For first-time users, buying an e-cigarette can get confusing. Aside from what its benefits are, the various parts, batteries, e-juice strengths, and flavors, perhaps the most difficult decision new users have to make is the choice between atomizers, cartomizers, and clearomizers.
All three perform the same basic task, which is to atomize e-liquid to create vapor. But if the basic premise is the same, why do you need to choose one in the first place?
It all boils down to preference; specifically, how you intend to use your e-cigarette.
Before going further, it’s important to note that all e-cigarettes need an atomizer to work. Cartomizers and clearomizers all have atomizers to vaporize e-juice. The main difference among the three is the delivery system.
How They Work
All atomizers, including cartomizers and clearomizers, have at least two posts inside: the positive and negative. Connected to the two posts is a coil wrapped around a wick, usually made of a heat-resistant material such as silica.
When e-juice is applied, the wick absorbs and holds it, while the coil heats up to create vapor. Unless the atomizer is devoid of any juice, the wick stays wet with e-juice the whole time due to a process called osmosis – described by Dictionary.com as “the diffusion of fluids through membranes or porous partitions… equalizing the concentrations of materials on either side of the membrane.”
The wick, acting as the membrane, is there to provide a steady flow of e-juice without flooding the coil. You will know if your atomizer is flooded when your vapor production weakens and you start to hear gurgling noises. If this happens, you will need to flush it out by blowing through the opposite end of the atomizer, or shaking it dry.
At their most basic level, atomizers work by holding e-juice then vaporizing it to produce vapor.
Among the three, atomizers are the shortest. An atomizer is filled by dripping e-juice directly onto the coil. This is called direct dripping. For disposable 510 or 305 atomizers, 3-4 drops will suffice, which is good for about 10 drags. Other atomizers, especially the rebuildable models, allow users to drip from 10 to 15 drops without over-flooding.
While the number of drags one is able to take with atomizers is significantly less than what cartomizers and clearomizers provide, direct dripping is preferred by many for its clean and flavorful vape. However, because of constant dripping, atomizer users will have to carry a bottle of e-juice around with them at all times.
You will know when to refill an atomizer once the flavor wanes. When you notice your vape getting less flavorful, drip on it right away, so you don’t dry burn the wick and get a burnt taste on your next drag. When a wick has been dry burnt, all it takes is a couple of drops, and you can vape normally again.
Longer in size than atomizers, but just as wide, cartomizers are often described as “extended atomizers.” However, instead of silica wicks, cartomizers use fillers or Poly-fil – a cotton-like fiber used to hold the e-juice.
While single coil cartomizers are available, most are dual coil. This means two coils are used to give a lower resistance and provide more vapor. However, dual coils are notorious for eating through batteries.
Able to hold a greater amount of e-juice, about 10 drops or so, cartomizer users can go on extended vaping sessions without refilling. Like atomizers, cartomizers are refilled or “topped up” once the flavor starts to wane, but refilling can be a pain since it requires tipping the cartomizer at an angle to avoid filling the air hole, or doing so via syringe. Unlike atomizers, though, once you dry burn a cartomizer, the Poly-fil is ruined and needs to be discarded.
However, instead of wasting a perfectly good cartomizer, one can convert it into a dripping atomizer by removing the filler carefully, using tweezers. Once the filler is completely removed, you can reuse your cartomizer just like any normal atomizer. But be aware that since you’re dripping directly onto the coil without a wick, expect to burn through e-juice quicker. Experienced users often keep converted cartomizers as backups to be used only in emergencies.
These days, cartomizers are not as popular and widely used as they once were. With e-cigarette technology evolving rapidly, atomizers can now hold as much juice, or more, than the cartomizers of old – without the awkward refilling, the risk of filling the air hole, and the risk of burning through the Poly-fil.
The upside of cartomizers is that they usually come pre-filled with e-juice. This is great for those who need an atomizer and e-juice in a pinch, and don’t want to bother themselves with constant refilling.
Also referred to as tanks, clearomizers come in various shapes, sizes, and configurations. But regardless of the type, clearomizers can hold more e-juice than both atomizers and cartomizers. With e-juice capacities ranging from 2.5ml to 5ml, clearomizers are great for users who don’t want to carry a bottle of e-juice around all the time, for those who are driving and for those who just want the convenience of vaping without refilling constantly throughout the day.
