Plasma, LED, or Neither…
LED or Plasma? Both cost a sh%#ton, so which one is better? If you have found yourself Googling answers to this question, search no more. Let us save you time and money. Learn from our successes and failures with these two expensive a$$ grow lights.
What’s the Deal with Plasma?
Lighting emitting plasma (LEP), also known as plasma lights, are a full spectrum light from infrared to ultraviolet. Plasma bulbs are a solid state bulb that have no moving parts. They are not equipped, nor do they need, a fan which makes them a single piece of silent machinery.
As a low wattage bulb, they are incredibly energy efficient while offering all the benefits of being able to mimic the sun’s spectrum closely. Plasma lights have almost a 100 CRI (color rendering index) rating, meaning using them is the closest thing to using bottled sunlight that there is on the market. The Gavita Pro 300 is our recommended plasma fixture, and will see an average lifespan of 30,000 hours!
Plasma lights are not dimmable because they are at such a low wattage already. The bulbs are only offered in two colors, one more heavily weighted with red spectrum and the other in the blue spectrum. The best pattern footprint to use in your grow is to use a blue plasma bulb as supplemental light to a mainly high pressure sodium (HPS) setup.
What’s the Deal with LEDs?
LEDs are composed of panels that have a varying number of light emitting diodes (LEDs) with an average lifespan of 50,000 hours. Each light is a narrow band of the light spectrum.
You can purchase different bulbs and combine them to create varying spectrums to cater to your plants and their stage of development. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-selected bulbs that have been matched with one another to provide the fullest spectrum available. We recommend the NewLight LED line as the best currently on the market, coming soon to a Way to Grow near you! LEDs are also dimmable and the color spectrums can be micro-adjusted during different stages of your plants life.
You can buy LEDs in strips that are useful in greenhouses which are growing produce aligned in rows, such as lettuce or broccoli. For plants that require broad and even coverage, it is best to arrange your lights in a pattern footprint that allows for consistent coverage across the canopy. You can use panels that are 2×2 feet that house hundreds of LEDs to create the coverage that you need.
The blue light spectrum of LEDs is the most energy efficient and and is the highest in light energy (the amount of energy a photon possesses in electron volts and is measured in joules). Red light is the lowest in energy light but plants have evolved to take up and use red light more efficiently due to this fact.
When to use which?
Although both LED and plasma lights can be used for growing seedlings or clones, we do not prefer to use them for this application. Growing seedlings and clones requires very little light energy during those early stages of growth.
Plasma bulbs can be beneficial during this stage, but you need to make sure to do it right. Yes, plasma lights provide the closest spectrum to natural sunlight and run very low wattage producing little heat. But this doesn’t mean you should just throw your tender little clones directly under a plasma light. If you are insistent on using plasma lighting for this stage of your grow, make sure the fixtures are a good 5-6 feet above your developing canopy.
If we can convince you otherwise, learn from our mistakes. Just use T5 fluorescent fixtures for cracking your seeds, or giving your clones a good start. They are way cheaper, and they do an excellent job. Take your fluorescent fixtures up a notch by outfitting them with Hortilux PowerVeg T5 bulbs. These provide some UV light, and help condition your clones to a more intense vegetative light such a plasma.
So what is the take-away here? Plasma fixtures provide an amazing spectral input to any grow and we highly recommend using them. However, use them where they are needed. Add Gavita Pro 270e LEP fixtures to your HPS mix for the additional spectral input and stellar results, but don’t waste your money using them to clone under.
Our advice for using LEDs with seedlings or clones is the same for LEDs as it is plasmas. Simply put, don’t waste your money using big price tag, high-end technology on such “low maintenance” little guys, who may or may not appreciate the added effort. Use LEDs during vegging or flowering. You can change the spectrum when the time is right to switch your plants from veg to bloom. With the ability to change the color spectrum with the turn of a dial it eliminates the hassle of having a finishing room or having to change out your fixtures.
Moving Towards Light
Well-Hung, Lighting that Is…
When hanging your lights, remember that pro grips are a true godsend. Both plasmas and LEDs come with hanging brackets that attached to the sides of the fixtures. Equip your grow with a set of Sun Grip Light Hangers and attach the hangers with carabiners to your light fixtures. The Sun Grips make it super easy for you adjust the height or your lights with a pulley system.
Keep Your Distance
Plasma lights are low wattage and do not emit much heat. Due to the full spectrum of light that they produce, you must be careful of allowing your plants to get too close to avoid potential bleaching caused by exposing your plants to the light saturation point. It is recommended to place your lights 18-24 inches from the canopy of your plants.
LED lights create a heat sink that emits the heat produced by them out the backside of the bulb, not affecting your plants near the surface of the bulbs. This lets you place your LEDs a bit closer than you would plasmas, 12-18 inches from the canopy. LED fixtures are made with a panel of aluminum that covers the back of the lights where the heat is escaping to. It helps to distribute the heat to not create pockets of heat directly behind the lights. The aluminum panel prolongs the life of the bulb by not burning out one spot in the fixture and also makes it easier to circulate and vent in your room.
