LED Grow Lights: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

When it comes to indoor growing, there is no piece of equipment more important than your grow light. Its performance directly impacts every aspect of your grow. It’s just recently become well known that LED grow lights can save you money, increase your yield, and produce little heat. Yet, if you’ve done any research, you’ll know that the growing community is still divided on the effectiveness. If these systems are so effective, then why is there so much debate? The unfortunate reality is that there is a lot of misinformation out there. Poor quality products, sneaky marketing tactics, and a simple lack of understanding the technology is leading many people to be wasting their hard-earned dollars on a light that doesn’t cut it.

Fortunately, finding an LED grow light is easy and affordable. As long as you follow a few simple steps, you can have all the information you need to get your indoor garden up and running.

LED Grow Light Infographic

With the US marijuana industry predicted to grow beyond 4.7 billion dollars yearly, now is a great time to get started growing your own. We’ve thoroughly researched everything you need to know about LED grow lights and compiled it in this easy to understand guide. First, let’s take a look at the five best LED grow lights on the market. This will help you understand what products are available, and which models are suited for your individual needs. Each of these lights has been hand selected to meet the criteria above. After we’ve gone though the top 5, we’ll break down your choices so you can understand the process of selecting the right one.

Platinum LED Series

PlatinumLED Advanced Platinum Series Grow Lights Review

When we first started writing this guide, we knew that Platinum LED products would top our list. This company creates lights that are designed for the everyday grower, with commercial-level efficiency and power. Finding the perfect balance between cost and performance, they’ve created a product that will give you flawless performance for several years. There are a few key features you get with this light that you don’t often find at this price range.

Lights for Every Purpose
There are six different models in the PlatinumLED line, so you will always be able to find the one that suits your needs. For smaller crops, their 50 watt P150 is the perfect place to start. If you’re ready to scale up, the P1200 gives you incredible light output while using only 379 watts of power. Their thin, modular design means that you can start with one, then expand as necessary. No matter how your grow room is set up, there is sure to be a PlatinumLED model for you.

High Efficiency
As we are sure you’re well aware, electricity is one of the biggest cost involved with growing indoors. Shaving off even a small amount of your monthly bill can result in huge savings every year. As a whole, LED grow lights are known to be some of the most efficient on the market. But the PlatinumLED lights push this well-known fact to its absolute limit. Their largest model, the P1200, draws as little as 379 watts during vegetation, while keeping its total light output equivalent to the power draw of a 1400 watt HPS grow light. In essence, this light is about twice as efficient as an entry level LED grow light. And, each light is rated for up to 100,000 hours of operation. It might cost a little more upfront, but you’re guaranteed to recover this cost within a year, as a result of the reduced energy use and the lengthy lifespan.

Advanced Cooling
One of the main features of LED Grow lights is how much cooler they run when compared with older technologies. Not only will too much heat severely damage your plants, but it can cause the LEDs to burn out faster as well. PlatinumLED has an excellent cooling system in place that allows it to push cool air over the LEDs and bring it away from the fixture. Air is expelled through the top of the light, ensuring that what little heat produced can’t do any damage to your plants.

Complex Spectrum
It’s not just about the quantity of light we feed our plants, but the quality. Grow light manufacturers are constantly trying to optimize their system to produce only the exact spectrum of light used by plants for photosynthesis. PlatinumLED is one of the few companies that has managed to create their own unique system that emits a set of carefully selected colors of light. This has lead the company to earn a PAR rating that is much better than the majority of products on the market.

Even Spread
If you’ve ever used a flashlight, you already know why spread is an issue. Almost every light on the market has an uneven spread. It’s brightest in the middle, and slowly fades towards to outside of its range. PlatinumLED makes sure that their lights have the most even spread of any other light on the market. This means that you can pack more plants into a denser area, ensuring that they all get the large volumes of light that you need, even as they begin to grow larger. This feature makes the light perfect for the ScrOG technique as well.  For anyone who wants to get the most bang for your buck, this is an essential feature.

Why We Recommend the PlatinumLED Series
If you’re the type of grower who demands the best, you owe it to yourself to check out this grow light. Its high output means you’ll get better yields from every plant, quickly helping you recover the premium you paid for it. Keeping that it mind, it’s far from the most expensive on the market. We’ve found that this product line is the perfect balance between price and quality. The manufacturer is so confident in their results that they go live on camera and test their options against competitors in real time. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, Read our in-depth Review

ViparSpectra Grow Lights

viparspectra construction

The biggest reason people shy away from LED Grow lights is the cost. ViparSpectra decided to challenge the market by releasing a low-cost alternative to expensive options. If you’re on a tight budget, this is the perfect way to get started. But this light wouldn’t have made our list if it couldn’t keep up with the best of them. There are a few key features we like about this light.

