’ T5s are all the rage these days as they are the most advanced version of the technology and definitely what I’d recommend. T5s come in a range of options including different lengths, different colors (including ‘full spectrum’) and different sized housings. T5s are great for beginners and experienced growers alike and have these features;
- Efficient – up to 100 lumens per watt
- Long lasting – 20,000 hours of use
- Low heat – the globes can be close to your plants (around 6 inches recommended) which minimises loss. It also reduces the need for ventilation fans and makes them more pleasant to work around or have in a living area of your house
- Compact setup – globes and housing don’t take up much space and globes can be close together which makes it easier to get consistent light over your growing area
High Intensity Discharge (HID)
These are more efficient than T5s and may be particularly more effective for the bright yellow/orange light needed for flowering and fruiting. The downside is that they’re bigger and bulkier, more expensive to buy and produce a lot more heat. There’s two different types of HID lights;
- Metal Halide (MH) – these lights are great if you’re growing a bunch of different plants as they have the best light spectrum to meet the varying needs of different plants. They’re particularly good in the blue spectrum for promoting leafy growth and this also means they will fit ok in living areas as they won’t distort the light of the room too much. MH last around 2 years but may lose efficiency over time.
- Ceramic metal halide
- High Pressure Sodium (HPS) – HPS lights are particularly good for promoting flowering and fruiting as they’re strong in the orange – yellow spectrum. The downside of that is that they will distort the light in the room they’re in which makes them unsuitable for normal living areas. These lights can last up to 5 years but will start to lose efficiency much earlier than that which might require them to be replaced sooner.
Light Emitting Diode (LED)
Everyone has heard of LEDs as the technology has affected lots of different industries and grow lights is no exception. LEDs are highly efficient and last for many tens of thousands of hours. However, the upfront cost in greater and each globe only has a very specific color range so you might have to mix and match to get optimal growth.
This article is mostly about the best grow lights but there’s a number of other considerations and factors that connect into that. Here’s a full list;
- Housing & reflector hood – the thing that’s holding your globes which often includes a reflector hood to reflect any light that hits it back onto your plants
- Fixture – thing that holds your lights
- Ballast – the electrical unit that powers your lights
- Electrical cords
- Timer – to control your light schedule automatically
- Other reflectors – to reflect light from the sides back onto your plants
- Growing area
- Space – room / tent / basement / shed
- Surface – table / shelf
- Pots / beds
- Soil / substrate
- Climate control
- Fans / ventilation
- Watering system
- Overall setup
- Rig – ropes, chains, planks, screws etc. for holding your setup in place
- Other equipment
- Glasses to protect eyes against intense lights
- Light intensity testers
- Wattage / voltage testers
About this Page
This page originally appeared on my website 99redlumens.com which I created to house my research on this subject. However, I realised I didn’t need a whole separate website for this and decided to move it here to my personal site instead. The name ’99 Red Lumens’ is a play on words with the song ‘99 Red Balloons‘ (which is the English version of the original German song 99 Luftballoons) and the word ‘lumens’ which is a measure of light intensity. I was quite proud of that one and its probably the reason I held onto that website as long as I did before eventually moving the content here.
The last substantial update was Nov 2020.
Links on this Page
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