Full spectrum lighting

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Juvie Member
I've been doing a lot of research on lighting as I'm setting up my new viv and figured I would share some of this.

We see a lot about the importance of UVB and basking lights for reptiles, but other aspects of lighting often seem to get overlooked.

It is true that UV and basking lights are important for reptile health, but these really only provide the bare minimum needed for health. The reality is that if you are only providing UV and basking light for your reptiles, then they most likely aren't getting enough light to see properly, which also has other health effects in addition to just reducing vision.

So let's take a look at some graphs to get an idea of what's going on with lighting:

Basking lights are basically incandescent light. They may be incandescent or halogen typically, but both put out light in a similar spectrum. The image below shows comparative spectra for different types of light.


Another way to view this is as follows:

The graph below shows the spectrum for a Reptisun T5 HO light:

A graph for a MegaRay is below:

Notice that none of these light sources perfectly matches real sunlight.

If most of the light in your viv comes only from light you are providing directly to the viv, and you are only providing a basking light and a UVB light, then you can see that the spectrum of light provided doesn't come anywhere close to natural sunlight.

Bearded dragons in particular, being a desert species, really need a lot of bright full spectrum light. The inside of their vivs should not only be bright (i.e. high lux (full sun is about 10,000-40,000 lux)), but should also provide the fullest spectrum of light possible.

So how best to do that?

While I used to think that florescents were the way to go, it turns out that many of the newer LED lights are actually very good at providing broad spectrum light. A problem with LEDs, however, is they have a blue spike. I've read various articles on the biological effects of too much isolated blue light on people (mostly it effects circadian rhythms and eye health), but I'm not entirely sure about the effects on reptiles. However, if you look at the graphs below you can see that there are differences in LED lights based on the color temperatures of the light:


Some things to know:
LUX measures the amount of light
Kelvin (K) measures the "color temperature" of light. "Warm light" is typically in the 2500K - 3,500K range. "Sun light" is typically in the 5000K to 6000K range;
CRI is Color Rendering Index. The higher the number the better. 100 CRI is "true sunlight". 95+ is considered "art gallery quality" and is best for aquariums and reptiles as well.

So basically, if you want to provide a "fuller" spectrum of light for your dragon, what do you need to do?

You need at least THREE light sources.

If you are using an all glass tank, like a fish tank type viv, then it is possible that the external light is a sufficient light source. This may be true if your tank is in a room with a lot of natural light, but you have to be careful that your tank doesn't get direct sunlight. Chances are that your viv will not meet this condition. You would need something like a room with a lot of large windows and light colored walls that gets a lot of direct sunlight into the room, but the tank doesn't ever get into direct light at any time through the day. There are rooms like this, bu they aren't typical.

So even if you have a fish tank type viv in a typically lit room, chances are you still need to provide an additional direct light source. If you have a typical crossfire type viv, that has mostly solid sides, then you definitely need to provide a third source of direct fuller spectrum light.

So what light to use for the third light?

This is what I've identified as the two best options:

1) High CRI LED tube lights (basically T8 replacement bulbs)
2) "Full sun" type fluorescent bulbs

3) There is also the option of Metal Halide lamps, but they run hot and are pretty expensive, though they do offer the best potential for full spectrum coverage.

Option #1 LEDs:

Why LED tube light? Because tube lights are going to do the best and spreading the light around the viv. Most other high quality LEDs are spotlights. You can also use LED incandescent replacement bulbs, but even those will tend to have a spotlight type of effect if you place them inside or on top of a viv. also, you should not put LED bulbs into a typical reptile light dome, as the dome will trap heat and kill the LED quickly. LED bulbs need open air to dissipate heat unless they are specially designed to go into light cans.

So exactly what kind of LED to get?

Many "full sun" LEDs will be in the 5000K to 6000K range. I think really the 4000K range is better as it tends to have the most balanced spectrum. From all my looking around, here are basically the best products I found for this:

Fullight TrueColor T8: http://www.fulightopto.com/full-spectrum-true-color-led-tubes-t8

IMO the best option here is the 4500K 24" dimmable bulb. This is a 95 CRI bulb,and one of the very few 95+CRI T8 bulbs you can get in an 18" to 24" size. Most such bulbs are 4 feet.

Another option is is the Lumicrest 24" light bar: http://lumicrest.com/product/easylinx-24-60-cm-led-light-bar/

This may need some kind of additional power connector. The Fulight product produces higher lux, and is most likely the better option.

