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A Beginner's Guide to Hydroponic Lighting in Australia 2023

Beginner's Guide to Hydroponic Lighting

Overwhelmed with the task of finding the right lighting solution? We dive into the pros and cons of popular lighting setups, to help you make the right choice.

What Are Grow Lights For... and Are They Really That Important?

As we all know, plants need sunlight to grow and thrive. It’s as critical to them as food is to a human. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert light energy into chemical energy, which is stored as carbohydrates that can be later released to fuel the plant’s needs.

If a plant doesn’t receive a sufficient amount or the correct type of light (which can even vary depending on the species of plant), its growth and potential is severely diminished.

An outdoor plant is fuelled by the sun’s light for around 12 hours per day - even less in winter. With grow lights, we can provide our plants with up to 18 or even 24 hours of light per day, increasing the energy available to the plant.

Certain species of plants are photoperiodic; meaning their lifespan and behaviour is dictated by the amount of light they receive throughout a given day, mirroring the natural light cycles observed throughout natural, seasonal conditions. Grow lighting allows us to control the light schedule to bring those light dependent species indoors.

Choosing the right light is very important, as it is such a critical source of energy for the plant. An optimal light for your setup will make a night and day difference to the health, vigour and overall yield of your grows.

There’s so many options... where do I start?

Learning about the many different types of lights can be very overwhelming... especially for a new grower.

While their purpose is ultimately the same, the various classes of lights achieve this goal in different ways - each providing their own unique benefits and drawbacks.

To settle any confusion -  and help you choose the right setup - let's touch on the main types of hydroponic lighting, and explore some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each class of light.

Using CFLs/Fluorescent Grow Lights

CFL’s or Compact Fluorescent Lights are one  of the most common types in use, as they’re especially suited to smaller setups. They are some of the most affordable you can find. Commonly, these bulbs come with standard sockets; meaning you can use them with any standard light fixture.

CFL bulbs can come in a range of specifications - from ‘daylight’ bulbs at 6500k, to an enhanced red light spectrum at 2700k.

Daylight bulbs are more suitable for vegetative growth, while 'warmer' CFLs are more suited towards flowering. CFL bulbs start extremely cheap; making them perfect for the grower on a budget. The bulbs have an average lifespan of about a year.


  • Very low cost and easily accessible
  • Very easy to setup and use
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Wide range of spectrum and wattage options
  • Relatively low electricity use saves on energy and overheads.
  • Doesn’t run very hot
  • Great for cloning


  • Small amount of light output, better suited to fewer plants.
  • Suboptimal for flowering phase
  • Shorter lifespan compared with other lights 

CFL’s have long been a popular choice for new growers, which is evident considering how simple, cheap and easy they are to get going. You can get started with a Power-Plant CFL130 Watt!

Using HID (MH and HPS) Grow Lights

HID grow lights - or High-Intensity Discharge lights - have long been a popular choice for indoor growers. It's not hard to see why - with their track record for reliability and consistency, HID is known to be both conducive to great yields and easy to operate.

The two main types of HID lights are MH (metal halide) and HPS (high pressure sodium). MH lights tend to offer a cooler spectrum of blue light, whereas HPS are typically red-shifted.

The cooler Metal Halide bulbs are perfect for vegetative growth, whereas the warmer HPS bulbs are more suited for flowering. Consequently, most experienced growers will use a combination of MH and HPS bulbs throughout the process, to ensure their plants are receiving the right light from across the spectrum.

HID’s often come in kits, which include the lamp, ballast and reflector; the initial cost of these kits tends to be low, but that can be offset with higher running costs.

Advantages of HID 

  • Easy for beginners to setup and operate
  • Conducive to great yields
  • Consistent and reliable
  • Offers flexibility in adjusting light spectrums to ensure best results
  • Costs less than other lights such as high end LED

Disadvantages of HID

  • Very heat intensive, which can cause problems such as burnt plants or an overheated grow room
  • Requires some additional equipment, such as a ballast and reflector
  • Will degrade over time, requiring you to replace them
  • High electricity running costs - can impact your overheads.

HID’s can offer great flexibility and results at a good price, if you think HID lighting is the right choice for you, we’d recommend the Digi-Lumen 600 W SE Digital Kit (240 V), and once you need to replace the bulb, put in a Philips Son T agro HPS Lamp, which comes in both 400w and 600w options.

Using CMH Grow Lights

Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) or ceramic discharge metal halide (CDM) as the name implies, use a ceramic arc tube rather than the quartz of standard metal halide lights.

