A Guide to Atomizers
The atomizer is one of the three crucial components of your vaping experience, alongside your e-juice and battery, but with so many varieties available, how do you make the right decision for your needs?
Should you stick with a basic clearomizer or upgrade to an RDA or RTA?
If you’re new to vaping – or even relatively new – the sheer multitude of options can be overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to get a quick run-down of the pros and cons of the different ways to vaporize premium e-liquid before you make your purchase.
Here’s a basic guide to the main types of e-cig atomizer on the market.
The clearomizer is the basic type of atomizer in the modern day, the spiritual successor to the basic cartomizers that hold the liquid in cigalike (cigarette-size) devices, containing an atomizer head (with a wick and coil inside) and a reservoir for your juice.
The core benefit of any type of clearomizer is simplicity. It’s a fill-up-and-vape system: you simply fill it with juice, screw it onto your device and it’s ready to go. Similarly, coils die after a week or so of use, and the atomizer heads are simply unscrewed and replaced with a fresh one. That’s about as complicated as it gets; when you’re changing coils, you can give the components a rinse in water to clean your clearomizer.
The main downsides are that the performance and flavor don’t match up to more advanced atomizers. There is some variation within clearomizers, though, and this is largely due to the placement of the coil.
The CE4/CE5 design is the archetypal top-coil clearomizer, with the atomizer head towards the top of the device, sitting atop a metallic stem that runs up the center of the device, and the liquid contained in a plastic mini-tank that usually holds around 1.6 ml of e-liquid. You ordinarily have to unscrew the drip tip at the top of the device to re-fill (ensuring you don’t get any juice down the center tube).
For flavor and performance, top-coil clearomizers are the bottom of the pack. The basic reason for this is that for e-liquid to be vaporized by the coil, it has to travel up the wick (through capillary action) and to the coil. This means that the wicking ability is pretty limited because it’s a constant fight against gravity, and if you run too much power through your coil you can easily kill the taste of your juice. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use one, but realistically there’s no reason to opt for one these days.
Bottom-coil clearomizers are effectively identical to top-coil varieties except that the coil is right at the bottom of the device, with the center tube extending above it. The core difference is that the wicking ability is no longer limited by capillary action: gravity is working for you rather than against you. As a result, the devices can cope with higher power settings and the vapor production and flavor are generally improved in comparison to top-coil options. There are also more devices using dual coils in this class, which generally lead to improved vapor production and flavor, since more tobacco e-liquid is vaporized with each puff. Vertical coil devices also improve the airflow in comparison to standard models, leading to better vapor production.
The difference in design doesn’t affect the simplicity very much at all, with the only difference being that both refilling and changing coils are done from the bottom of the device. The coils still screw in and out easily, and re-filling works in the same way, just with the device inverted. Many clearomizers use this design, including the ProTank and AeroTank series, the EVOD, the Aspire ET, the Nautilus and numerous others; in fact, most clearomizers you’ll encounter in the modern day will be bottom-coil devices. Additionally, many feature glass tanks, which (unlike polycarbonate plastic options) can stand up to acidic juices (and other tank-crackers).
A downside to bottom-coil clearomizers is the possibility of issues with leaking and gurgling. While these problems can occur with top-coils too, it’s a common issue with bottom-coil devices because if something isn’t tightened or sealed correctly, juice will get through the gap. These issues can be fixed fairly easily (and newer devices don’t have problems as often as early incarnations of devices like the ProTank), but it may require some minor tinkering.
Tanks and Sub-Ohm Tanks
The line between tanks and clearomizers has become increasingly blurred in recent years, and it’s fair to say that they’re effectively identical when you get right down to it. The core difference is that tank systems tend to have space for more juice, and are a little bulkier overall as a result. The benefit to this is that you have to fill up less often, and if you get a bottom-coil option (as most are) you’ll still get a solid performance in terms of vapor production and flavor.
Sub-ohm tanks like the Aspire Atlantis, Kanger SubTank and the Joyetech Delta II are worth a mention, though, because they push the boundaries in terms of vapor production and flavor. By reducing the resistance of the setup and using multiple coils, sub-ohm tanks offer fantastic performance while still maintaining the simplicity of basic clearomizer/tank devices. You fill up and change coils in exactly the same way, and – provided you have a battery that can handle the greater current draw – all you have to do is attach the device and vape away.
