This is the easiest to understand, and most comprehensive buyer's guide to LED grow lights that you'll ever read.
Today you're going to learn which 5 LED grow lights deserve a spot in any growing setup, and which one of the 5 best LED grow lights deserves a place in your growing-setup.
The best part?
By the end of this post, you will be a LED grow light expert. You're going to get:
- 2 easy-to-use rules you can use to decide how strong of a light to get for your setup;
- A step-by-step process to rate any LED light, and;
- Amazing tips to optimize the performance of your light and maximize your yield.
Let's get started with the 5 lights on our list:
- MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar – (Amazon / LEDGrowLightsDepot)
- VIPARSPECTRA Reflector – (Amazon / LEDGrowLightsDepot)
- Advanced LED XTE – (Amazon / LEDGrowLightsDepot)
- Amare SolarECLIPSE – (LEDGrowLightsDepot)
- Advanced Platinum LED – (Amazon)
1. MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar (Best Value for Money)
MarsHydro stepped up their game with this light:
The MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar is the newest LED grow light model in their arsenal.
When comparing the PPFD charts of all their models (which is a measurement to rate a light's intensity and you can read about here), you'll see that the Mars Pro II has slightly better values all over the coverage area than earlier iterations.
But what you'll like the most about this light:
This light is super-affordable.
It's the BEST value for money light you can get ($/Watts and $/PPFD).
It's a budget-light, which comes close to the quality of high-end light.
You can EASILY get 2 MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar lights, for the price of 1 high-end LED light like one from Advanced LED (talking about same true-wattage lights here).
Of course, these lights come with a separate switch for the vegetative and flowering stage, so you won't be wasting any electricity in the vegetative stage especially (you'll need less light intensity and less different wavelengths in the vegetative stage).
And you can be sure any MarsHydro light covers the full light spectrum that’s needed to grow plants (PAR), including the:
green spectrum and the far-red spectrum, which is responsible for the Emerson effect.
What's the main downside of this LED light?
Although the full spectrum of wavelengths which fall into the PAR-range are covered, mostly the red and blue ranges are covered. What this means is that the light output in the green spectrum and the spectrum between red, blue and green isn't impressive.
It's not entirely clear yet whether these spectra have a lot of influence on the growth and yield of a plant, but if you want to replicate the sun to the best of your ability, you should look further down the list for the Amare SolarECLIPSE.
The warranty isn’t the best either (2 years), and the defect-rate is a bit higher than true high-end lights.
But these downsides don't stop the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar from taking the number 1 spot in our list.
And the main reason for this is the following:
MarsHydro probably has the biggest fan base of any LED grow light manufacturer: growers use these lights on a massive scale, they're tested over and over again. You exactly know what it is you're getting:
A high-quality light, for a very modest price.
Which model(s) to pick for your grow area:
‘Minimum PPFD of 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) for full coverage area' method (from 18 inches):
- Model: 80 / 400W (170 true watts) = 23cm X 23cm or 0.75′ X 0.75′ (0.56 square feet)
- Model: 120 / 600W (260 true watts)= 30cm X 30cm or 1′ X 1′ (1 square feet)
- Model: 160 / 800W (390 true watts) = 45cm X 45cm or 1.5′ X 1.5′ (2.25 square feet)
- Model: 320 / 1600W (750 true watts) = 69cm X 69cm or 2.25′ X 2.25′ (5 square feet)
With this method you'll get an amazing yield. But keep in mind with this method, the coverage area will be WAY below the advertised coverage area and it will cost you quite a bit more.