Yujiled also has some nice products, but I don't see a way to buy single T8 bulbs: https://store.yujiintl.com/

Lastly we have a Zoo Med LED hood: https://zoomed.com/reptisun-led-terrarium-hood/

This thing looks good at first glance, but they are pricey, the replacement modules can only be purchased from Zoo Med, and I can't find a spectrum analysis for the product. The output is 6500K, so I suspect it's got a sizable blue spike. Not sure how much that matters. Otherwise, the added red lights are an attractive feature. All-in-all it's not a bad option.

You could, of course, also just get a standard LED light, but there aren't many smaller sized T8 options for these. Honestly, the TrueColor light is only $20, and its dimmable, it's the right size and it's high quality. Seems like kind of a no-brainer if you are going to go that route. (You will need to get a non-ballasted hood or re-wire a standard T8 hood to use it though. They provide directions. I may do this and post findings).

There are also "full spectrum" LED grow lights, which my be good options, but #1 many grow lights are NOT full spectrum, they are mostly just red and blue, and #2 grow lights are relatively expensive.

Option #2, "full spectrum" florescents:

The main options here are basically aquarium lights.

Reptile UV has a light, that appears to be pretty good, but I can't find a spectrum graph for it, and it's currently sold out: http://www.reptileuv.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=72&products_id=201

Based on the description, this seems like a good option, but I'd like to know more about it. It appears to be a T12, which is weird (for this size).

There is a Zoo Med product called NatureSun aimed directly at reptiles, but it doesn't appear too impressive: https://zoomed.com/t8-naturesun/

The spectrum for this is as follows:


Other options are the Zoo Med TropicSun https://zoomed.com/t8-tropic-sun-5500k-daylight/ and FloraSun https://zoomed.com/t8-flora-sun-maximum-plant-growth/

The spectrum for the TropicSun is as follows:

The FloraSun has less green and more red.

There are comparable products to these from other brands as well, but they all have basically the same spectra.

The TropicSun has a pretty nice spectrum distribution, though it's a little weak on the red side if you are wanting to grow plants. If you don't care about plants it's probably not a bad option.

Option #3 Metal Halide:
Here there is really a single best option that stands out, and that's the Hortilux Blue grow light.


You can see from the spectrum that this very closely matches real sunlight:

The problem is that this bulb costs over $100 and lasts about one year, and it gets hot. Still, I'd like to know more about this light. It's possible this could act as a basking light and UVB light and full spectrum light all in one. I don't know how much UVB is produces, but I suspect it produces some.

More info would be needed before using such a light.


You need more than just a basking bulb and a UV bulb, you also need at least a third "full spectrum" light source.

The best options I found for full spectrum lights are:

Fulight TrueColor T8 LED
Reptile UV T12 Full Spectrum Fluorescent
Zoo Med TropicSun T8 Fluorescent

Below are links to additional reading and some of the sources I used for this:




Reptile lighting guide videos from Reptile UV: http://www.reptileuv.com/reptile-video.php?rv=understanding-lighting-part1-600&nav=h#top


BD.org Addict
Hah, sorry I repeated some of what you have here on your other thread. Good topic!

A bit of an issue with lighting options we have these days is it's going to be hard for us to mix and match to balance the light that looks white to us and to dragons. "Full spectrum" lamps almost always filter out UVA which is a visible color to dragons - so even with a good CRI and color temp these are only tuned to our trichromatic human eyes, tetrachromatics like dragons will have color distortion to some degree. CRI has very little application to reptiles, also, as their peak responds wavelengths aren't the same as our eaither.

Aside from UV lamps UVA is rare in household bulbs. It's also what makes metal hallides stand out - their spectrum is sunlike up into the UVA band. It's a pain that their so costly and hard to get. There are a handful of reptile branded ones, but aren't very wide beamed. Iwasaki color arc eye is the one that I have been recommended by experts but I've only found it for about $100 a bulb +ballast and working up there nerve to wire it.... they are reported to last at least a couple years. The catch with MH is that if they aren't shielded properly the UVB+ wavelengths can be dangerous. Otherwise they make excellent basking lamps. I don't know if ones currently safe for reptiles that aren't branded to them. (Check out the reptile lighting group though, Fran and crew might have some documents or data).


Juvie Member
Original Poster
Awesome, thanks Tater. How hot to Metal halides run? Would you just use it as your only light if you had one? They are expensive, BUT, if it's your only light, then that changes the equation.

As for UVA, my assumption is that if you have a "white light" right next to your UVB bulb, then the UV bulb will provide enough UVA and the white light will fill in the other aspects of the spectrum, but that's just me assuming...

Regardless, I think its clear that a traditional basking bulb + UVB bulb + some additional white light will be better than just the two bulb alone.


