What is the Atomizer on a Vape?

By James Powley

Vape devices come in several forms, but two of the most common are vape pens and box mods. Both types of vapes depend on an atomizer to function properly. But what is the atomizer in a vape? This crucial part of the device is referred to by several names; you may see atomizers referred to as clearomizers, cartomizers, or sometimes as tanks. There are subtle differences between these vape atomizer types, but they all fall under the ‘atomizer’ category.


Atomizer refers to the wick and coil within a vape device. The wick (typically made of cotton) draws in e-liquid from the tank and onto the coil - the element that heats the e-liquid to produce a vapour. Sometimes, atomizers may be referred to as tanks but the tank itself is actually a separate component where the e-liquid is held.


Cartomizers combine the atomizer (the coil and wick) with the cartridge/tank. Unlike most mods and rebuildable vapes, which house e-liquid in a separate tank, these devices surround the atomizer with e-liquid by housing the coil and wick within the cartridge – these combined elements are then connected directly to a battery. By combining the two components, cartomizers are more compact than other vapes and some of them are referred to as cigalikes due to their slim, cigarette-like design.


Clearomizers, like cartomizers, combine the coil, wick and e-liquid within a single component. The main point of difference with clearomizers comes in their appearance; as the name suggests, they use a clear tank which allows users to monitor the e-liquid level in the device.

Vape Atomizer Types

There are several types of technology used in vape atomizers, some of which are more complex than others, and the atomizer you choose can change the vaping experience. Different atomizers might allow for different airflows which will impact the density of the vapour. Some atomizers require specific types of e-liquid, vaping devices, and other variables.

MTL Atomizers

Mouth to Lung (MTL) vaping means the vapour is drawn into the mouth and then inhaled. This style is comparable to the process of consuming a cigarette, where the smoke is held in the user’s mouth before it is inhaled into the lungs. Atomizers designed for MTL-style vaping have specific features, including smaller chimneys and coils that are designed for restricted vapour flow. These devices often use e-liquids with higher concentrations of propylene glycol (PG) to vegetable glycerine (VG), delivering a strong “throat hit” – the sensation felt at the back of the throat upon inhalation.

Sub-Ohm Atomizers/DLT Vape Atomizers

Ohm’s law is used to determine the current, voltage and resistance in circuits; sub-ohm simply means the total resistance in the circuit is less than 1ohm. Sub-Ohm devices or atomizers use a high airflow and low resistance coils; this means more current is flowing through the circuit which results in hotter coils and more vapour production. Because these atomizers use more power to create higher temperatures and denser vapour clouds, a higher VG concentration is recommended. Greater airflow allows for DTL (Direct To Lung) vaping, where the vapour is inhaled directly to the lung without being held in the mouth first.

RBA Atomizers

Rebuildable Drip Atomizers (RDA) and Rebuildable Tank Atomizers (RTA) are both types of Rebuildable Atomizers (RBA), meaning both can be rebuilt. This allows for core components of the atomizer to be changed without having to replace the whole unit. Many experienced vapers prefer RTAs/RDAs for this reason, particularly since these types of devices provide the ability to change and customise coils using a variety of techniques.

The difference between RDAs and RTAs is in the reservoir, the holder of the e-liquid. RDAs require users to place a few drops of e-liquid directly onto the coils — this means the device does not have a tank to carry e-liquid and users must carry e-liquids separately to refill their device. Some users enjoy this as it allows them to easily switch from flavour to flavour. Furthermore, because the e-liquid is dripped directly onto the wick right before it is turned to vapour, RDAs may deliver more flavour and large amounts of vapour. RTA vapes, on the other hand, have a tank reservoir which holds more e-liquid within the device itself. The filling mechanism in RTAs is similar to standard clearomizers.

Rebuildable atomizers should only be used by experienced vapers with a solid understanding a vaping technology and ohm’s law.

How Does an Atomizer Work?

Atomizers work by heating vape juice and turning it to vapour. The majority of atomizers connect to a tank, which holds the e-liquid. From here, the liquid is drawn onto the coil by the wick (this is the fabric part of the vape that becomes saturated with juice). The e-liquid is then heated by the coil which turns the juice into a vapour which is fed through the mouthpiece.

What is the Difference Between a Coil and an Atomizer?

The coil is the heating element found inside an atomizer. Simply put, an atomizer cannot work without a coil, but a coil is just one part of an atomizer. In retail, a coil may be called an ‘atomizer head’. The coil, in the most basic sense, is a metal piece which heats up and causes the vape juice to vaporise. Coils need to be replaced every few weeks - this is not only because of the metal filament itself being affected by wear and tear, but the wick also wears down. While the wick is separate from the coil, it is fundamental to the coil functioning properly.

RDA and RTA atomizers can be taken apart to replace only the wick or coil, while other vape devices may require the entire atomizer to be replaced.

Other Alternatives to Smoking

Heated tobacco products are an alternative to smoking that do not use vape juice or atomizers. Heated tobacco products combine specially designed tobacco sticks, called HEETS, with an electronic heating device, called IQOS. Learn more about IQOS right here.

Last Updated: 22nd November 2021

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