The cotton-wheat double-cropping system is widely used in the Yellow River Valley of China, but whether and how different planting patterns within cotton-wheat double-cropping systems impact heat and light use efficiency have not been well documented. A field experiment investigated the effects of the cropping system on crop productivity and the capture and use efficiency of heat and light in two fields differing in soil fertility. Three planting patterns, namely cotton intercropped with wheat (CIW), cotton directly seeded after wheat (CDW), and cotton transplanted after wheat (CTW), as well as one cotton monoculture (CM) system were used. Cotton-wheat double cropping significantly increased crop productivity and land equivalent ratios relative to the CM system in both fields. As a result of increased growing degree days (GDD), intercepted photosynthetically active radiation (IPAR), and photothermal product (PTP), the capture of light and heat in the double-cropping systems was compared with that in the CM system in both fields. With improved resource capture, the double-cropping systems exhibited a higher light and heat use efficiency according to thermal product efficiency, solar energy use efficiency (Eu), radiation use efficiency (RUE), and PTP use efficiency (PTPU). The cotton lint yield and biomass were not significantly correlated with RUE across cropping patterns, indicating that RUE does not limit cotton production. Among the double-cropping treatments, CDW had the lowest GDD, IPAR, and PTP values but the highest heat and light resource use efficiency and highest overall resource use efficiency. This good performance was even more obvious in the high-fertility field. Therefore, we encourage the expanded use of CDW in the Yellow River Valley, especially in fields with high fertility, given the high productivity and resource use efficiency of this system. Moreover, the use of agronomic practices involving a reasonably close planting density, optimized irrigation and nutrient supply, and the application of new short-season varieties of cotton or wheat can potentially enhance CDW crop yields and productivity.