Juvie Member
Original Poster
This got me thinking. For one thing the pot growing industry has done a lot to advance LED lighting technology, but it is unfortunately focused on lights that are strong in mostly the blue and red parts of the spectrum as opposed to full spectrum, but like I said, it also resulted in the production of Hortilux Blue, which is known today as being of of the truest replications of sun lighter ever made in a consumer product.

But as for LEDs, what you'll notice when you look at the more advanced LED grow lights is that they are really a collection of multi-colored LEDs. So it seems possible (though probably expensive) to produce a multi-colored LED array that changes the dynamic of the light over the course of the day to give the light different qualities.

It's known that the 3rd eye of lizards is sensitive mainly to blues and greens, and its thought to regulate their circadian rhythms. So it seems like it's possible to make an LED array that does closely match the sun spectrum and to have that array change throughout the day to have light that shifts from redish in the morning to fullest in mid day and back to redish in the evenings.

You could get really fancy and have "weather lights", that do things like simulate random cloud cover, etc. to give some more variation throughout the day.

But on that front, I'm wondering just how hard it would be to make your own LED array to get the spectrum you want? Individual LEDs are actually cheap, so this doesn't seem like it should be that difficult or costly. For example: https://diyhacking.com/arduino-led-matrix/

The costly part would be getting the necessary testing equipment to do the spectral analysis.


Juvie Member
Original Poster
Just thought of something actually a I'm still working on the lighting for my viv.

The Fulight TrueColor LED bulbs are dimmable.

I've got a spyderrobotics controller and I think I'm going to set it up to do the following with a TrueColor LED:

The controller allows for up to 10 hour ramp times, i.e. you can set it to take 10 hours to get to maximum power.

I think I'm going to put a TrueColor bulb on one of the controls with a 4 hour ramp time and a 4 hour max time. This would have it start at 7:00 am, ramp up to full by 11:00 am, stay at full until 3 pm, then ramp down to 0 again at 7 pm.

That in conjunction with the other lights should do a pretty good job of being a full light day cycle simulator, well at least better than the alternatives. The other lights would all be on instant on/off timers, set to go on and off varying points in time, but mostly also around the 7 am to 7 pm boundaries.


BD.org Sicko
Staff member
That's how I have mine set with the halogen basking light and my UVB tube comes on later and goes off earlier to try and simulate high UVB in the middle of the day. Can you set the thermostat to ramp up based on time instead of heat? I notice that especially during sunset my light tends to flicker if the heat doesn't come down quickly enough during the 30 min ramp down time. With the LEDs not putting any heat out at all it would have to be strictly time based I'd imagine.


BD.org Addict
As far as "combining" lights I think it's gets tricky in that the outputs of say, UVA, from a reptisum bulb isn't going to be the same strength as from the sun. Better than nothing but the ratio is still distorted compared to sunlight.

As for building

If I were to use a MH it would be he central bulb in an array. I have three basking lamps at the moment, and would put the MH in the middle so that it has the most effect in the tank overall but the halogens help keep a large uniform basking zone. It would be on mid day (I ramp up the basking lights over 30-60min then UV and then I'd have the MH, opposite to night time). My room gets a fair amount of natural light too.

The DIY aspect of LEDs is way over my head. I think it's promising and probably where things will be in the future. Some dimmable lights aren't 100% dimmable and will still flicker or hiss at low power.


Juvie Member
Original Poster
Yeah. Dimmable LEDs, from what I understand, basically turn off and on the number of individual LEDs. So if ti has 10 individual LEDs, at 10% it will have 1 on, etc. I think that's how it works anyway.

MH sounds very appealing, but I just don't see it for my setup. I think they need to be farther away from the lizard, like 2 or 3 feet away from the basking spot, etc. at least from what I understand of them. That's just not practical in my setup, but something people should consider if possible.

Cooper:" Can you set the thermostat to ramp up based on time instead of heat?"

Yes. The controller gives you to option of using either a timer or temp. I've currently got the basking light on a timer and a CHE on the temp. If I do the LED thing I'd move the LED to the dimmable timer and put the basking light on a simple on/off timer.

For now, however, I'm going to start with the following:

60 w PAR38 Halogen flood basking light on dimmer/timer
100w Basking light (as secondary in an area farther from the ground) on simple timer
24" ReptiSun T5 HO on simple timer
18" TropicSun Full Spectrum T8 on simple timer
CHE on thermostat control


Juvie Member
Original Poster
What we need is stuff like this, but more tuned to lizards.


Arguably the Zoo Med LED hood is something like this, but it doesn't have enough colors IMO. It should add in some greens. The problem with these aquarium ones is that they are too blue.