Using clear tanks to hold the e-juice, users can monitor their juice consumption by simply checking the remaining level, thus reducing the risk of dry hits and burnt tastes. However, there is still a chance you can get dry hits. If so, depending on the coil configuration, you either tilt the tank to saturate the wick for top coils, or loosen the wick then do a dry pull – which is taking a drag without turning the e-cigarette on – for bottom coils.
Once a clearomizer’s coil has been worn down, or if the wick becomes too gunked-up with dried e-juice, instead of discarding the whole tank, users can either rebuild a new coil and wick (for advanced users), or purchase pre-built coil heads (great for beginners).
The level of customization available to clearomizer users is high – from the choice of resistance (whether pre-built or rebuilt), the amount and type of wick to regulate e-juice flow, the size of tank (to determine the amount of e-juice it can hold), and even how it looks by swapping out the tank with other tanks of various colors and designs.
When choosing clearomizers, the two most important things to consider are tank capacity and type of coil. While tank capacity is pretty straightforward – the smaller the tank, the more portable yet lower capacity, and vice-versa – the type of coil requires more deliberation.
The Types of Coils
The type of coils used in a clearomizer plays an important part in determining your vaping experience. Each has its own pros and cons, and below, we will examine each to help you decide which type works best for you.
A clearomizer with a top coil places the atomizer closer to the mouthpiece to give users a warm vape similar to that of smoking a cigarette. Top coils are also easier to refill, since one needs only to remove the top cap. These make top coil clearomizers great for beginners.
However, given the placement of the wick and coil, dry hits are much more common. To avoid the risk of dry hits, users find that by tilting the tank towards the mouthpiece while vaping works well. If you are comfortable with the idea of vaping at an angle, or at least tilting the e-cig often, then top coils are a good choice.
A tank with bottom coils eliminates the need to constantly rewick by tilting, though it provides a much cooler vape than top coils. A bottom coil also provides more intense flavor, since the coil and wick are placed closer to the airhole.
One drawback is that bottom coils are much more prone to flooding, especially when the wick material is not enough or too porous. However, if the wick material is too dense, this can lead to dry hits. A perfect balance is needed to ensure a perfect vape with bottom coils. Refilling a bottom coil is also trickier, with users having to remove the whole tank just to refill.
Interestingly, most popular tanks these days – such as the Kayfun, Lemo, Kanger Subtank, and Aspire Atlantis – are all bottom coils.
While dual coils are common, it’s not unusual to hear users with triple or quadruple coils built into their tanks. One thing to remember about multiple coils is that they produce massive clouds of vapor and give users a much stronger throat hit. Surprisingly, even with multiple coils, these types give a cooler vape since the heat isn’t concentrated on just one coil.
However, multiple coils also draw more power from batteries. If you are prepared to switch batteries often, or use larger e-cigs with higher mAh, multiple coils can be a viable choice.
Of the three types, it really comes down to personal preference. If you like a warm vape, then top coils are best. If you like a more flavorful vape, bottom coils are the way to go. If you prefer throat hit and solid vapor production, then multiple coils are perfect. Whichever type you choose, be aware of their disadvantages so you won’t get surprised in the end.
So, Atomizers, Cartomizers, or Clearomizers?
Each have their own pros and cons, having to sacrifice one quality in exchange for another. But If you can choose just one, clearomizers or atomizers are recommended since cartomizers are outdated and are much harder to procure these days.
However, that’s not to say cartomizers don’t have their place in any vaper’s arsenal. If you are the type who prefers fuss-free vaping – without having to worry about constant refilling – pre-filled cartomizers are cheap enough to dispose of after every use.
Atomizers are usually reserved for advanced users, since the amount of tinkering involved and high maintenance required makes them great for only the most dedicated vapers. However, for many users, the flavor intensity that atomizers bring to the table makes it all worthwhile. For beginners, having a spare atomizer (even if just the disposable type) on hand can be useful, especially if you need to taste different flavors in one sitting.
Clearomizers, on the other hand, are the hands down favorite among most users, both beginner and advanced, simply because of the convenience and the high level of customization available. New users can enjoy swapping out coil heads to experiment with varying resistances, while advanced users can experiment with rebuilding various coil configurations to achieve maximum flavor and vapor production.
In the end, the choice is always yours. If you can afford it, you can get one of each and swap them out depending on the situation. But no matter what you choose, anything that gets you off cigarettes is a good choice.