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9 Different Types of Grow Lights: A Simple Guide

Last updated: May 30, 2020

Lighting LED Grow Light

Setups for growing cannabis indoors almost always use one of three different types of lighting technology This is because they all have been proven, over time, to be effective in producing high yields compared to the amount of energy put into them.

HIDs (High-Intensity Discharge), T5/CFL’s (Compact Fluorescents), and LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are, by a long-shot, the most used types of artificial lights for indoor cannabis growing. However, generalizing them is a misconception as each of these lighting systems have very distinct subcategories that need to be considered before using them in a growing operation.

HID Lamps

HIDs are the classic, time-tested choice for growing cannabis indoors. They have been used the longest of all the common artificial lights for indoor growing, since at least the 1960s, but the tech has evolved over time.

They operate by heating gases and metals to high temperatures with a powerful electric arc, provided by the ballast they screw into. These all require special fixtures inside of the ballast, as a regular light socket will not have the energy to power them.

These lights are excellent at cannabis growing but tend to get quite hot and create a substantial power bill when left on for the times needed for optimal yields. In a lot of set-ups, these lights are exchanged throughout the different growth stages of the plants.

1. HPS (High-Pressure Sodium)

These are the iconic orange-colored lanterns seen not only above high-yielding cannabis plants but also shining from street lights. Their efficiency to power ratio made them the go-to choice when high-powered lighting was needed in the past.

In cannabis growing set-ups, they are best used during the later vegetative and flowering stages of growth. The reddish light produced is most readily absorbed by less sensitive, maturing plants.

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2. MH (Metal Halide)

These are the blue counterparts to the HPS’ orange-red light. The light is much softer but still capable of producing plenty of heat.

Cannabis growers use these lights for the seedling and earlier vegetative stages of growth before the HPS takes over for flowering.

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  • Very hot
  • Expensive electrical bills
  • Requires ballast to operate

Fluorescent Lights

LED Light Weed

Image Credit By: wallpaperflare

Fluorescents are widely available and come in a lot of shapes and sizes. The lighting is also quite pleasant compared to the heavy eerie glows of HIDs.

3. CFL Bulbs

Spiraled, weird-looking things as they are, CFL bulbs are actually a pretty solid choice for very small-time grows that don’t have a lot of available space.

By far, these are the cheapest available option for common grow lights, but come with the downside of having very little light penetration.

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4. T5 Lights

These are some of the most common higher-powered lighting systems that are readily available in most gardening stores.

T5’s require a special ballast panel, instead of screwing into light sockets like CFL’s, but are quite a bit more capable at providing light to plants. The ballast requires space, however, and its penetration is not comparable to more powerful lighting systems.

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  • Readily available
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  • Low heat
  • Lacks in light penetration
  • T5’s require large ballasts
  • Not suitable for high-yields

LED Fixtures

The newest tech to be proven effective in growing cannabis, LEDs have actually been around since the mid-1960s in low power forms installed into electronics. Modern LEDs excel at light penetration with a lower power cost and less heat than HID lanterns.

Currently, there are quite a few different types and styles of LEDs on the market that can offer something for just about any type of growing operation; however, they all basically operate the same way.

5. LED Panels

We can start out talking about panels, since they encompass almost everything LEDs can bring to the table. These are high powered systems, usually with built-in cooling, and all the bells and whistles a grower could need.

This includes benefits such as programmable schedules, allowing for autonomous maintenance, and the ability to change the light spectrum depending on the stage of plant growth.

On the flip-side to these benefits, though, comes a heavy monetary price. These tend to be on the more expensive side of LEDs and really only matter on larger grows.

These are the best way to ensure enough of the proper light is getting to the cannabis.

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6. LED Bulbs

On the other end of the price spectrum from panels is the bulb. These can screw into standard light fixtures and actually do a fine job for smaller grow set-ups.

Different bulbs should be switched out for different light spectrums depending on the stage the plant is in, or growers can simply use a full-spectrum bulb that encompasses all the light a plant could need.

Heat is also generally not an issue with these, except possibly in very tight spaces where multiple lights are being used.

These are not very efficient when it comes to larger grows and generally lack the power for the highest potential yields. Issues can also arise when a new cannabis caretaker doesn’t purchase the correct light spectrum, causing the plant to struggle as a result.

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  • Cheap
  • Work well for small grows
  • Screw into standard light fixtures
  • Lacking in power
  • Does not handle multiple plants
  • Care must be taken with light spectrum choices

7. LED Bars

More powerful than the bulb, cheaper than the panel: welcome to the middle ground.

These are generally hanging fixtures that can be adjusted easily to whichever height is needed for optimal light penetration. Certain features, such as programmable scheduling, are also available on certain models of bars.

It lacks the power of the panel, is a bit more expensive than a single bulb, and requires a fair amount of space to work—both height and width—but bars are an excellent choice for growers who want high-yielding plants on a budget.

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  • Cheaper than panels
  • Decently powerful
  • Some offer scheduling
  • Adjustable heights
  • May not be enough light for the largest of grows
  • Needs space

8. Fluorescent to LED Replacement Tubes

The benefits of T5 fluorescents are the ballasts are easily available, and not too expensive compared to similar light systems with LEDs or HIDs.

These replacements are useful for those who have access to T5 panels, without the need to use fluorescent lights.

There are plenty of excellent LED bulbs available, of different powers and spectrums, that can be plugged directly into a T5 light panel.

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  • Can use a T5 panel with an LED light
  • Not too expensive
  • A lot of available lights
  • Not as good as a dedicated LED panel
  • Care needs to be taken when choosing light spectrums

9. DIY LED Kits

DIY LED’s have been available to hobbyists for a long time, but they’re recently getting a break in the indoor growing market.

They offer highly customizable, quality LED systems at a cheaper price than a fully assembled system. A savvy grower can get a great deal, that is tailored by them, for a very good price.

However, some assembly is most definitely required. These are highly technical and require some knowledge, research, and time to assemble their electronics.

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Featured Image Credit: GE Lighting, Amazon