Efficiency
Even if you live in an area where power is inexpensive, power is still a significant cost to your indoor growing operation. This light is much more efficient than HID lights, saving you plenty of money every month. Where LED grow lights are concerned, this one is pretty well balanced. It’s still almost twice as efficient as an HPS lighting system, which is exactly what we expect for LED lights.

Ease of Use
This light is very simple to use and set up. Its body is compact and lightweight, so you’ll have no problem setting it up. If you’re connecting two or three lights together, you’ll be happy to know that they provide a separate electrical outlet for daisy-chaining lights together. This means that you only have to run one cord out to your system. We don’t recommend it for large grows, as you’ll want to have separate circuits for each light. But for small growers with multiple plants, this feature is perfect.

Reliability
With the entire frame made from aluminum, this grow light is very well built. Aluminum is not only solid, but it also removes heat very effectively. In smaller rooms where space is a concern, you need to make sure that your lights are dissipating heat as far away from the plants as possible. In these conditions, the light is primed to last a very long time. It’s got a 100,000-hour rated life, more than enough to give you 22 years of straight growing on a 12 hour cycle, or 15 years on an 18 hour cycle. For unexpected failures, the manufacturer has stood by their light by offering a comprehensive 3-year warranty, one of the better once we’ve seen in the industry.

Full Spectrum Lighting
Current theories indicate that plants only need a very specific spectrum of light to grow. However, there is still some debate on the topic. Many growers and those ‘in the know’ believe that UV light is the secret key to unlocking the full potential of your plant. There have even been some strains that supposedly perform better in UV light. Since cannabis is native to areas where there are larger amounts of UV radiation, it’s entirely possible that this theory is true. If you’re looking to try this out for yourself, ViparSpectra is one of the top models to offer this feature with its built-in UV-emitting diodes.

Why We Recommend the ViparSpectra LED Grow Lights
If you’re looking to save money for a small-scale grow, this is the perfect choice for you. It’s easy to set up, and doesn’t require a lot of complicated configuration. The power savings from a slightly more efficient light are minimal when growing on a small scale, so this light will provide more than enough efficiency for you. Compared to HPS lights, you’ll still see plenty of savings, with higher quality light output. Want to know more? Read our in-depth review.

MarsHydro Reflector Series

Mars Hydro Reflector Review

Looking for a cheap LED grow light to break into this exciting new market? Where value is concerned, there is nothing more affordable than the MarsHydro Reflector Series. Sure, there are some cheaper models on the market. But this is the most affordable one we found that still managed to meet all of our requirements. There are a few key features that we love about this light, beginning with the design.

Modular Design
There are four models of the MarsHydro Reflector, each of which is designed for a specific size of grow. The entry level model, the Reflector 48, contains 48 5w LED lights in a compact square panel. As you move up the product line, you’ll notice that MarsHydro has effectively combined multiple Reflector 48’s into one unit. This means that when you attach them together, you’ll be able to get full coverage, even in an awkwardly sized grow room. Each panel is essentially designed to provide the same coverage required for a single plant. If you want to grow three, you could pick yourself up a Reflector 144. If you decide to add another later, you could just add another Reflector 48. This design lets you break into the market early, and expand as you need.

Size
The Reflector series are designed to be as small as possible, while still offering an impressive coverage. Each 48-LED unit is one square foot on the face, and just two inches thick. This single light will cover two square feet of space. Volume wise, this is a fraction of the amount of space that an HPS light would occupy.

Light output
The unique modular bright green MarsHydro lights aren’t just a pretty face, though. The light output of the MarsHydro light covers the entire photosynthetic spectrum effectively. The spectrum is mostly balanced between red and blue, slightly heavier on the red end, which is a good thing. The PAR directly below the Reflector 192 (at a height of 18 inches) is a whopping 1200umol. Your plants will thrive under a MarsHydro Reflector.  

Efficiency
The MarsHydro Reflector are also a very efficient line of LEDs. Although the Reflectors produce a large amount of photosynthetically active light, they do so with high efficiency. The smallest Reflector 48 rated at a maximum 224 watts actually consumes only 102 watts. The largest (960 watts) runs on only 415 watts. The fans mounted in the light fixtures also function to increase their efficiency, by reducing the amount of electricity converted to heat. Keeping the lights cool helps convert the electricity running through the LEDs straight into light, without wasted energy being produced as heat.