‘Minimum of 50 watts per square foot' method:
- Model: 80 / 400W (170 true watts) = 53cm X 53cm or 1.75′ X 1.75′ (3 square feet)
- Model: 120 / 600W (260 true watts)= 67cm X 67cm or 2.2′ X 2.2′ (5 square feet)
- Model: 160 / 800W (390 true watts) = 82cm X 82cm or 2,7′ X 2,7′ (7.5 square feet)
- Model: 320 / 1600W (750 true watts) = 115cm X 115cm or 3.8′ X 3.8′ (15 square feet)
With this method you'll get a good yield. Again, the coverage area per light here is lower than listed by the manufacturer. If you keep the manufacturer's coverage area in mind, you will get decent yield…but I hope you're shooting higher than ‘decent'.
Important note: Always choose multiple lower wattage lights when you can, for example when using the 50 watts per sq. ft. rule:
- 2×2 ft. area: 2x 80 / 400W
- 3×3 ft. area: 2x 120 / 600W
- 4×4 ft. area: 1x 80 / 400W and 2x 160 / 800W
- 5×5 ft. area: 1x 320 / 1600W and 2x 160 / 800W
Next up we have another budget-light, the:
2. VIPARSPECTRA Reflector Series (Cheapest)
The VIPARSPECTRA Reflector is similar to the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar light…
In that, it’s a Chinese budget light which provides excellent value for its price.
The quantity and quality of your yield with these lights will be slightly worse than with the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar (given the same watts per square foot) …
This comes as no surprise as the light intensity (PPFD) of this light is the lowest on the list (still very decent though).
The build quality of this light is also slightly worse.
But it's also quite a bit cheaper!
This is the cheapest light on the list.
Go cheaper than this, and you'll probably waste money on a useless light.
The VIPARSPECTRA Reflector is the cheapest you should go with a LED grow light.
Even though the full PAR spectrum, including the green spectrum, plus the far-red spectrum is covered (for the Emerson effect)…
When you look at the ratios, you'll see the blue spectrum has the highest proportion of the light's output.
What this means is that especially in the flowering stage (in which the green to red spectrum is most important), you'll find this light can disappoint compared to the other lights in the list.
So don't be expecting miracles from this light.
But because its price is so low, you can easily get a few of these lights, for a very modest sum of money.
If you're looking for a budget-light:
I still do recommend the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar as the number 1 budget-light.
It's higher quality in all aspects, and MarsHydro has been around longer and built a more solid reputation as a manufacturer of budget LED lights…
But if you're looking for the cheapest of the cheapest, which will still get you good results…
This is the light you should go for.
For the majority of growers reading this, this is as far as they should go. Choosing one of the first two options in the list will keep the bill down and get the job done.
For those who are ready to take it a step up and don't want to settle for a ‘decent' light, let’s continue…
3. Advanced LED XTE (Most Proven & Most Reliable)
When we’re talking about ‘premium quality’ LED lights…
The Advanced LED XTE can't be missing from the list.
This light operates with LED chips of the best LED-chip brands:
- CREE, and;
The chips from these brands last 2 to 3 times longer than the standard Epistar and EPILED chips…which are used in 90% of other (budget) LED lights like the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar or VIPARSPECTRA Reflector.
But what's even more critical:
The PPFD output of CREE and OSRAM chips is miles above Epistar and EPILED chips. You get almost double the intensity, for the same wattage chips.
A premium LED light wouldn't be premium if only the chips were top quality…the light as a whole needs to be high quality.
As it turns out:
The build quality of the Advanced LED light is so good…this light will last you 5+ years with EASE.
This light is built to last:
- You get a superb thermal design and run cooler than most other LED lights. A cold light is a happy light and will last longer;
- One problem which leads to overheating and other kinds of failures in ANY electronic device is the build-up of dust…not with the Advanced LED lights. They have handy dust covers on their fans to prevent this detrimental process.
Add to that a reputation you can't argue with:
Advanced LED has been around for at least 7 years…building a loyal fan-base of happy customers throughout these 7 years.
To survive AND build a loyal fan-base is remarkable in the LED industry. Unfortunately, this industry is plagued by low-quality products and companies with horrible customer service.
If you're looking for a proven light which per watt, is one of the most powerful lights, something that's going to give you amazing yields, year in year out, without ever breaking a sweat…
The Advanced LED XTE is the light you should go for.
