You’ve probably noticed that Growing Marijuana Perfectly has published several articles about marijuana grow lights, because marijuana grow lights are essential for indoor growing with massive impact on how well your plants grow and produce.
Problem is, most grow light brands suck, especially the most popular and well-known brands.
You might not realize how bad they suck, because you haven’t run comparison tests like we have. Even the worst grow light produce enough light, especially in a small grow tent, so a grower can harvest at least a few grams of buds.
You’re a serious marijuana grower who wants the most grams of the highest-potency cannabis per watt of electricity your grow op consumes. You deserve want innovative grow lights that last a long time, are safe to use, and have the ideal spectrum for cannabis plants.
Good luck finding that kind of grow light. Major manufacturers’ grow lights (such as Fluence) all have costly flaws that should have been corrected a long time ago, and their customer service and warranties are a bad joke.
So our search for the best grow light continued, and we finally found the best marijuana grow lights available right now.
First, some essential grow light history…
Electric lights have been used to grow plants for nearly 150 years! The first grow light experiments started in the 1860s. Incandescent, open arc, gaseous discharge, and fluorescent lamps were used until the 1930s, when they were joined by the first high-intensity discharge (HID) grow lamps, starting with mercury vapor lamps which were replaced by high pressure metal halide and sodium lamps in the 1950s and 1960s.
HID Metal halide and high pressure sodium bulbs were designed mainly for street and building lighting, but horticultural scientists and illegal marijuana growers started using them for gardening in the late 1960s.
HID grow lights were the cannabis grow op standard for decades, but in 1990 American researchers began experimenting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for horticulture.
Although early LED grow lights and most current LED brands have inferior design features and materials, cannabis growers starting using LED lights because they were more reliable, produced less heat, and lasted longer than HID.
By 2014, at least two dozen corporations were selling LED grow lights. We tested all of those brands, and until this year, we had yet to find a brand of grow lights made using original cannabis photobiology research and the most modern LED chips and other components.
One reason for the lack of fantastic LED grow light brands is that only in the past decade have competent researchers focused on fully understanding how to make and use LED grow lights to stimulate specific desired responses in cannabis plants, such as faster growth, earlier flowering, exaggerated cannabinoid and terpenoid production, shorter internodes, and heavier harvests.
Problem is, there are only two statured professional researchers examining how to use LED grow lights for maximum benefit in marijuana grow ops, and one of them doesn’t make grow lights, he makes light measuring devices and similar horticultural technology.
The other researcher is in Austria, he does make marijuana grow lights, and you’ll find out more about him as this article continues.
I’ve tested LED grow lights since the first prototypes were available 20 years ago. In the earliest tests, LED grow lights were inferior to high pressure sodium (HPS) grow lights for cannabis bloom phase. The LED grow lights produced at least 31% less harvest weight compared to HPS.
In 2013, I tested the first LED grow light brand (Lush Lighting) that equaled the harvest weight and potency of HPS-grown buds. I later had similar success with grow lights made by California Lightworks. But this doesn’t mean I was totally satisfied with LED grow lights. Most LED grow light brands have generic problems, including:
- Some LED grow lights have noisy fans and are almost as hot as HID bulb grow lights.
- Many LED grow light brands produce inferior light spectrum that lacks wavelengths, wavelength ratios, and intensity best for cannabis.
- Many LED grow lights have patchwork light distribution—you get uneven light intensity and wavelength distribution across the plant canopy.
- Newer, cheaper “quantum board” grow lights such as those from HLG and NextLight are unsealed, leaving the LED chips open to garden environment contamination and degradation.
- Many LED grow light manufacturers are unethical and/or unprofessional. They use inferior materials and engineering, haven’t done original, scientific research on grow light technology or plant effects, are rude to customers (especially about warranty coverage and repairs) and refuse to provide relevant product information to cannabis journalists. especially about why they chose the spectrum traits their grow lights produce.
The only grow light company owner who provided us a rationale for the design and performance of his company’s gear is Martin Anker, founder of the Austrian LED grow light company SANlight. The important thing about Anker’s information is that he has conducted grow op scientific research, so his product claims are more than just marketing hype.
Anker founded SANlight in 2012 after spending more than 20 years as a professional grower. He’s the only LED manufacturer in the world who publicly admits to having a grow op specifically dedicated to researching and designing grow lights specifically for marijuana.
“From my very first grow op, I recognized the problems coming from bulb grow lights,” Anker explains. “Their radiant heat harms plants directly, and also makes the grow room too hot. I had to expand my air conditioning and fan capacity to achieve acceptable temperatures and vapor pressure deficit, but the climate control equipment was very noisy and expensive, which presented financial and security problems. I looked for a different kind of grow light, to solve the heat problem at its origin.”
Anker evaluated all existing LED grow light brands and discovered none of them were even close to ideal.
“That’s when I decided to build my own,” he recalls.
As Anker worked to understand how light affects cannabis plants and how LED chips could be best utilized for indoor cannabis horticulture, he got advanced training and expertise in an exciting new field of engineering called “mechatronics” that combines electrical and mechanical engineering with computerization and software. He earned a Master’s degree while conducting years of research in his 2200 square foot Swiss cannabis grow op laboratory.
Anker’s focus is on:
- Making grow lights that deliver the ideal intensity and spectrum so cannabis growers maximally control and exploit plant morphology and physiological responses to achieve optimum growth, potency, and harvest weight.
- Using only the best, latest versions of LED chips perfect for cannabis horticulture.
- Creating grow lights that have the most efficient energy conversion ratios, run cool, can withstand harsh indoor and greenhouse conditions, and have extreme longevity.
- Discovering the ideal photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) best for each cannabis plant growth phase.