Why We Recommend the MarsHydro Reflector Series
If you’re working with limited funds, or just getting started with indoor growing, this is the perfect light for you. Where power draw is concerned, this light is roughly 10% more efficient than an equivalent HPS light. That being said, its’ so cheap that you won’t save any money by going with an HPS model. What you get is a compact unit that is easy to use and produces less heat. In our books, that’s a win. See our in-depth review of the MarsHydro Reflector series.

GalaxyHydro Waterproof Strip Light

GalaxyHydro LED Strip Color

For some, having to purchase grow lights in a pre-configured fashion is frustrating. There is so much creativity involved with setting up a room that restricting yourself to a specific standard layout can be highly ineffective. The solution for this is a grow light that is capable of being installed in various arrangements. The GalaxyHydro Waterproof LED Grow light is the best option in this market, and there are several key things that set it apart from the competition.

Design
Look at any LED grow light on the market, and you’ll see that they’re following a pretty common design trend. You’ve got a square array of lights arranged inside a square or rectangular frame, usually designed to cover a certain area. When space is an issue, you might need to customize your layout a bit. The GalaxyHydro Waterproof model gives you a single long strip of LEDs with a surprising amount of power.

Layout
There are two possible layouts for these lights. The most common use is to purchase them in sets and hang them like standard LED grow lights, and cover a decently-sized footprint. When configured this way, just one foot apart, their light output is equivalent to most of the boxed lights on the market. But if you are able to plant a denser garden, you’ll be able to pack them together more tightly to increase the light output per square foot. Or, you can spread them out more to make it easy to work around you plants. You can even mount them vertically on the walls to shine horizontally towards your plants. The flexible design lets you set up your grow room however you want, so you’re not restricted by your equipment.

These lights can also be used as supplementary additions to existing systems. Have you got that one odd area that you just can’t quite cover? The GalaxyHydro strip light is the perfect solution.

WaterProof
Because it’s designed to be used in almost any environment, they improved the casing so that it is completely sealed from moisture. You won’t have to worry about accidentally misting your expensive light when it’s watering time, which isn’t something we can say about any other grow light on the market.

Why We Recommend the Waterproof Strip LED Grow Light
Whether you’re looking to completely customize your own grow room, or just add a little power to an existing system, this is a very unique product with a number of potential uses. We can’t recommend this model if you’re not prepared for a little set up. But if you understand the ins and outs of growing, it’s by far your best choice. Want to learn more? Check our our in-depth review of the GalaxyHydro Waterproof LED Grow Light.

KING LED Series

KING led grow light review

While there are plenty of high quality LED grow lights on the market, there are very few high quality and affordable LED grow lights. KING LED has tackled this problem in one swift motion with the release of their King Plus line. With 6 different models to choose from, this is the perfect entry point for any beginner grower. Here is what we like about them:

Affordable
Have we mentioned that already? If you don’t need the modular design of the MarsHydro models, KING can save you some dollars without sacrificing on light output and power. Whether you’re growing one plant or ten, KING has a suitable option at a rock bottom price.

Long Lasting
At 50,000 hours, these lights around to last you much longer than any HID light on the market. You can expect to get up to 10 years of life out of them, which is more than you can say for many of the other electrical devices kicking around your home.

Adaptable
In packages ranging from 600 to 1600 watts, you’ve got a pretty solid lineup to choose from. No matter how much or how little you’re looking to grow, there is sure to be a suitable model for you. These grow lights have two types of focusing lenses, operating at either 60 or 120 degrees. This evens out the light and gives you the perfect balance between focus and spread over your plants.

Why We Recommend the KING LED Grow Lights
If you’re on a budget and want an affordable way to get started, then the KING LED lights are your best option. They don’t have a lot of frills, but they are perfectly suitable for a simple grow. You can still produce some high yield, beautiful plants from any of their models with a decent spectrum and at a great price. If you want to keep your initial costs down, these are the ones you’ll want. Make sure you check out our in-depth review of the KING LED grow lights.

Everything You Need to Know About LED Grow Lights

 

Five Things Your Need to Know

PAR Rating: Measures how much useable light is being produced
Efficiency: We want these lights to waste as little electricity as possible
Rated Hours: The light should last a long time
Cooling: Heat must be dissipated effectively
Spread: What area will the light cover?

Why are these things so important? Let’s take a look at the core challenges faced in growing indoors, so we can show you why LED Grow lights are the best choice on the market.

Why We Grow Indoors

Since cannabis has become legalized in many states, many people have been looking to get involved in the cannabis industry – even if it is for their own personal enjoyment. The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to start an indoor, or an outdoor garden. Many beginners often feel that an outdoor garden is the best place to start. There is very little equipment required, so the startup costs are low. But if you ask any expert, they’ll tell you that an indoor grow is the way to go.