Next up is the KING of LED lights, the…
4. Amare SolarECLIPSE (Best Overall)
If you're looking to replicate the sun…
The Amare SolarECLIPSE is the closest you will get.
This is a full-spectrum light in the most real sense of the word:
While 90% of LED grow lights are so-called ‘blurple' lights, mainly providing PAR-output in the blue and red spectra…the Amare SolarECLIPSE is providing a very high PAR-output in the FULL spectrum, including the green spectrum!
It has a very balanced ratio of wavelengths, including the far-red spectrum which is needed for the Emerson effect.
It gets even better:
UV-light has been proven to increase THC-percentages in cannabis, and this is one of the few lights that have an UVB-bulb.
This light is a real powerhouse and literally replicates the sun.
Don't take my word for it. If you check the PPFD readings, you'll see this light's PPFD values are off the charts. Not only regarding pure output…but also the coverage area:
The coverage area of this light is higher than other same wattage lights in this list when using the ‘minimum of PPFD of 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) for the full coverage area' rule.
When looking at the actual power draw of this light, you'll see this light has probably the highest PPFD output per watt (PPFD/WATTS).
Here's how they achieved this:
The LED chips used in this light are based on COB technology (chip on board). COB LEDs are more powerful and efficient, last longer than regular LED diodes, have a more balanced spectrum of wavelengths, and are much easier on the eyes than specific color LED chips.
The main downside of COB is that they're a single-point light source, but Amare counteracted this by providing supplemental CREE chips.
Here's the exact composition of this light:
- 6x CXB-3070's, and;
- 60x CREE XP-G3 & XP-E2 Monos.
The light seems very well built overall.
But since Amare is a relatively new player you' would be taking a small risk here…
Were it not for the 5-year warranty that comes with this light!
5-years of warranty is superb in the LED industry…shows you how much they trust their lights.
What's the bottom line?
If you're looking for the absolute best in pre-made LED lights that money can buy…
If you're looking for a yield that will completely blow your mind…
The Amare SolarECLIPSE is the light you should get.
- Click to see the most recent price – (LEDGrowLightsDepot)
Last on our list is the…
5. Advanced Platinum LED (Honorable Mention)
The Advanced Platinum LED light is a relatively old light which has built a proven track-record and many fans through the years.
This light provides a better light intensity (PPFD) per watt than the MarsHydro MARS II, MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar or VIPARSPECTRA Reflector series…
We compared many grow journals, and see that with a similar setup, Platinum LED lights provide a slightly better yield (quantity and quality).
From this, we can also cautiously conclude that the PPFD values of this light are better than most lights.
It could also mean that these lights provide a better ratio of light spectrum for plant growth (PAR, and then mainly blue and red wavelengths)…
…or both. In any case, the light is of a slightly better quality, which will result in a more potent yield than the budget lights in this list (the number of watts kept the same).
The LED chips used in this light are 3W Epistar and Bridglux chips. When purely looking at it from a chip-quality-perspective, these lights aren't any better than the budget-lights in this list.
But when we look at the PPFD-readings at the center, you can see they're slightly higher.
But here's the kicker:
You now know that a single center PPFD reading is useless! But the grow journals don't lie; this light does seem to put out a slightly stronger light.
These lights also run slightly cooler than budget lights like the MarsHydro Mars Pro II Epistar or VIPARSPECTRA Reflector series…which is great for longevity.
And last but not least:
You get a 5-year warranty, which is superb in this industry.
The only downside:
They're priced as high as the premium lights in this list while being only ‘slightly better' than the budget-lights.
The bottom line is:
Build quality-wise and light intensity-wise, the Advanced Platinum Series is a step up compared to the budget-lights in this list.
But, they're also just as expensive as the premium lights in this list, while their quality is slightly worse.
So I do feel this light is slightly overpriced.
