If you are a new or recent vaper you may be wondering what all these technical terms refer to. While each of these devices functions in a similar fashion, there are some key differences that affect a vaper’s overall experience. Often these terms are used to describe a variety of similar devices, so it’s in every vaper’s interest to understand the key differences of each device to best understand what is perfect for them. 

Vaping is still generally a very new innovation and as such its terminology is still evolving. Words are often used interchangeably of one another and devices can be used in a variety of ways. This can be quite confusing to new vapers, especially those who have never purchased a device before and are looking for their perfect vape kit. In this article, we will help break down the differences between atomizers, clearomizers, and cartomizers and help you pick the best kind of vape tank for your needs. 

What is an atomizer?

The technical definition of an atomizer is any “device for emitting water, perfume, or other liquids as a fine spray.” This definition doesn’t quite encapsulate the role atomizers play in vaping, as the term atomizer generally covers any device that vaporizes an e-liquid. This clearly doesn’t produce a fine spray, though it could be argued the vapour produced is a super fine liquid particulate. 

For a time in the vaping industry, an atomizer referred to the coil of any vape tank. This part is key to the vaping experience, as it generally produces all the vapour being inhaled and is the only part of the tank that generates heat. While the term generally only applies to the coil, the term was later stretched out to encapsulate the entire vape tank. 

In the more modern era of vaping, the word “atomizer” is often used as an umbrella term to encapsulate the rebuildable side of vape equipment. This includes RDAs & RDTAs, and RTAs, all of which give users the ability to construct and install their own coils. The term is still occasionally used for non-rebuildable tanks, but generally speaking, if you hear the word atomizer it refers to rebuildable devices.  

How does an atomizer work?

While the design of atomizers has evolved over the course of vaping, they’re all built and operated in similar ways. For vapers looking to build their own coils on an atomizer all they’ll need is a simple set of tools, wire or pre-made coil, and wick. 

  • Prepare your coil, or pre-built coil, and secure it on the atomizer’s build deck (this may need to be done multiple times if your atomizer has space or requires more than one coil.) 
  • Check you base coil resistance on a vape mod or ohm meter, making sure you are aware of your battery’s safety and limits. 
  • Carefully, and slowly, dry burn your coil(s) to remove any hot spots and compress the coil till it glows evenly from the inside out. (Pulse the fire button for this step)  
  • If you are using ceramic tweezers you can compress the coils while they’re being fired, but if your tweezers are metal stop pressing the firing button while compressing. 
  • Leave the atomizer aside for the coil to cool down to room temperature. 
  • Prepare your wicking material and place it into your coil, making sure to leave enough excess on the sides to feed into the wicking channels.
  • Press the excess wick into the juice well of the atomizer.  
  • Drip e-liquid on your coil to prime your wick. 
  • Allow it to saturate for a bit, then begin vaping. 

This entire process should only take a few minutes to complete, though it may take longer if you are new or a less experienced builder. When dry firing your coil, be sure to do so at a low wattage and only in short bursts. If you are using a rebuildable dripping atomizer (RDA), continue to drip liquid on the coil whenever you sense it getting dry. If you’re using a rebuildable tank atomizer (RTA), then fill up the tank and carefully monitor it so it doesn’t go empty. On a rebuildable dripping tank atomizer (RDTA) you will need to do both. 

While this process does apply to a wide variety of atomizers, there will be some differences depending on what device you use. Certain atomizers will have wildly different build decks, which may accommodate single or multiple coils, have unique airflow arrangements or may have intricate wicking setups. These reasons are why rebuildable atomizers are often the most demanding vape devices, but they can also provide a plethora of customizability and a tailor-made vaping experience. 

What is a clearomizer?

The term clearomizer encapsulates the most popular and widely used devices in vaping and has persisted as the primary term to refer to a wide variety of tanks. The name itself comes from the combination of “clear” and “atomizer,” and usually comprises of a clear glass or plastic tank, a replaceable coil, a chimney, and a mouthpiece. The first clearomizers to gain popularity were the CE4 and CE5 by Aspire, who would go on to produce the most popular clearomizers, the Nautilus line. 

Generally speaking, all vape tanks that take replaceable coils are clearomizers, although the term is generally reserved for MTL tanks nowadays. These tanks will often come with 510 connectors, which allows them to be used with a variety of vape mods and pens. There are some clearomizers that come as non-removable parts of vape kits, although these are becoming less popular with the rise of pod systems

While sub-ohm tanks do technically fall into this category, they are often referred to as sub-ohm tanks and not clearomizers. 

How does a clearomizer work?

A clearomizer is perhaps the easiest vaping device to use, as long as you understand the basics. The first step is to carefully and adequately prime your coil by dripping some e-liquid in it. This step will ensure your new coil doesn’t produce a dry hit and gets it ready to fully saturate itself in e-liquid. Once the coil has been primed, screw it into place, reassemble the tank, fill it with vape juice, and let it sit for a moment to fully saturate properly. 

If you are using your tank on a variable wattage device (a device that allows you to adjust the power settings), start on the minimum recommended wattage and continue to increase power till you reach the maximum, or find a satisfying vape. Be mindful of your wattage at all times, as any wattage above the maximum can lead to some nasty dry hits. 

In the current era of vaping, most new vapers start on clearomizers simply because of their ease of use and overall performance. While atomizers still offer a greater level of customizability, clearomizers are no slouch either, with newer models giving vapers a wide array of options to customize and tailor their vaping experience. 

What is a cartomizer?

There was a time when the cartomizer was the only option vapers had and for many experienced vapers this was what originally got them into vaping. Serving as a portmanteau of the words “cartridge” and “atomizer,” cartomizers generally come pre-filled and are replaceable after they die or run out of liquid. The devices themselves, attach onto the end of a battery and the combination of the two generally resemble the shape of a cigarette. The wicking material found in these devices is generally polyester fiberfill, more commonly referred to as polyfill. 

How does a cartomizer work?

These are perhaps the easiest devices to use since they come pre-filled and don’t require users to add or remove any pieces. Setting up a cartomizer is essentially a two-step process: just screw the cartomizer onto the battery and press the button or inhale to activate the device. The vaping experience is quite restrictive, producing small amounts of vapour, and essentially mimics the effect of smoking a cigarette. Once the cartomizer is empty, simply dispose of it and buy a new one. These devices may not be the best way to produce flavour, or deliver huge clouds, but they will get the job done and are incredibly pocket-friendly. 

It should be noted that cartomizers have almost completely disappeared from the modern vaping industry and have been replaced by pod systems. Pod systems generally function in a very similar way, but provide better flavour, vapour, and have better battery capacity. 

Which one should you pick?  

For beginners and vapers that demand performance but want simplicity, the only option really is a clearomizer. Whether it be a sub-ohm tank or MTL clearomizer, both options will offer up a high-quality vape, while still being incredibly simple to use and easy to find. Replacing coils will require some effort, but the process is quite easy to do and packs of coils are often reasonably priced.

That being said, if you’re a more experienced vaper in search of performance, then an atomizer may be the perfect device for you. You will need to take some time to learn to build and wick, but atomizers do offer some of the best flavour and vapour production in the vaping industry. Atomizer also offer a more affordable option to vapers, as the cost of wire and cotton are far less than purchasing pre-built coils. This option will require some research and practice, but it’s all worth the effort for flavour and vapour chasers. 

If you’re purely looking for a nicotine delivery system, that can easily fit in your pocket, a cartomizer may be the best choice for you. That being said, if you are considering this style of vape, take a look at the more modern pod system as it closely mimics the design principles of cartomizers, but offers better performance. 

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