A Complete Idiot's Guide to Make LED Light Unit for Planted Aquarium

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Please have a look at my website for more tutorials and fishy pictures: www.playsofrays.com

As always I am writing this for people who have no prior experience with LEDs, electrical and electronics works just like I never had before I did this. I will be posting a lot of pictures here and going into a lot of detail about making connections, wiring etc. So the people who know how these things are done may find it boring and unnecessary, but please bear with me.. it’s for the newbies.

In order to understand LEDs and what kind best serves your needs go to my previous post – An Idiot's guide to understand LEDs
It contains all the theoretical aspects of LEDs and in very simple language. Once you have a good understanding of what you need, read this post.

Before starting this thread I would like to thank Milad, who helped me a lot throughout this tedious process. He is an awesome guy.
I ordered the following things for Lighting from LEDGroupBuy.com:

12V 5A Power supply w/4PIN molex connector

4 pin Molex to 3 pin fan

80mm Fan Silencer

Arctic Alumina Thermal Adhesive 5g

Arctic Silver Céramique 2 - 25g

CREE LED Optics / Lens
(LED Type: CREE XT-E / XP-G / XP-E, Optic Angle: 60, Quantity in Package: 6 Pack)

CREE LED Optics / Lens
(LED Type: CREE XM-L, Optic Angle: 60, Quantity in Package: 6 Pack)

(Color: Cool White (~6500K), Group: T5, Quantity in Package: Single LED)
XML-CW-T5-3 Nos

(Quantity in Package: Single LED)

CREE XT-E Royal Blue
(Quantity in Package: Single LED)

(Color: Neutral White (4500K), Quantity in Package: 6 Pack (5% discount))
XTE-NW-6PK- 1 (6 Nos LEDs)

(Color: Warm White (3250K), Quantity in Package: Single LED)
XTE-Warm White- 3 Nos

DIM4 - 4 Port LED Sunrise/Sunset Controller V1.0
DIM4-R1.0- 1 Nos

Fan 80mm- 1 Nos

Hanging Kit for MakersLED Heatsink- 1 Nos

Inventronics 40w driver - 700mA

MakersLED Designer Heatsink Kit - Professional Grade (Length: 12 inch)

Ocean Coral White (Optic Angle: 90°)- 2 Nos

OEM Digital Multimeter DT-830B- 1 Nos

Solder Tube 10g - 2 Nos

Soldering Iron 60w- 1 Nos

Solid Wire 24awg (300 volt) - 25 feet - Black- 1 Nos.

Stranded Wire 24awg (300 volt) - 25 feet - Black

Then I got some more stuff from Home Depot –

assorted grommets
zip ties
water proof cable connectors
two pin plugs
some timers
extra wire (in case needed)

Before starting,
make sure to make a rough sketch of how you would assemble your LEDs on the Heat sink. It is very helpful to refer to it when making the circuit. Without it there will definitely be a lot of confusion and chaos. A blueprint of this is available on LEDgroupBuy.com- Blueprint
And here is mine for reference in the pictures.

badpanda2 years ago
Good stuff, I recently did an instructable on making a CO2 system for my planted Fluval Spec 5. I haven't done my own LED lights before, but I just took apart an old Denon receiver that has a huge heat synch and fan... so now I know what I'm going to do with it. Great instructable, especially for aquarium geeks.
PS... if you could give an approx. cost of materials for your build here it would be much appreciated... just a round number to give me an idea what to expect figuring I probably already have some of this stuff handy.

Sumers mentioned LEDgroupbuy as the source for much of his material. You can look there for current prices. There is an alternative site called rapidLED that sells everything you would need also. The biggest problem with a DIY LED setup is that without a light meter (spectrograph?) you really have no way of telling if your light is not enough or too much for your purpose.

sumers (author)  badpanda2 years ago
Glad that you like it :)
If you wanna make the exact unit like I made, It would be somewhere aroung $600-$700.
But there are so many "fancy" things without which you can make a decent LED unit. The DIM4 controller, the heatsink that I used, number and variety of LEDs can be manipulated and you can get a decent manual on/off LED unit in maybe $150-$200. I liked your anubias. I'm gonna add some pics on the last page of this instructible. Please have a look :)
badpanda sumers2 years ago
Thanks, much appreciated. I think I'll probably go with a very similar build for my first one... dimmer and all. I have all the tools and stuff, just need to order the LED's and electrical components I don't already have. Great pics... I have a 60gal going right now with a nice substrate for plants and peacock eel and some fish... but just have some foreground swordgrass going right now because I don't have anything but a cheap LED lightstrip at the moment. I think I'll use your instructable to put one or two of these together and get that tank moving along with some higher light plants than what' I've been using. When I manage to get around to it I'll come post some pics. Thanks again.
sumers (author)  badpanda2 years ago
Yore most welcome :)
asid612 years ago
This was on nano-reef! Great writeup, especially for beginners.
sumers (author)  asid612 years ago
No it wasn't on a nano reef. It was for a planted tank.
Go to the last page of the instructible and you will get to see how good is it.
It is probably a good idea for an intro to include what this thing does. Esp for beginners. Is it grow light? That is what the pics below look like. I skimmed the content and then went to the last part for a pic of the completed product and there is just a pic of some dude wearing two sunglasses adjusting a camera. I am not going to wade through all the parts just to find out if this is something I would be interested in doing.
sumers (author)  dustyhoffsky2 years ago
Hi duskyhoffsky. Now please go through the step 16 in this instructible and you will get to know what this DIY is about.
Thanks for letting me know the drawback :)
in the top right of you're instructable there should be a little edit button. Then you can put the final pictures on the Instructable and maybe be featured. Hope that helps, I was also confused as to what it acctualy did.
DustySeven72 years ago
That is a continuity tester setting actually.
Shariq922 years ago
Very nice. I love it. I cant get the kit due to location but i will try to make my own light unit using your guidelines.
Shariq922 years ago
Nice instructable but could post a pic of how the project looks when completed!!
sumers (author)  Shariq922 years ago
Hi Shariq92. I did the setup after posting it here. So couldn't post the final pic. Here are the final pics. Sorry about crappy iPhone pics.

are all those LEDs the same current mA? they must be to connect them in series like that right? if i have a 350mA led driver, can i attach to it different color different voltage BUT same 350mA LEDs? please answer

bhvm1 year ago
Probably the best Instructable for Aqua Lighting!
I really love your funny bone (Dual Goggles Pic)
sumers (author)  bhvm1 year ago
Haha.. Thanks :)
Glad you liked it!