This results in a more natural colour, lumens per watt and greater longevity. CMH’s often come with built in ballasts that make setup a breeze.

CMH Lights are quite unique and do have their own benefits such as simplicity of setup, longer lifespan, and higher quality taste and flavour compared to HID's.

CMH lights can be more expensive up front, but you get what you pay for and investing in a quality option will save you headaches down the road. CMH bulbs also tend to last longer than HID’s, lasting about two years on average. 

CMH Advantages

  • Has a more natural light spectrum
  • CMH’s emit UV-B Rays that may improve yield and flavour
  • Very simple to setup and operate
  • Longer lifespan than HID lights

CMH Disadvantages 

  • UV-B can be harmful to humans and may require safety gear and practices
  • High setup cost
  • Runs very hot
  • Slightly less powerful compared to HID

CMH’s are a unique but powerful lighting option… they’re easy and effective, but can come at a higher initial cost and potentially cause heat related issues. Due to the natural light spectrum, they're helpful for spotting plant deficiencies.

If the simplicity and efficacy of a CMH appeals to you, check out this Sunstorm 315w complete light kit!

Using LED Grow Lights

LED's are some of the most power efficient, heat efficient and long-lasting grow lights you can get your hands on nowadays, and as such have pushed themselves to the very front as the industry standard. Most standard models are full-spectrum, meaning they are suited for every stage of growth from propagation all the way up to end-stage flowering.

As mentioned above, quality LED's are efficient, with some models putting out nearly 3x their power draw, meaning that in some cases a single LED can replace up to 3 - 4 equivalent bulbs.

LED's in most cases have a more even distribution of light and superior light penetration, which leads to a more consistent growth and higher levels of production.

Due to providing a full spectrum of light this efficiently as well, taste and quality are also significant without sacrificing yield.

LED's, especially those in the 'Array Style' configuration, have extremely low heat output, which makes growing in hotter months a lot easier, and makes it more convenient to really take control of your growing environment.

Good Quality LED’s can be some of the most expensive lights upfront, but they pay for themselves over time - both in terms of results and lower overheads. Most boards have a lifespan of 5-10 years.

LED's also are a lot easier to run through light controllers or smart controllers and can often be daisy-chained together to provide the ultimate uniform lighting solution for larger scale operations.

Low Power LEDs have also become very popular for Propagation, they last much longer than CFL Bulbs and come in dedicated grow-spectrum models to be more suited to younger vegetative plants.

LED Advantages 

  • Extremely energy efficient, saving you money over time
  • Very cool running temperatures for minimal impact on your environment
  • Excellent light coverage and penetration
  • Mitigates risk of burning plants or causing heat related problems
  • Very easy to setup, most kits come as a ‘plug and grow’
  • Suitable for All Stages of Growth
  • Superior Yields
  • Smart controller synergy

LED Disadvantages

  • Initial investment can be high
  • Cheap models can be ineffectual, making an investment in quality even more important
  • In colder months, heat may need to be supplemented with a heat bar or heater to maintain productivity in vegetative stages, although this is less of a disadvantage in warmer climates.

If you’re looking for a simple, effective and reliable option, then LED’s are your answer. Though they are more expensive upfront than other options, their value is even higher when considering their reduced energy drain, their cool running temperatures and their long 5-10 year lifespan.

LED's really are the ultimate lighting solution for indoor growing, and we think Lumatek's range of LED lighting are sure to blow your expectations out of the water.

So... Which Light Should I Invest In?

As mentioned earlier, each setup has their own unique advantages and disadvantages - lights suit everyone differently.

If you’re looking to start small and cheap for propgation, CFL’s are an easy, tried and true method that can help get your grow off the ground.

For a slightly larger setup, HID’s are a great alternative to LED’s - without all the initial costs. Be warned that HID's can run hot, and come at the cost of higher energy use. CMH Lights are a nice middle ground between HID's and LEDs, with lesser drawbacks than HID's and still producing very good quality and flavour without being as initially expensive as LED's.

If you really love your plants, and want to invest in high quality yields without all the drawbacks of HID’s, LED’s are a simple, reliable and consistent light that runs much cooler, won’t drain your power bill, and produce excellent results time and time again. This is a great option for people who plan to grow hydroponically, long term.

Whatever you do decide to go with, be sure to model your light based upon your existing setup and needs! The 'right light' will always be the one that fits your own individual circumstances. Happy growing!

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