Neither plasmas or LEDs are air cooled lights. Due to their low heat emissions, a quality ventilation setup and air conditioning unit will have no problem disbursing the heat created by the lights. Make sure that you are exchanging the air within your grow one every three to five minutes. To learn more about ventilation, read more here.
But, Are They Worth It?
Plasma lights are best utilized a supplemental lighting in your grow to ensure that your plants are getting a full spectrum of light. When plasma lights are used as the sole light distribution, there should be one light placed for every 16 cubic feet.
Plasmas are very effective at canopy penetration and some users believe they increase the potency of your crop. They allow you to grow tall dense plants without the worry of reaching the foliage underneath the canopy.
LEDs are not praised for their ability to penetrate canopies. LED fanatics usually choose to spread their plants out to create a shorter, wider plant base. This prevents competition for light penetration or at least it keeps competition minimal. The ability to dim the lights and get veg and bloom out of one fixture is what keeps some growers coming back to LEDs time and time again.
Is the Price Right?
Plasmas are known to be pretty pricey. They are the most expensive bulb per price currently on the market but the price pays for a bulb with a longer lifespan and higher efficiency. LEDs are also an even more expensive choice in lighting, but the industry is seeing the prices coming down as the technology develops and becomes more appealing to the market.
Bulbin’ on a Budget
Depending on your lighting budget, the return on investment may be worth it if you see yourself using plasmas or LEDs for years to come. The extra money that you spend on LEDs or plasma now will come back to you over time in lower energy bills. They will pull less wattage overall both from direct required electrical inputs, and indirect electrical inputs from air cooling. Unless you have a small fortune to spend or lots of expendable income, we suggest that beginner or personal growers just stick with HID lighting until the cost of these technologies is less prohibitive.
Mama Said to Not Stare at the Sun
When managing your grow, wearing protective eyewear is not often your main focus, but ohhh how it should be! Even the shortest bursts of light exposure at this level can cause irreversible damage to your eyes.
Plasma lights are designed with a high quality glass filter that help to filter out UVC for your plant’s and your eyesight’s protection. While some growers may prefer to remove the glass to utilize more of the bulb’s light emitting power, we recommend keeping it in place. You are still going to be exposed to UVA and UVB with or without the glass.
So don’t fry your eyes! Our go-to for eye protection are Method Sevens. Method Seven has a pair of glasses tailored to just about any grow op rocking just about any lighting technology.
LEDs can also cause harm to your eyes if you don’t take precaution. LEDs have a high amount of blue spectrum (ultraviolet) they emit and is the brightest (in nanometers) of the available color spectrum. This can be very harmful to the human eye, even though your plants may love soaking it up. So again, make sure to rock your Method Seven shades to prevent against spot blindness (AKA “seeing spots”) or other long term effects.
Better Technology, Better Yield?
Due to the technology being so new, the debate is just beginning about whether plasma or LEDs will provide you with a better yield. When considering making the switch to one of these newer technologies (or implementing them as a supplemental light source), consider your limiting factors. The size and production of your grow is limited by three things: your budget, the size of your space, and your available amount of electricity.
Plasmas and LEDs are a financial commitment. Invest in them to see the financial return over a few year’s time in lower energy bills, and increased crop quality. For all you altruistic growers, you can sleep better at night knowing you are not using as much electricity and lowering your carbon footprint!
HIDs are cheaper initially and provide the light needed to cover a larger growing space. You have to evaluate your own limiting factors to determine what works best for your grow. Ultimately, our favorite use for both of these technologies is to add a couple of them to our lighting mix to maximize their spectral benefits, and decrease our overall electrical consumption.
Ok, So Let’s Recap LED vs LEP
While both types of lights have expanded lifespans, and save on energy and electrical costs, they do have differences that set them apart.
- Provide full spectrum
- Near 100 CRI
- Does not skip nanometers
- Best used as supplemental lighting
- Capable of making micro-adjustments to spectrum output
- Veg and bloom in one fixture
- Hundreds of diodes to create spectrum
- Constantly evolving and improving
The More You Know the Better You Grow
As lighting technology continues to evolve year after year. Researchers are attempting to develop quality bulbs and fixtures that are more energy efficient and provide the best value for their price. This definitely holds true for the ever evolving LED and the relatively new plasma. As technological advancements are made with these two we should see their cost come down making them a more tangible addition to your lighting setup. Until then, stick with HID lighting or splurge and add one or two to your lighting mix.
The next piece in our lighting technology series looks at LED vs LECs or Ceramic Metal Halide fixtures. So keep your eyes open for our next piece if this article left you with….. well, a few more questions.