Pico Reef Lighting

This is where debates and opinions can vary greatly. At the very least, the lighting that you will need for your pico reef will depend on the types of corals and other life you wish to keep.

DISCLAIMER: You must use a lamp designed for housing a PAR38 Bulb to ensure it functions correctly and doesn't cause a fire. I will not be responsible if your house burns down due to your improper usage of the bulb.

What you see on our site is NOT the correct housing for A PAR38 Bulb.

Since I have a habit of changing my mind at the drop of a hat, I wanted a lighting option to allow me to keep everything but more specifically SPS corals like birdsnest and montipora and LPS like acans, candy canes, and frog spawn.

There are questions that you need to answer before purchasing any type of light:

  1. What will you keep and what are their light requirements?
  2. Will the bulb(s) produce heat?
  3. How will you mount the light?

You should have already made a list of things you want to keep in your pico reef, if not you need to do that now. If you aren’t quite sure, the best bet is to go big so that you have options down the road. As mentioned before, I planned on keeping SPS corals so I will need the best light possible.

​Pico Lighting Reviews

The following reviews are from my personal experience. I'd be happy to hear your experience and opinions, so please let me know in the comments below.

Comparison of Lights

Regular CFL bulb vs 8" Coralife vs LED bulb.

Led Light Comparison

20w Coralife 50/50 (self-ballast screw socket bulb)

Originally I bought this bulb to light my tank before I realized what I wanted to keep. I quickly realized that the bulb was generating a lot of heat which was being transferred to the jar. I saw a 2f change over an hour when the light was on. This was unacceptable.

Since this is a long blub (8”) a typical goose neck wouldn’t be the best choice to power it because the bulb is designed to shine down horizontally rather than vertically. A small custom hood would need to be constructed since I couldn't find the small Coralife hood. This would be potentially dangerous for an inexperienced electrical worker like me.

coralife 50-50 8-inch bulb

​Later I was thinking more about this bulb and I also wasn’t sure if the intensity of the light would be strong enough for SPS corals. Instead of taking a gamble with the life in my jar, I decided to move on. I spent $24.99 on this light but it won’t go to waste.

If you plan on keeping soft corals like leathers and xenia, maybe even LPS like a hammer or frog spawn, this light might enough for your pico reef provided you can keep your jar or vase at a stable temperature in an acceptable range.

A computer fan might be a good way to keep the light cool but that just makes things complicated.

ABI 12w PAR38 LED 50/50 (screw socket with heatsink – plug and play!)

This light was bought on recommendation from Mary who used it on Maritza the Vase Reef. It’s definitely capable of growing SPS in the jar based on the corals growing in her vase.

abi led par38 50-50


  • 12w Par38 (12 x 1w LED – 6:6 Blue:White)
  • Royal Blue 450-470nm
  • Cold White 15000K

Update: The light is very nice but I decided I wanted a bit more blue to help the corals colours "pop" a little more. I ordered a similar bulb from eBay that is 12w Par38 4 whites @ 20000k 8 Blues (435+nm range)

I purchased it on amazon.com for $24.99 + shipping. There are other LED reef bulbs that could work well, but this light will be perfect for my jar’s requirements. Some other brands cost $70 - $180 for a single screw type LED bulb.

After testing for several days, I concluded that the light unit itself produces very little heat and virtually no heat is transferred to the jar. Perfect!

Light Hood & Fixtures

Pico Light Top View

Now that you have a bulb picked out, you will need to figure out a way to house it over your pico reef. If you don’t want to do a lot of DIY I suggest an LED style bulb so that you can use a goose neck lamp.

​I have this setup beside me on my computer desk and there is minimal light bleeding out because this LED is very directional with its light. It definitely doesn’t bother me while I’m working.

  • February 16, 2016
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
MaRiTzAtHeVaSeReEf - February 19, 2016

Peace All.

This light is great for Mini and Pico Reefs. It will grow SPS,LPS,Octo Corals,Softies,Macroalgae,Barnacles,Photo Sponges,etc, providing that all other variables and parameters are met. I’ve been using this bulb for 2 years now and it’s still going strong. I had a different bulb before, Par 30, but it didn’t have the balance amount of Whites and Blues.

Inexpensive and a 14K look. In the market for an inexpensive and Reef growing proven light for your Pico and Vase Reefs,you may consider this Par 38.

Great Site and Beautiful Pico Reef.
Continue in your Success..

Blessings All.

    Leroy Cam - March 13, 2016

    I just started keeping a saltwater tank. I have the picotope. The lfs mistakenly gave me a white spot anemone shrimp instead of the ghost shrimp that I asked for. My question is are there any anemone small enough to put in this tank?

      reefjar - March 13, 2016

      Hey Leroy!

      Most anemones grow quite large. However, you could consider rock anemones. Some consider them pests, but each to their own.

      You definitely don’t want aiptasia or majanos. 😀

Todd - September 22, 2017

I will be starting a pick reef jar soon. We are going with a par38 bulb like you stated. But the placement of the jar doesnt allow me to mount the light directly above we would have to come out with the light and angle it down will this be a problem. We also currently have a 38 gallon reef tank as well so not new to sw.

    reefjar - September 26, 2017

    Hey Todd!

    It depends on how much of an angle and how you have corals placed in your reef. Too much of an angle might cause a lot of shadowing on some areas and too strong on others. It’s hard to say without seeing it, but since you have experience with reefing already you should be able to judge it 🙂

    Good luck and let us know how it turned out!


Jess - September 28, 2017

I’m planning to start a reef on a jar soon, just wondering if somebody tried kessil a180 led light?


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