The primary reason you’d want to grow indoors is that you have much more control over the environmental factors. The amount of sunlight, water, and nutrients you give you plants has a significant impact on how well they grow. If you’re relying on natural sunlight, you have very little control over how well your grow performs. You can spend countless hours working on your grow, only to have the whole thing ruined by one bad season.

It’s also important to consider the nature of cannabis itself. This plant isn’t native to north America. In most parts of the world, our environment just isn’t suited for ideal growth. With the advanced strains and genetic lines we have access to, anything less than ideal simply isn’t cutting it. A quality plant requires that you select the right seeds, optimize the humidity and heat, and carefully control the lighting cycles to induce flowering at the right moment. All of these conditions are difficult to control in an outdoor environment. If you want high yield and high quality, then a climate control grow is the only way to go.

Environmental Factors in a Grow Room

With any grow, the end goal is a large yield and a high-quality product. There are several factors that influence your plants development. Each of these factors can be controlled manually, or with a specific piece of equipment.

Light
Light is the catalyst that allows your plants to produce energy, allowing them to grow. Plants can absorb light much more effectively than our eyes can, so a simple household lighting system that appears bright enough to us simply won’t cut it. Every indoor grow room will require at least one specialized grow light, with many growers opting for the use of several. With LED grow lights, there are lots of options that help you control how much light your plants are getting. You can control the spectrum, light cycle, position, and dispersion of the light. All of these options are heavily dependent on which type of grow light you choose.

Temperature
Cannabis is a tropical plant. It’s used to growing in a fairly warm environment. To get the best quality buds, you need to keep your grow room temperature above 64 degrees and below 77. Keep in mind, this is just a general guideline. Many strains require specific temperatures for some of their signature qualities to develop. The unique smell of Sour Diesel? At 67 degrees, you wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from Kush. What can affect the heat in your room? Lighting is the biggest source of heat in your entire system. HPS lighting, for example, gives off huge amounts of heat. Growing with HPS lights will always require high volume cooling systems. Using LED lighting allows you to almost completely avoid the cooling expense altogether.

Humidity
From seed to flower, every stage of growth requires that your plants take in a large volume of water. The combination of moist soil and warm temperatures can make for a very humid environment. For most grows, special humidity control is not required. However, it’s important that you select equipment that is capable of withstanding a humid environment. When there is electricity involved in a humid environment, you should always take caution to ensure that your equipment is properly rated for a grow room.

The Benefits of Using LED Grow Lights

If you’ve been shopping around, you probably know that LEDs aren’t your only option. There are many types of grow lights. HPS lights have been used for years, and are often quite effective. But LEDs are the newest technology on the market, and they have several key benefits over HPS lights.

HPS lights vs LED lights

HPS SystemWinnerLED System
Average price per 500W: $200HPS is 60% Cheaper to BuyAverage Price per 500W: $500
Average Yield: 0.5 grams per wattLED lighting increases production by 250% per wattAverage Yield: 1.25 grams per watt
Space Taken up by 4 light system: 14 Cubic FeetLED lighting is 77% smaller. You’ll be able to fit more lights in the same area.Space Taken up by 4 light system: 3.31 cubic feet
Spread: Up to 5 feet / lightHPS lighting covers 160% more area than LEDSSpread: About 3 feet / panel
Generates 3.4 BTUs of heat per hour, per wattPer watt, LEDs and HPS lights produce the same amount of heat.Generates 3.4 BTUs of heat per hour, per watt
44% of the light produced is photosynthetically activeLED Lighting produces the correct spectrum of lighting for growth95% of the light produced is photosynthetically active
Needs to be replaced after 10,000 to 15,000 hours of useLED grow lights last up to 10x longer than HPS lightsNeeds to be replaced after 50,000 to 100,000 hours of use
Has been used for 25 yearsHPS is a very reliable system. LED technology is still quite new, with some companies offering poor quality products. LEDs panels must be researched.Came to market within the last 5 years
If your grow produced 30KG per year for 5 years, your HPS cost would be:

$4,587 initial purchase
$78,440 in electricity
$1020 in replacement bulbs

For a total of $84,047
Over the course of 5 years, using LED lighting will reduce your total purchase price, maintenance cost, and electrical expense by 60%If your grow produced 30KG per year for 5 years, your LED cost would be:

$5478 initial purchase
$31,536 in electricity


For a total of $32,850

Although there are some minor benefits to an HPS lighting system, LED is better in almost every respect. For most growers, LED is the obvious choice because of their compact design, low heat output, higher power efficiency, and superior lifespan.