Found something. A bit pricey, but I'll try it: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CMFFMS6/

I'm getting it. I'll let you know how it goes. Now the only issue is that I really need a spectrometer to tune the thing, but I'll just have to use intuition and feel :p

It also appears to either come with a dimming timer or to have a compatible separate accessory one for a reasonable price.


Juvie Member
Original Poster
Looks like they've got a line of related products. This one is on the lower end.

Check this out: https://www.amazon.com/Current-USA-Marine-Aquarium-36-Inch/dp/B00GFTNG3S/

It's got quite a bit more features, and honestly it's not much more. Turns out that for the one I linked first you Do need to buy a separate timer, and that timer can only control 1 feature.

This other one I think let's you program it more for more automated cycles, and has a 30 minutes rise and set fade, plus can fade out to a timed moonlight, which I like because we like to have a little light for about an hour after "bed time" for viewing.

Some good options. Again, a little pricey, but when you think about it, if this is replacing something like an extra fluorescent and this lasts for 5+ years, it isn't really that much more expensive in the long run and it has a ton more features.

Also, note that these LEDs DO provide solid UVA, which they do because UVA is what causes fish to fluoresce!


Juvie Member
Original Poster
Arg, so frustrating :p

So in looking at what this company offers neither product is exactly right for lizards, but both are extremely close.

Here is the issue:

1) The Satellite Freshwater LED offers the fullest RGB spectrum, but does NOT include UV. http://current-usa.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Satellite-Plus-Pro-Sales-Sheet.pdf
2) The Orbit Saltwater LED offers UV, but has a heavily blue biased spectrum with no RGB. http://current-usa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Orbit-Marine-Pro-Sales-SheetV2.pdf
3) The Orbit Saltwater LED comes with their most advanced lighting controller, which allows for 30 minute ramp times and dual channel programming for both night and day timing and effects
4) The Satellite Freshwater LED is NOT COMPATIBLE with their most advanced timer, it only works with a single channel timer for simple 15 minute ramp times and only able to control a day on off/ not night time lighting.

So, what would be ideal for reptiles would be basically something that has the lights of the Satellite Pro plus the UV lights from the Orbit, and works with the more advanced Orbit timer. But such a thing does not exist... :p So close!

Anyway, I got the Satellite Freshwater product, because IMO the Orbit is just too blue. I'm disappointed that it can't work with the more advanced timing option, but oh well.

I just wrote to the company telling them that their products are almost perfect for reptiles, but not quite and suggested they should make a true quadspectrum light like their Satellite Pro + UVA with their more advanced timer. If they did that it would be really awsome for reptiles, even stuff like geckos and iguanas, etc. But for course dragons need UVA more than most since they live in greater light intensity than most other reptiles.

The great thing about a product like this for geckos is that it would really give you a lot of dusk/dawn type control which they need because they are so active in that time window. Dusk/dawn lighting is really important for them. Less so for dragons, but still very nice.


Juvie Member
Original Poster
I got the Satellite Freshwater LED+ in with the ramp timer, 24".

It's great. I was thinking I may need to dim it down or put wax paper over it, but that doesn't appear to be the case, it seems totally appropriate for the viv at full power with the other lights on.

I wish it had UVA lights, but oh well. I think this is still better than the salt water version with UVA, but way too blue of a spectrum. I'm not sure if the full spectrum or red shift spectrum is really best, but I figure that plenty of red shift is present from the halogens, so I go with full spectrum.

In retrospect I should have gotten the Satellite Freshwater LED+ Pro, which comes with a timer, but I believe works on 2 channels so you can time both the day light and a night light. With my setup I can only time the day light, but there is still the remote that you can use to turn on and off a night light for night viewing. I created a custom very dim blueish white light for night viewing, very dim.

The way I have my stuff setup now is as follows:

Two 60 watt halogens start coming on at 6:00 am and ramp up to full over 30 minutes.
At 6:30 the UVB light turns on.
At 10:00 am the LED fades in over 15 minutes to full power using a full light spectrum.
At 1:00 pm the CHE turns up the heat, getting about 1/3 of the viv up to around 90 degrees and the basking spot up to about 113.
At 2:00 pm the CHE dials back down and the viv cools back to low 80s high 70s.
At 5:30 pm the LED fades out over 15 minutes.
At 6:45 pm the halogens start ramping down over 30 minutes (full off at 7:15).
At 7:00 pm the UVB turns off.

I recommend this light. If you get the Pro I think it's about $130. If you get the + with the separate timer it about $110. So IMO, it's really better to spend the extra $20 and get the Pro, which comes with a better timer and I think has better LEDs.
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