Difference Between Atomizer, Cartomizer, and Clearomizer

Posted by Vaporizer Chief on 7th Jun 2021

In your endless quest to garner more knowledge in regards to all things vaping, it's not a far cry to assume that you've eventually run into vape terms such as atomizer, clearomizer, and cartomizer. While atomizers are relatively well-known in the world of vaping, clearomizers and cartomizers do play their own parts. It's pretty much mandatory to get your vaping knowledge up to speed and to be able to make informed decisions when purchasing your next vaping kit.

While all 3 of these function very similarly, there are small and subtle differences in the way they're put together. This can make a significant impact on how your vaporizer feels and performs. Depending on what you get, your choice among these 3 could easily make or break your vaping experience so feel free to read up and know the lowdown on these types of vaping technologies.

How Does a Vape Tank Work?

For all the huff and puff that many vaping companies like to mention about their brand-new products, vape tanks are pretty simple when you break down how they work. A vape tank is essentially a glass or polycarbonate chamber used to house your vaping material of choice.

All tanks also have an atomizer or cartomizer built-in within the chamber. Both of these use a coil attached to a positive and negative post which draws current from your vapes battery. A wicking material is also used and is placed in direct contact with the coil/heating element.It's what draws e-liquid or oil from the glass chamber into the coil which then heats up and vaporizes the e-liquid/oil and thus creating that sweet vapor.

While simple in operation, there are many factors that come into play and can make a big difference as to how your vape performs. The wicking material is a good example of this. While organic cotton is one of the most inexpensive and popular materials used in the market, there are those who swear by using Rayon or synthetic fibers as an alternative way to wick e-liquid into the coil.

atomizer vs clearomizer vs cartomizer

Different Types of Vape Tank

There's a whole assortment of various vaping-related parts that we're able to slap on top of our mods. While many of these tanks can be mixed and matched with your mod of choice, a big chunk of the beginner's market is focused on AIO or all-in-one devices. These have tanks permanently attached to the body of the vape itself which enables swapping out your tank for a fresh new design.

Despite the large variety, all of these tanks can be boiled down into one of three categories; atomizers, clearomizers, and cartomizers. They share many similarities especially when it comes to basic operation. the way they're put together can result in a difference when it comes to enjoying your vape. So for your benefit, here's a brief rundown on each and why or why not these might be a good fit for your vaping needs.

filling up aspire nautilus x

What is an Atomizer?

Atomizers are one of the earliest components for the e-cig and vaping market. Most of them are limited in their capacity to hold oil, which is typically what most vapers don’t like about them. Individuals who prefer dripping will enjoy atomizers over the other two types. While they do differ in design from brand to brand, most atomizers have a specialized heating coil at the bottom of the device which is covered with a mesh top. However, other atomizers use silica wicks instead of a mesh. There is also a great deal of clean up involved with atomizers in comparison to other units on the market

While atomizers get their own special mention in this article, that doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive by any means. To keep it simple, every clearomizer and cartomizer has what can be considered an atomizer built inside. The main difference with a dedicated atomizer lies within its bare-bones open design. It that allows the vaper to remove and install wicks and coils as you see fit without having to purchase any pre-built parts.

  • Dripping

Most of the most notable atomizers are what are dubbed as RDAs or rebuildable dripping atomizers. These are exceptionally popular among the enthusiast vaping circles as they allow you to swap between different flavors freely. Vaping with a tank will require you to first deplete or consume any remaining e-juice left in the chamber.

Open design of an RDA on the coil and wick are easily accessed. They're topped up by dripping your e-liquid straight onto the coil/wick assembly. Once the cotton or wicking material has dried up, it needs to be “topped-up” by re-dripping more e-liquid until the wick is once again fully saturated with e-liquid.

  • Benefits

One of the biggest advantages an atomizer has over its counterparts is the much larger build deck used for coils. This makes it possible for bigger coils to be used. Since larger coils have more surface area for vaporizing e-liquid, this makes RDAs popular amongst vaping enthusiasts. It really gives off superior vapor production.

The accessible build deck also allows you to build and install coils of your own design. This can be very useful when it comes to vaping on a coil that's a good match for the power capabilities of your mod. Mods with single or smaller batteries would benefit from using a higher resistance coil as the lower power draw would help the battery last longer.