How Many Watts Do You Need?

watts

When selecting the specific light, you need, this is often the first question that people ask. As we’ll explain soon, there is a lot more to effective growth than just the amount of power you’ll need. However, it is still possible to get a rough estimate of the amount of light you’ll need. This shouldn’t be the only factor, but can help you narrow down your choices.

Typically, one cannabis plant occupies two square feet of space. The general rule of thumb is that you require 50 watts per plant. For a grow of four plants, you’d need at least 200w of LED power in order to grow them effectively. Of course, there are a few things to consider.

Think about the layout of your grow space. Are you actually going to fit a plant into two square feet? Some require more, while others can pack them together more effectively. Once you have a rough idea, you can adjust the calculation. Doubling the square footage will double the power requirement, and vice versa. At 4 feet per plant, you’ll need 100 watts of LED power for each one. At 1 foot, you’ll only need 25.

When you look at the LED rating of a grow lamp, this is a measure of the total power rating that the LEDs combined can produce. So, for example, an LED grow light with 100x 3w LEDs has a maximum wattage rating of 300 watts. An LED light with 200x 5w LEDs has a maximum wattage of 1000 watts. However, the most important thing to remember is that these Watts don’t necessarily correspond to how much energy your light is actually consuming, and therefore converting from electricity into light. This value, is called the true wattage or actual wattage of the grow light. When considering an LED grow light, the true wattage has two important consequences for you to understand. The first, is basically the reason LEDs are so efficient. Just because a 3w LED can operate at 3w, doesn’t mean it should, because this will cause the light to burn out quicker, and running brighter will produce more heat. Running below the maximum wattage allows for higher efficiency. Second, although the LEDs run at a lower wattage, we know they do so at a higher efficiency while still producing a significant amount of light. This is why an LED running at lower wattage can replace a higher wattage HID light.

Does the spectrum really matter?

PPFD

Plants need light, and LEDs make light. Easy, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Some types of light are much more efficient at promoting photosynthesis than others. If we were blasting light at a plant that it isn’t capable of using, we’re not really doing anything more than just wasting electricity. For this reason, the light spectrum is extremely important when selecting a good LED grow light.

We use the value of PAR, or Photosynthetically Active Radiation, as a way to measure how much useful output our grow lights are capable of. If you’re going to compare one light to another, PAR is the best possible metric you can use. Not every manufacturer makes their PAR data available, but we always do our best to provide it when possible.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a high-end light, you’ll want to read our blog post on how PAR is measured, and all of the metrics that are associated with it. It’s also helpful to understand how plants use different types of light to put it all into context.

The Importance of Coverage

Grow Light Coverage

The one problem with PAR values is that they can often be a bit misleading. Light coverage isn’t always even. You’ll often find that the light is very bright towards the center, and slowly fades as it goes toward the end. If you look at the most expensive grow lights, you could even notice their par ratings may seem a little lower than others. This is because PAR is measured at the center of the light. When an LED grow light isn’t spreading this light out evenly, its measurement will be much higher in the center, and lower towards the edges. If you have a grow light with even coverage, like the most expensive lights, its PAR measurement will be even throughout, even if it is a bit smaller. Even coverage is always better, as it allows for a denser growing environment.

Another important aspect of light coverage is the spread of light. Grow lights typically come with focusing lenses pre-installed. These lenses spread out the light over a given area. It doesn’t matter whether you are covering a large area or a small one, the total light output doesn’t change. If you’re only growing a single plant, you’re better off to focus this light all in one area with a 60-degree lens. Alternately, a 120-degree lens could be used with a very powerful light to cover more plants. 90-degree lenses offer a perfect in-between value for good middle ground coverage.  If you need more information, we’ve covered everything you need to know about lens angles on our blog.

How do I choose?

Obviously we have just covered a ton of important factors that you need to consider when buying an LED grow light. The first thing we suggest you do is to make a list with the most important values you have in a grow light. Here’s a few ideas to get you started: initial price, size, material, efficiency, UV, PAR, spectrum, lifespan, warranty, etc.

Of course there are more, but make sure you identify the factors most important for your personal tastes, growing style and growing environment.  Then, take that list and read through our compiled list of reviews of the best LED grow lights available. Try and pick an LED grow light that best matches the features that you have decided are most important, based on the list you made earlier. Hopefully that should help you pick the light best for you and your situation. Stay posted on the GrowGear blog and social media pages for other growing equipment and helpful tips, and be sure to share your growing experiences with us after your successes!

Comment 1

  1. GrowGear November 10, 2016