For a beginner looking for excellent performance, sub-ohm tanks are a pretty promising option. The only downside is that battery safety becomes a concern. The short version: low-resistance coils draw more current at the same voltage, but any given battery can only safely provide so much current. The upshot is that you can’t just throw a sub-ohm tank onto an eGo-style device and fire; you need a device and battery that can support low resistances (like many modern variable wattage box mods and mechanical mods paired with a high-drain battery).
The other limitation, although it isn’t necessarily a problem if you value the simplicity, is that you’re pretty much stuck with buying new coils whenever yours reaches the end of its life. This means that – while vaping this way is still cheaper than smoking – you can keep up your habit for cheaper if you’re willing to do some tinkering and build your own coils.
Rebuildable Atomizers (RBAs)
The basic premise of the RBA is that you can do away with the pre-built coils, pick yourself up some kanthal and wicking material (such as 100 % organic cotton) and make your own coils. This might seem like a lot of needless work, but the benefits come in the form of better flavor, improved vapor production and a greater ability to customize your vaping experience. Plus, getting setup with enough kanthal and wicking material for the foreseeable future is very cheap indeed.
Rebuildable Dripping Atomizers (RDAs)
These are the simplest form of RBA, and may look very strange at first sight because there is no reservoir for your e-liquid. Instead, they consist of a “deck” covered with a cap (with a drip tip attached), with a number of standing posts. The idea is that you make a coil out of kanthal or nichrome, and attach one end to the central post and another to an outer post, and insert your own wick through it. You then drip your juice directly onto the coil and wick, offering exceptional wicking and often flawless performance. This means you have to drip fairly often, but many devices have a deck that serves as a “well” so you can over-fill it and drip less often.
Tons of devices fall into this class, including the Tugboat, Plume Veil, the Freakshow, various IGO options and loads more. They all have differing features, with some allowing airflow control, some having more posts than others, better post layouts, deeper drip wells and various features designed to make it easier to get your coils connected.
The downside to this style of atomizer is the technical side of things. Building coils isn’t exactly difficult, but it’s not for everybody, and you also have to ensure the resistance of your build is suitable for the battery you’re using (for the same reasons as discussed in the sub-ohm tanks section). And of course, sometimes you don’t want to be dripping all day.
Rebuildable Tank Atomizers (RTAs)
As you might expect from the name, RTAs bridge the gap between RDAs and tank systems, allowing you to build your own coil but then removing the need for continuous dripping by including a tank. The basic layout is a deck – much the same as an RDA deck – with a tank attached around it. The deck is separated from the tank by an enclosed chamber, which effectively makes a mini-RDA inside the outer tank, with small channels in the bottom to allow your juice to flow from the outer tank and up to your wick and coil.
The balance that devices like the Kayfun and the Russian 91 % strike is perfect for anyone looking for the performance and excellent flavor of an RDA with the convenience of a tank system. The Subtank also includes a mini-RBA base, meaning it can serve the same function as RTAs, as well as supporting pre-built coils like other sub-ohm tanks.
Conclusion – Choosing an Atomizer
Now you have an understanding of the different options available to you, the only thing left to do is to make your choice. The best advice here is to think of what you need, and that doesn’t necessarily mean getting the very best performance. If you aren’t interested in rebuilding or going through the process of finding a high-end battery and compatible device, the best advice is to stick with a simple bottom-coil clearomizer. If you want to up the performance a little, then sub-ohm tanks are an excellent option for relatively new vapers, as long as you find yourself a dependable mod to go with it. For those looking for the ultimate vaping experience, even if it means “getting your hands dirty,” so to speak, then rebuildables are the best way to go, although they aren’t really recommended for beginners.
Take it at your own pace, experiment with a few devices and, above all, don’t rush into high-end atomizers if you’re happy with something more straightforward.
- Ashtray Blog: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Clearomizers
- Vaping Cheap: RBA or RDA? A Guide to Rebuildable Atomizers
- MistHub: Guide to Sub-Ohm Vaping
- Olympia Vapor Works: The Best Sub-Ohm Tanks
- Discount Vapers: Why Does My Clearomizer Gurgle and Leak?
- Ashtray Blog: 15 Common Clearomizer Mistakes – And How to Fix Them!
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