  • Uses

While bare-bones atomizers or RDAs are practically ubiquitous within the realm of electronic cigarettes, there aren't many atomizers of this type that work well with oils. The open design does have a tendency to get messy especially for those with clumsy hands.

Atomizers or RDAs are a great option for e-liquid vapers who know what they want when it comes to their vapes. But that shouldn't mean that newbies should instantly shy away from considering one. RDAs are a great platform for sampling out e-liquids where your hands are free to drip all day.

Anatomy of an Atomizer

Atomizers are the simplest among all three in terms of construction. Your basic atomizer is comprised of a positive and negative side where each end of the coil is attached to. A juice well which helps trap any errant e-liquid that the wick isn't able to hold, and finally the top cap which plays a significant part in terms of airflow and overall flavor. It's also worth mentioning that many open deck atomizers are also designed to work in tandem with a glass chamber making it a tank or what's essentially known as a rebuildable tank atomizer or RTA. These offer many of the same features of your typical RDA but don't require you to re-drip often.

Pros for Atomizers:

  • Easy to switch between different flavors of juices
  • Easy to understand design
  • Affordable
  • Extremely easy to refill

Cons for Atomizers:

  • Low holding capacity (AKA not good for frequent vape users)
  • Nearly impossible to see how much e-liquid left in tank
  • Tedious to maintain

dripping liquid onto cotton atomizer

What is a Cartomizer?

A cartomizer doesn't differ much from an atomizer except for the fact that each cartomizer already comes installed with a pre-wicked and pre-built atomizer. It uses a closed design. This means that as soon as the coil or wick on your cartomizer wears out or gets gunked up, you must purchase a new cartomizer altogether. Instead of using organic cotton as a wicking material, most cartomizers opt for a polyfill fiber material to hold your oils or e-liquid. Cartomizer are mostly on hookah pens or e-cig pens that are sold in gas stations.

Due to the closed design of most cartomizers, this makes it impractical or just plain impossible to take it apart for the purpose of reusing the cartomizer. The plug-and-play nature of cartomizers makes these popular amongst newbie vapers who don't want to bother with the nuances of building their own coils.

  • Benefits

Cartomizers are a lot easier to work with especially for those not that well versed to building and installing their own coils. No tools are needed to replace a burnt-out or used-up cartomizer as most cartomizers. Since cartomizers come pre-built and pre-wicked, you're also guaranteed a consistent vaping experience with every new cartomizer you install. Since they're not re-usable, just throw them out and get a new one.

In comparison, the polyfill material used as a wick inside cartomizers is able to hold a lot more e-liquid than your typical organic cotton wick. This allows you to vape longer without needing to refill. One caveat, is that many vapers prefer the taste of organic cotton as a wicking material. They claim that cartomizers tend to have a funny after taste. This is mostly personal preference though so your mileage may vary.

  • Uses

Cartomizers are widely used in most vaping starter kits as well as vape pens that use nicotine oils. This all thanks to their easy to use plug-and-play design that doesn't require any tinkering. Since most are also very small in comparison to fully fledged atomizers, the coil size also takes a hit meaning that flavor and vapor production aren't the best in comparison. This makes them more ideal for smaller and more discreet devices where portability and stealthiness are more valued over flavor and vapor production.

Anatomy of a Cartomizer

A cartomizer functions similarly to an atomizer with the sole exception of all relevant components being squished down into a tiny and disposable part. Often longer in dimensions than your typical atomizer, cartomizers are a good fit for the elongated form factor of vape pens. Instead of regular organic cotton which is used as wicks for most clearomizers and atomizers, a polyfill fiber is used as wicking material instead, in tandem with a coil small enough to fit into the entire assembly.

Pros for Cartomizers:

  • They hold a greater amount of e-liquid than other types
  • Extremely affordable
  • Easy to clean
  • Can be rebuilt fairly easily

Cons for Cartomizers:

  • Some vape users don’t like the taste the cartomizers leave in your mouth
  • Isn’t always best for heavy vapers
  • Can often taste like previous e-liquid thanks to the polyfill


What is a Clearomizer?

A clearomizer tries to bring the best of both worlds from both atomizers and cartomizers. Also known as tanks, clearomizers use a separate piece of glass or polycarbonate to hold the e-liquid. Most modern clearomizer designs have Pyrex tanks that can even hold from 1mL to 8mLs of e-liquid. This means you can go longer before you're required to refill.