The popularity and impressive record throughout the years still give this light the last spot in our list
- Click to see the most recent price – (Amazon)
LED Light Accessories
Most lights come with a hanging kit.
But if not, you will need a way to hang your lights.
And the best way to do that is with some quality:
- Rope Ratchets – (Amazon)
These rope ratchets are sturdy as hell.
But again, most lights come with a hanging kit!
If you want to make things easy on yourself, you should also get a timer to control your light cycles:
- Honeywell Timer – (Amazon)
Otherwise, you'll have to manually turn on/off your lights, which is a hassle, trust me.
How to Rate LED Grow Lights
Light is the MAIN INGREDIENT for growing high yield plants.
But how can you rate the quality of light?
Well, it’s precisely the:
- Range and ratio of different wavelengths/colors of light, and
- Your light’s intensity…
which are the most important when rating a LED light.
And the only REAL way to measure the range of wavelengths and your light’s true intensity is not by watts per square foot or lumens as most people think…
- PAR, and;
Let me explain what these abbreviations mean.
What’s PAR and Why It’s Important
PAR stands for ‘Photosynthetically Active Radiation.’
And although some LED light manufacturers (wrongly) use the term PAR when talking about a light's intensity…
PAR is not a way to measure the intensity of your light…
But it’s the range for all the different wavelengths/colors of light that plants use for photosynthesis.
For your plants to grow optimally, your LED light should have all the different wavelengths/colors of light that makeup PAR…
But especially important are:
- The blue wavelengths (for vegetative growth), and;
- The orange/red wavelengths (for the flowering process).
Luckily, most LED manufacturers are aware of PAR and design their lights in such a way that most of the wavelengths/colors of light that fall within the PAR-range are present.
And the lights in THIS list have specific vegetation/flowering settings with optimized spectra for that particular stage in the growth cycle. Plus, you can quickly activate them with a simple switch.
This is also the main reason why LED lights are more efficient than HID lights (HPS and MH).
HID lights emit ALL the different wavelengths/colors. This includes wavelength/colors that fall outside of the PAR range!
What this means is that HID lights waste quite a lot of electricity, because they're using power for colors/wavelengths that fall outside of the PAR range and thus are useless for your plants!
If you get the right LED light, your light will only have the wavelengths/colors of light that fall into the range of PAR and wavelengths that fall into the deep and far-red spectrum (which are essential for the Emerson effect).
What this means is that your plants are using the full spectrum of wavelengths/colors coming out of your light, and no electricity goes to waste.
But as you now understand:
PAR doesn’t say anything about the light’s intensity (in all these different wavelengths)…which is KEY in rating a grow-light and getting strong plants with monster yields as well.
What’s PPFD and Why It’s Important
PPFD stands for ‘Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density.’
PPFD IS a measurement of light intensity, and it says how many light photons that fall within the PAR-range (expressed in micromoles) hit a given square meter per second: μmol m(-2)s(-1).
A photon is the most basic and smallest unit of light.
Essentially, what PPFD does, is measure the intensity of your light.
This means to rate the quality of a LED light, PPFD is one of the most critical metrics.
Of course, there are also metrics like:
- Build quality;
- How much heat the light generates;
- Reputation and reliability, and;
- Customer service;
That are important when considering your LED light…
But PPFD is what mostly matters to your babies (plants)…and then mostly the PPFD values in the blue (in the vegetative stage) and orange/red wavelengths (in the flowering stage).
Below is shown how much PPFD is needed MINIMUM for your Cannabis plants to grow and give you at least some yield:
- 255 μmol m(-2)s(-1) – 347 μmol m(-2)s(-1) PPFD on a 24 hours light schedule.
- 383 μmol m(-2)s(-1) – 520 μmol m(-2)s(-1) PPFD on a 18 hours light schedule.
- 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) – 694 μmol m(-2)s(-1) PPFD on a 12 hours light schedule.
I can't emphasize this enough:
The guideline above is the minimum for a decent yield, especially in the flowering stage.
