Copyright ReefNation 2012

DIY LED’s that don’t look “DIY”

For more than a few years now,  the term “LED lighting”  was held in most reefkeepers’ heads as somewhat of a holy grail of reef tank lighting.  This was to be our “fuel cell” or our “flux capacitor as it were, where light bulbs would last forever, are able to be dimmed, and produce little to no heat above our coral reef tanks.  Until recently, the options on the market for LED reef tank lighting have come in two flavors, sleek lighting  fixtures that cost a fortune, or  bubblegum and duct tape DIY alternatives that require a little bit of effort to assemble. While the pretty all in one fixtures offer features like dimming, controller integration, streamlined ballasts, as well as an array of color and intensity choices, they are out of reach to the average reefer who already has significant investments in filtration, fish, coral, and some form of existing lighting.  Most reefers out there see the benefit in not having to replace costly bulbs every year, but for many the entry costs of LED lights have still proven too steep.

What is an LED

Simply put, an LED is a light emitting diode on a small circuit board.  This technology has been around since the early 60’s, but prior to only a few years ago, this technology was primarily used as indicators for things like your car radio or remote control.  Fast forward that simple technology to the mid 90’s when a Japanese scientist figured out how to create a high intensity LED in the lab. Since that time, we have seen the brightness and efficiency of LED’s follow right along with Moore’s Law, doubling about every 36 months.

What Options are Available for Reef Tanks?

A few years ago the online chatter began to grow around people starting to make their own LED light fixtures using parts that you could order from the internet.   All it took to have an LED reef light was to order all the components which included, drivers, heat syncs, fans, cords, wiring, thermal glue, and the LED’s themselves.  The problem was that back then you had to source all of these parts from different places and then the trick was to assemble them correctly.  The wiring had to be spot on and you needed to make sure none of the wires were touching anything but their particular spot or the whole chain of LED’s would display the flash of death as you plugged it in.  Even if all these efforts were successful, most reef hobbyists were still left with a less than eye-catching representation of a light fixture to hang in over their beautiful reef tank.

Fast forward to about a year ago and now there are many options where you can mix your LED colors, dim them, and even simulate a tropical thunderstorm over your tank.  Companies like RapidLED  and ReefLEDlights  have been leading the way in making this technology affordable and easy to assemble as they offer a place where reef hobbyists can at least purchase ALL the major components for a DIY fixture under one roof.  We have seen them even start to carry black anodized heat sinks as well as some solder-less configurations that allow someone without any specialized tools to configure a setup rather quickly.

Copyright ReefNation 2012

What do we use at ReefNation?

Here at ReefNation, we have worked with Rapid LED over the past year to develop 6-8 fixtures that we use over our various tanks.  Some of these have optics or lenses on them to be able to penetrate deeper water, while some have the lenses removed to cover more area in some of our shallow coral tanks.  We have found that all of the sustainable corals that we raise have had amazing coloration and growth under these lights. Recently, we have even added some UV and Red LED’s to our fixtures to see what change if any this has on the health of the corals we grow.   So far, the only one not happy with our LED setups is our electric company as we have seen about a 65% decrease on our electricity consumption from lighting.

Do you run LED lighting on your tank?  Would you like more information about how to build your own fixture?  email us at

Here are a few pics of our sustainable frag tanks.


Copyright Reefnation 2012


Copyright Reefnation 2012