The e-liquid is also separated from the heating element with only the wick (most often organic cotton in this case) bridging the gap between the two and drawing e-liquid from the glass tank into the chamber where the coils are placed. Refilling it is easy. Simply open the mouthpiece and pour it down the side. Make sure not to squirt liquid down

  • Benefits

Since e-liquid and coils are housed in two discrete chambers, this allows for bigger coil builds as well as easy access to the build deck itself where the coils are installed. Unlike atomizers where dripping straight onto the coil needs to be done manually every few hits or so, the wick automatically siphons up e-liquid from the tank reservoir. This allows for a much longer vaping sessions before a refill is necessary.

Most clearomizers also have a dedicated build deck allowing for easy coil replacement. They are compatible with pre-built coil heads which don't only contain an already built coil, but an optimally installed wick as well. This reduces the margin of error even further for vaping beginners.

  • Uses

Clearomizers are tank are probably the most popular option for both long-time vapers and beginners with atomizers or RDAs coming in at a close second. There's a good reason for this as not only do tanks deliver great vaping performance with a high power ceiling, they're also reasonably easy to work with and maintain.

While most devices that use tanks are larger than most vape pens, compatible mechanical mods range from smallportable kits, to large and bulky multi-battery setups. There's hardly a compromise when choosing a vape tank or clearomizer over the other two options besides losing the ability to easily swap between flavors. Although it can still be argued to this day that atomizers or RDAs are still king when it comes producing the best clouds and flavor, clearomizers aren't far behind in terms of performance.

Anatomy of a Clearomizer

Most tanks are comprised of a see-through glass or polycarbonate which holds the e-liquid. It also lets you see how much juice is left. Separating the glass from the coils is the chimney that funnels the airflow from the drip tip. It ensures that your coil doesn't get flooded as the wicking material is slowly drawing in e-liquid from the glass chamber. A potential downside of this design is that there's a chance for e-liquid to seep out and leak all over the place. This usually only occurs with a poorly designed tank or improper wicking which allows e-liquid to flood into the coil chamber and leak out through the airflow slots.

Pros for Clearomizers:

  • Large tanks and holding capacities
  • Clear tank for easy viewing
  • Rebuildable models
  • Enhanced flavor

Cons for Clearomizers:

  • Much more expensive
  • Units often suffer from leaks
  • Can be cumbersome to use

Ce5+ Rebuildable Clearomizer

Types of Coils

Hopefully, by now we've given you a better understanding of atomizers, cartomizers and clearomizers. Now it's time to explore the coils that go inside these vape tanks. There are multiple types of coil designs and positions which can also affect how your vape performs. It's important to know the whats what of each coil and how to base your purchase on the best tank that suits your preference.

Top Coil or Top Feeding Coils

As the name implies, top feeding coils are positioned above the area where e-liquid is stored. This type of coil design uses the wick which dips down into the tank or wicking channel. With the natural absorption qualities of cotton or any silica-based wicking material, it draws up e-liquid from the tank, into the wick and coil itself.

There are two big advantages to this design, first is that they're a lot more resistant to e-liquid leaking out. Second, the higher position of the coil relative to the drip tip you're inhaling from produces a fresher and more robust flavor. The only potential downside to this type of coil placement is that with some poorly designed tanks, airflow to the coil isn't optimal which tends to dull or reduce the flavor you get at the end.

Bottom Coil

Bottom coils as you might've guessed are positioned below the tank holding your e-liquid and uses gravity to pull e-liquid down into the wicks and coils. The big upside to this is that the coils are usually in an optimal position relative to the airflow slots which tends to produce a better flavor and more vapor. The main disadvantages are that these are prone to leakage when wicked improperly which can get messy for first-time vapers.

Multiple Coils

Many coil designs nowadays allow for multiple coil setups with the coil count even reaching the double digits. The more power it requires so its almost a requirement that your vape has a battery of at least 2000mAh (and that's at the very low end already) before attempting to run a dual or multi-coil setup.

Since there are more coils, vapor and flavor production are essentially doubled for dual coil setups and tripled with triple coil setups and so on and so forth. Due to the higher number of coils working and vaporizing e-liquid expect not only your battery life to run out faster but your stock of juice as well. Vapers who chase clouds and do vapor tricks generally use a set up like this. Multi-coil setups are real juice guzzlers but the trade-off in vaping performance can be worth it for vapers who really want it.

different types of atomizers Credit to MistHub