E-Liquid Delivery Options: Atomizer vs. Cartomizer vs. Clearomizer
An e-cigarette heats up liquid nicotine (AKA: e-liquid or smoke juice) and converts it into vapor so you can inhale it just like traditional tobacco smoke. Typically, an e-cig delivers liquid to the heating element via an atomizer, cartomizer or clearomizer. Although these components share some similarities and serve the same basic function, each has it's own unique qualities that appeal to different types of electronic cigarette users.
Atomizer (AKA: Atty)
The most basic and primitive e-liquid delivery option, atomizers are a vital component in both cartomizers and clearomizers, but by itself, an “atty” is used by dedicated vaping enthusiasts for “dripping.” Although there are a wide variety of atomizer designs, they typically consist of a wick that soaks up e-liquid and funnels it to the heating coil. The coil is generally a short piece of resistance wire wrapped around the wicking material. On top of the coil/wick is a mesh bridge, which helps regulate the amount of e-liquid that reaches the wick, and the coil.
Unlike cartomizers and clearomizers, which hold several milliliters of e-juice at a time, an atomizer (by itself) does not store e-liquid. When using a rebuildable or “dripping” atomizer, a user must drip 3-5 drops of e-liquid on the wick before each use, which results in outstanding flavor and vapor production, but limits the device's operation to just a few puffs. After just a few draws the user must re-wet the wick to prevent burning the wicking material or destroying the coil. For those looking for the absolute best flavor and performance, dripping is the way to go! But for the average user, it's certainly not the most convenient or realistic option.
- Best vapor production and throat hit
- Solid and consistent flavor
- Simple, long-lasting design
- Fast and easy to switch flavors
- Needs to be constantly refilled
- Can get messy
- Must carry e-liquid separately
- Atomizer can become flooded
Unlike an atomizer, cartomizers allow you to carry additional e-liquid for regular, long-term use without the need to constantly drip or wet the coil. Combining an atomizer and a cartridge, a “cartomizer” includes a coil that heats up and vaporizes e-liquid, but it's surrounded by a cylindrical tank filled with polyfill material that stores and delivers it as needed.
Cartomizers are commonly found on mini, cig-a-like products, but they can also be used on larger devices, or combined with tanks to provide enormous e-juice capacity. Some cartos use horizontal coils, which are the most like dripping since they include a wick supplied by the polyfill, while the most common type of cartomizer has a vertical coil where the heating element is supplied directly from the polyfill – without a wick.
Cartomizers have a huge advantage over dripping atomizers since they don't have to be constantly refilled, but because the polyfill can become contaminated with buildup, they do need to be cleaned regularly, especially when switching flavors. Because of this build up, they may not perform quite as well or taste as crisp as an atomizer, but they're cheap and easy to replace when necessary.
- Holds more e-juice than atomizer
- Simple to refill
- Cheap and easy to replace
- Polyfill may dull vapor and flavor
- Can retain flavor from previous e-juice
- Must be cleaned or replaced regularly
- No way to monitor e-juice level (without tank)
- If run dry, user will experience burnt flavor
On a fundamental level cartomizers and clearomizers are very similar, with an atomizer at the core and a tank that holds the e-liquid. As you probably guessed from the name, clearomizers are clear, constructed with plastic or pyrex glass, but rather than using polyfill material to deliver the e-juice to the coil, clearomizers use wicks. Because they lack the polyfill material they tend to deliver cleaner, more natural flavors, and users can visually monitor their e-liquid levels as they go.
Not only are they easy to refill and clean, but clearomizers can hold a ton of e-liquid – up to 6.0ml! Depending on how much you vape, a single tank can easily last throughout the day (or longer) without any need to top off.
Clearomizers are relatively new to the market but have quickly become the most popular choice for vapers because of their outstanding flexibility and performance. There are a wide variety of different styles, designs and manufacturers, each with their own unique qualities and features. Here are a few examples:
- Largest e-juice capacity (1.6ml – 6ml)
- Clear design allows you to monitor e-juice levels
- Longer-lasting than cartomizers
- Wicks tend to offer better vapor and flavor than polyfill
- Rebuildable versions can save you money
- Easy to clean and replace heads
- Cost more than cartomizers and atomizers upfront
- May leak depending on manufacturer and model
- Wicks can retain flavor from previous e-juice
Top Coil vs. Bottom Coil Clearomizers
Clearomizers are offered in either top or bottom coil designs. A top coil has it's coil placed near the mouthpiece, resulting in a warmer vapor, but with longer wicks that may become dry as the e-liquid level drops, sometimes requiring you to tip your device to keep them submerged. A bottom coil has the coil positioned towards the battery end, with shorter wicks that stay submerged longer and perform more consistently, but producing vapor that tends to be cooler. Although there seems to be a bias towards bottom coil designs these days, there are enthusiasts on both ends of the spectrum with strong personal preferences, one way or the other.
Dual Coil vs. Single Coil
To confuse things even further, atomizers, cartomizers and clearomizers can have one – or multiple coils. Originally, single coil designs were the only option available, but these days dual and even triple coil devices are just as common. In general, more coils mean hotter, thicker vapor, but other factors such as resistance and voltage can also have an impact. With all other factors being equal, more coils generally produce more vapor and stronger throat hit, especially in higher voltage devices, but battery life will be reduced and you'll burn through e-liquid much faster. Even some of the most experienced vapers prefer single coil devices, so there's no clear winner in this category. It really depends on your personal preferences and your device, so some experimentation may be necessary.
Which Delivery Option Is Best?
If you're new to vaping, you'll undoubtedly start off with either cartomizer or clearomizer. Most mini, cig-a-like products include disposable cartomizers, which are extremely affordable and easy to use. If you choose a larger mid-size Ego or vape pen, a basic single or dual-coil clearomizer is often included, which is an excellent way to gain some experience filling and cleaning tanks.
As you advance, you'll be able to experiment with different types of devices and setups, refining your preferences and moving towards higher-quality gear. There are loyal fans of each type of delivery option, but clearomizers have become extremely popular because of their flexibility and ease-of-use. And over the past few years, sub-ohm tanks has taken them to a whole new level.
Some vapers still prefer cartomizers for their low cost and simplicity, while some of the most dedicated “purists” choose to drip with rebuildable drip atomizers (RDAs). Often too complex for newbies and not nearly as convenient as cartos or clearos, RDAs offer the absolute best flavor and vapor production.