Your plants will grow and yield at a much better rate in the flowering stage if you get close to the optimum PPFD value between:
- 700 – 1500 μmol m(-2)s(-1)
The range above is the range where your plants will thrive in the flowering-stage on anything except a 24-hour light schedule, but a 24-hour light schedule isn't the best practice anyway.
But keep in mind this is the average PPFD value.
For optimal results, you never want your PPFD to drop below 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) and never to go above 1500 μmol m(-2)s(-1) at any given point of the coverage area.
The exact optimum PPFD value is a controversial subject, and is among other things, highly dependent on:
- Whether you're supplementing with CO2;
- The growth stage in which your plants are: in the flowering stage your plants will need more intense light;
- Your specific strain: Sativa-dominant strains thrive under more intense light than Indica-dominant strains, and;
- Your light cycle: the longer your period of light, the lower the optimal PPFD value is and vice versa.
Can a light be too intense?
The threshold of this is above 1500 μmol m(-2)s(-1). The exact value is also dependent on several factors like CO2-levels, your strain, and temperature. But you won’t get there very quickly with the lights in this list…
…as long as you respect the minimum distance as advertised by the manufacturer (more about that later)!
There’s a HUGE ‘but’ with PPFD though…
Even if we know the PPFD of a particular LED light, we usually don’t see how it was measured…
If you measure the PPFD in the area RIGHT below the light (in the center), you will get different values than further to the sides and corners. The further you get from the center, the quicker the PPFD values drop.
You will also get different PPFD values if you measure from different heights…the closer you measure to the light, the higher your PPFD will be.
So when reading PPFD values, it needs to be 100% clear what:
- The distance was between the LED light and the canopy (or simply the floor);
- What the PPFD values were in the different parts of the coverage area, not only the center, and from different heights, and;
- The PPFD values are for the different wavelengths within the PAR-range (this one is tricky, and is almost never provided…but in an ideal world we would have this info as well).
If you have the PPFD values, including all this information, you have a reliable measurement, and you can be quite sure how one light compares to another regarding light intensity.
But the sad truth is:
Most LED manufacturers don't provide all this info.
Either they provide no PPFD values at all or a general PPFD value, with no background information.
A single PPFD value without any background information is useless information…as it doesn’t tell us exactly about the light’s spread, its penetration or even its intensity.
Note: Some LED manufacturers do provide PAR value charts (PPFD charts) of the light's coverage area. It's always worth it to ask for such a chart. Here's how such a chart looks like:
If you want an amazing yield, the PPFD should never drop below 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) in the flowering stage. And as you can see, although the light gets advertised with a 4×4 ft. coverage area, should you grow according to the 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) rule, it would only cover between 2×2 ft. and 3×3 ft. So always take the coverage area of the manufacturer with a grain of salt.
If PPFD isn’t 100% reliable either…what’s left?
We don’t wholly toss away PPFD in the garbage can…
Although it’s not the most reliable metric, it does say something…depending on the transparency of the LED company.
But if we want to get a complete picture in a world where LED manufacturers don't provide reliable PPFD measurements…
We’re also simply going to have to look at the results of different lights in different growing setups…which means reading and comparing lots of grow journals.
And EVEN this rating process has many caveats…
You can’t just compare one setup to another…there are countless variables that impact the yield of a growth besides lighting.
Nonetheless, when we compare similar grow setups where only the LED light used is different…
We can very cautiously conclude which LED lights provide a higher yield than others.
So when rating the quality of the light or light's intensity, this is what we look at:
- PAR: which wavelengths have the highest output by the light. You want blue and red wavelengths mostly, but not only! You want the full PAR spectrum, including the greens. Plus the far-red spectrum (which falls outside of PAR).
- PPFD: are there any values provided for different wavelengths in the PAR-range and do we know how it's measured and calculated.
- Grow journals: compare the yield of in the same setups, where only the light differs (has many caveats as well!).
