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Atomisers are at the heart of every vape kit on the market, and are the source of the majority of confusion when it comes to vaping. Often beginner vapers will resign themselves to ignorance, simply bringing in their vape when it’s time to replace the coil, in the hope that the shopkeep will be able to identify what it is they need.
Well today we’re here to educate you on what atomisers are, how they work, and what you need to know when you’re vape shopping!
What are atomisers, and how do they work?
An atomiser is the part of a vape kit that heats up the E-Liquid until it evaporates. They generally sit on top of a mod and have a mouthpiece attached where the user inhales the resulting vapour.
In a nutshell, an atomiser works by combining an absorbent wicking material with a heating element, which is usually a wire coil. The wick absorbs the e-liquid, bringing it in close proximity to the coil. Electricity is then passed through the coil, causing it to heat up and evaporate the liquid held in the wick.
All atomisers work this way. The differences arise in a number of factors:
- What form the heating element takes
- What wicking materials are used
- How liquid is delivered to the heating element
- How the user maintains the atomiser
Here we will explain the core types of atomiser. For the purposes of this blog we will be ignoring the older style of disposable clearomisers and cartomisers. Though they are important points in vaping history, and indeed clearomisers can still be bought and used today, the principles are the same as replaceable atomisers, except the entire tank setup is disposable.
If you use a vape kit from a brand such as Smok, Aspire, Joytech, Innokin or Vaporesso (amongst others) you are likely using a kit which utilises a tank containing a replaceable atomiser. These atomisers are designed to be used and used until the heating element falis or the wick is too burnt, causing a bad taste for the user. Generally, a replaceable atomiser has a lifespan of about a week, depending on how much they are used and what liquid is used with them.
The atomiser, usually referred to as the ‘coil’ or coil-head, is a disposable and replaceable cylinder of metal which contains a wire coil heating element surrounded by a cotton wick. Coils and tanks are designed in tandem, designed to work exclusively with one another. It is very rare that a coil designed to work in one tank will work in another. They offer some advantages:
- Simplicity: Once a coil burns out, just take it out and replace it with a new one. No maths or tools required
- Flexibility: many tanks have multiple coil types that can be used, offering varying levels of resistance or different heating element designs.
- Ubiquity: If you know what to do with one replaceable atomiser, you know how to work most of them. Coils are usually readily available at any vape shop (especially for bigger brands)
There are some disadvantages to this style of atomiser though, namely cost. Although the kits they are included with tend to be priced competitively, the disposable coils must be bought repeatedly, costing several pounds for a pack or, in some cases, per coil. Since they can’t be cleaned or repaired, their lifespan is limited by design and their replacement is an ongoing cost of using such a system. This is the price paid for simplicity and convenience.
Some recent innovations in replaceable atomisers include Mesh (pictured above) and Ceramic coils. Mesh coils, as we mentioned earlier, replace the wire coil with a strip of perforated wire mesh. In theory, this type of heating element offers a greater surface area for heating liquid, improving flavour and vapour output, and a more consistent pattern of heat, meaning less hot-spots that can burn cotton wicks.
Ceramic coils avoid burning the cotton wick by using semi-porous ceramics as the wicking material. This ceramic has a much higher resistance to high temperatures and therefore, in theory, ceramic coils have longer lifespans. Their lifespan will still be limited by the accumulation of residues left behind from vaping e-liquids with lots of additives, but they won’t suffer from the same burning issues as traditional cotton and wire coils.
Other novel coil designs exist, such as the rarer disc design. This uses a flat, circular heating element set atop a bed of cotton to achieve more consistent heating, similar to mesh coils, and more effective wicking due to the larger area offered by the flat, round bed of cotton.
So what if you didn’t have to buy packs of coils every couple of weeks? Well, there is another way…
Rather than buying atomisers designed to work with a single kind of tank, Rebuildable Atomisers consist of a system designed to hold heating elements and wicks which the user can make and replace themselves, at much lower cost. However, the trade off is that they usually require tools to properly maintain (a small screwdriver at the very least, along with tweezers and scissors) and, in advanced use cases, a good knowledge of Ohm’s law.
There are two big advantages to using rebuildable atomisers. The materials needed to maintain them are much cheaper than buying disposable coils over and over again. A roll of wire and bag of cotton can be bought for just a few pounds, and the materials they contain can, if used correctly, last months. Even buying packs of handmade coils, while more expensive than winding your own, is much cheaper, as when re-wicked and cleaned often a coil can last for weeks at a time.
There are 3 key types of Rebuildable Atomisers: RDAs, RTAs, and Hybrids such as RDTAs
RDAs, or Rebuildable Dripping Atomisers are probably the simplest type of atomiser available, from an engineering standpoint. They consist of a deck with posts where you afix coils, and a well which is filled with juice and wicking material to keep the coils supplied with liquid.
RDAs are very flexible in how they are set up. A knowledgeable user can tailor the resistance of their coils to their own vaping style, allowing them to get exactly the intensity of flavour, amount of vapour, and battery life that they wish. RDAs come in many shapes and sizes, some with one coil mount, some with two, some even more. Some feature novel systems of coil mounting or airflow delivery, but the principle is always the same; there is a place to screw in coils, a cotton wick is threaded through the coil, and the ends of this wick are stuffed into a juice well of some sort.
RDAs are disadvantaged by not having a reservoir of liquid in the same way a tank does, meaning liquid has to be dripped onto the RDA directly every few puffs (hence the name). In return however, you get noticeably higher performance than typical tank systems, since every part of the RDA is dedicated to creating vapour rather than storing liquid. Vapour is produced in very high quantities and with high density, meaning much more intense flavour.
RTAs, or Rebuildable Tank Atomisers, aim to solve the issue of having to drip on an RDA constantly by submerging the RDA style deck in a tank of liquid, feeding liquid to the coil through gravity and pressure. Ideally, this gives the best of both worlds, as you no longer have to drip directly onto the coil, yet you don’t have to buy new coil-heads all the time either.
The trade off here though is they can be tricky to set up correctly, and setting them up wrong can lead to a lot of leaking juice. There’s a bit of a knack to it, and some RTAs will be easier to build on than others. The key is persistence and research, and to keep trying until you’ve cracked it.
Hybrid systems, such as RDTAs, have the tank reservoir below the build deck, allowing users to drip directly onto the coil if they wish, but still functioning much like an RTA. Rather than submerging the coil deck, the ends of the cotton wick are dipped into the reservoir from above and feed the coil with liquid through capillary action. This setup reduces the issue of leaking common to RTAs, but the slower wicking action can lead to dry hits and burnt cotton.
More recent innovations, such as bottom feeding RDAs (also known as ‘squonking’) eschew the tank reservoir, instead using a silicone bottles held in the mod to squeeze liquid into the RDA’s juice well from below, effectively eliminating the need to drip. This has seen a surge in popularity recently, as it solves a lot of issues with other systems, but it should be noted that overzealous squonking, much like overdripping, can flood an RDA, leading to leaking issues and sometimes painful spitting of hot juice directly into the mouth of the user. Ouch!
Replaceable atomisers offer simplicity in exchange for monetary cost and average performance. Rebuildable atomisers require more hands-on maintenance, but offer value for money and high performance.
That just about wraps things up for this week's blog! If you have any questions about any atomiser of any kind, you can reach out to us on Facebook, or pop in to one of our retail locations in Leicester, Loughborough, and Hamilton!
Until next time, stay Flawless!