- Designing customized grow light systems that provide uniform delivery of ideal light intensity across the grower’s plant canopy.
When I examine Anker’s grow lights compared to all the other brands, I find the following differences:
- SANlight units in a properly-tuned grow room match or exceed harvest weight and potency compared to HPS double-ended lights, and also outperform all competing LED brands.
- Anker’s lights are passively cooled without fans, reducing electricity consumption and noise.
- The light spectrum has the range, ratios, peaks and valleys that most match the latest cannabis photobiology research findings.
- SANlight lights deliver maximal PPFD with the most efficiency and cost-savings of any LED brand.
- The light footprint is even and uniform, with no dropouts or hot spots.
- LED chips’ light output is partially directional. Many grow light companies use secondary optics improperly, so the light angle isn’t toward the plants, and light intensity is wasted. In contrast, Anker has figured out how to use secondary optics to ensure that nearly 100% of the light goes to the plant canopy.
- Anker’s lights are modularized. This means they can be retrofitted with new modules whenever Anker upgrades his light technology, and their light footprint can be manipulated to match to the size and shape of your grow space.
- SANlight units contain top-rank LED chips made by SEOUL Semiconductor and Osram. These chips are the most efficient, most appropriate for cannabis lighting, most durable, last the longest.
- Anker and many growers have seen the inevitable damage that happens to LED chips, drivers, wiring, and circuit boards in unsealed, “quantum board” LED grow lights. Unsealed grow light components absorb humidity, volatiles, sulfur, iron, dust and debris. This can cause electrical shorts, fires, loss of light intensity, and premature light failure. All Anker’s units are sealed, so no contamination of any kind can enter.
- Anker’s spectrum is designed for cannabis, and includes far red wavelengths missing from many LED units. His lights create faster and healthier root, bud, and branch development, and routinely exceed high pressure sodium in harvest weight and potency in competition cannabis gardens.
- These grow lights weigh less than most competing brands, although they are heavier than cheap quantum board lights.
- Anker’s units retain 90% of their original light intensity, even after 100,000 hours of use.
- SANlight units can be used with Bluetooth dimming and other dimming technology.
- SANlight units have built-in protection circuitry and other features to ensure safety and prevent power surges, moisture, and other problems from harming the lights, causing electrical shorts, or causing fires.
- SANlight units are crafted in Austria rather than outsourced to Chinese manufacturers, leading to much higher quality and performance.
Anker is rightfully proud of his grow light research and engineering. He just released the latest incarnation of his lights, which he calls the “EVO” series.
“We have our cannabis growing research facility, and we’re always testing new combinations of wavelengths, intensities, chips, and other features to improve our lights to benefit cannabis growers,” Anker says.
One unique service SANlight provides is competent, engineer-assisted gear recommendations and placement advice.
SANlight senior field engineer Max von Knoop contacted one of our grower journalists and provided incredibly helpful technical and logistical assistance. As with all members of the SANlight team, Max is highly educated and very professional.
This is NOT the case for representatives of most grow light companies. We’ve been stunned by the amateurish, dishonest, ignorant explanations we’ve gotten from most grow light manufacturer’s reps.
That’s why it has been so refreshing to discover SANlight, a company that only employs educated, ethical professionals.
“I come from a family with a strong agricultural background. Almost all my relatives have something to do with agriculture. I have a B.Sc. in Forestry Science and a M.A. in Economic Promotion. I’ve been working with plants as long as I can remember and in the Hydro Business since 2007,” Max explains. “My specialty is in grow room design and light planning. I‘ve been designing and equipping grow rooms for the last 11 years. My grow lights plans have been for all kinds of growing situations, including greenhouses and other growing spaces that need precision lighting engineering.”
SANlight grow lights don’t have a grower-customizable spectrum like some brands do. About 40% of the brands we’ve tested had spectrum controllers. We followed the manufacturers’ recipes for light ratios and intensity. We never saw results that could be attributed to grower spectrum control.
“You can have an impact on plant morphology with tunable spectrum,” von Knoop explains, “but our in house research shows the effect on yield is minor. Yield is driven by PPFD intensity, and less by the spectrum of the light source.
Tunable spectrum can be a hassle since you need to be sure of a strain’s reaction to the different recipes. We know of large scale grow operations that gave up on on tunable spectrum after a couple of grows, because it is more work and benefits are minor.
For photobiology research, tunable spectrum is useful. But for a regular home grower it isn’t worth the effort. What is important is to have right ratio and intensity of blue-green-red, also including far red.
Based on our extensive research, we’ve created an awesome spectrum for cannabis. Our research shows cannabinoids and terpenes content approximately 20% higher with our EVO spectrum than with other light setups we tested at our grow lab.”
The SANlight team is unique in that their primary goal is not to make as much money as possible, which is what most other grow light companies are focused on.
In contrast, SANlight takes the time to fully understand your grow space, including ventilation, air conditioning, light-anchoring capacity, wall location, and other grow op features that influence grow light selection and placement.
The main thing they’re concerned about is you getting the maximum weight and potency from each crop—with the minimum amount of grow light electricity consumed.
After you’ve provided grow op info to Max and other team members, you get detailed technical feedback, such as the chart below, showing exact PPFD coverage you get from a SANlight grow light array designed specifically for you.
We’ve dealt with all major and minor grow light manufacturers, and as of now, we affirm SANlight is the best in the business. They don’t make bogus promises and sell inferior gear like most grow light companies do. They take pride in their work, and are dedicated to grower success.
Serious cannabis growers should contact SANlight, providing the length, height, width of their grow space, and get the grow lights that best maximize the light energy you provide your cannabis plants.