The bottom line when rating LED lights is:
Scientifically and 100% objectively rating LED lights is quite tricky at this time.
If manufacturers brought out independently tested PPFD measurements with all the before mentioned background information, it would be easy.
Nonetheless, using PAR, PPFD and grow journals, we can get an excellent idea of the quality of light coming out of a particular LED light.
Now you know how at least the quality of light coming out of a LED light should be rated…
It’s time you understand how many watts to get for your specific space/setup…
And although watts per square foot doesn't say much about the light's intensity…
It currently is one of the most reliable ways to decide how big and powerful of a light you need to get for the size of your specific grow setup.
Unless of course, you've got reliable PPFD / PAR value charts, but you probably won't!
How to Choose a LED Light for Your Specific Setup Using Watts
As a general guideline, you should try to get a MINIMUM of 50 watts per square foot with a LED light. This guideline is by no means perfect, but will help you get started.
50 watts per square foot means that:
- A 400W light will cover a 2.5 X 2.5 ft space.
- A 900W light will cover a 4 X 4ft space.
- A 1600W light will cover a 5 X 5ft space.
But here's the kicker:
I'm talking about the real wattage value! The actual power draw, the actual watts that your light pulls out of the wall.
Let me explain.
Many LED light manufacturers give their specific model a name like ‘MARS II 400'. The confusing part here is the ‘400'. A MARS II 400 does not have a real wattage value of 400. Its actual power draw is 162 watts.
So ALWAYS look for the true wattage value / actual power draw of a light.
Don't get confused by the name.
And when I'm talking about 50 watts per square foot, I'm talking about 50 watts of true wattage value /actual power draw per square foot.
Example: This means that with a 3×3 ft. space (9 sq. ft.), you will need at least 9×50 = 450 watts of actual power draw.
Why does all of this matter?
Most lights get advertised with a coverage area that's grossly overstated not only when keeping the minimum of PPFD of 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1) rule in mind, but also when keeping the minimum of 50 watts per square foot in mind.
What's the bottom line when choosing a specific LED model?
There are 2 ways you can choose a specific model:
- Best method: You have PPFD / PAR-value charts, and you make sure that no part of your growing area goes below a PPFD of 510 μmol m(-2)s(-1);
- Realistic method: You don't have PPFD / PAR-value charts, and you go for a minimum of 50 watts per square foot.
The first method will result in a better quality yield but will be more expensive (you'll need more ‘light' to achieve this), and you'll need reliable PAR-value charts which are often not provided.
The second method will result in a decent yield and will be cheaper and easier most of the time (most LED manufacturers don't provide PPFD / PAR-value charts…yet).
Also, do realize the following when choosing a specific model:
In many cases, it’s better to get multiple lower wattage LED lights instead of getting a single high wattage LED light, and position them in such a way that light from different angles covers your plants.
This is because LED doesn’t have the best spread compared to other types of lights…and the more lights you have, the better you can position them and the better the spread of your light will be.
One last topic before we get to the 5 best led grow lights:
What's the right distance to keep your LED lights from your plants
It’s crucial that you put your lights as close as possible to your plants because this will directly affect the potency of your buds.
But it's just as important not to put your lights too close to your plants.
But what’s ‘too close’?
This is highly dependent on the light's brand and model.
The more powerful the light, the higher the minimum distance has to be.
LED manufacturers always provide minimum distances with their products, and you should use these.
Ultimately, you're going to keep a close eye on your plants and act accordingly:
- Raise them in a few inch increments when they show signs of stress/light burn, and;
- Lower them when you feel your plants need more intensity.
One Last Word
You don’t have to go for a premade LED light.
If you’re tech-savvy, you could build your own LED kit.
There are many guides and tutorials on the web, which will show you how to build a potent LED light that will be quite a bit cheaper than the premium premade LED lights, but will provide close to the same quality of light.
If you want to make sure you have all the supplies to grow your marijuana, check the following guide:
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