Master Guide to Vaping – Part 2
Vaping has come a long way since 2007. I’d venture to guess that the majority of current vapers started vaping well after some serious innovations occurred in the vaping industry. While some of us remember replacing cartridge filler with blue aquarium filter and 1.5Ω “low-resistance” atomizers fondly as a right-of-passage, it’s important for newer vapers to understand where it all started. By reflecting on generations of vaping technology past, it’s easier to understand how current technology came to be and why it works the way it does.
The first e-cigarettes were almost exclusively cig-a-likes. Generally of poor quality, these early models’ greatest contribution was mostly to spark interest and act as a proof-of-concept demonstrating the potential of vape devices. Short battery life, poor vapor production, bottom-of-the-barrel e-liquid, and rampant defects prevented Gen. 1 e-cigarettes from becoming wildly popular. In addition, there were few, if any, American vendors at the time, which made acquiring early e-cigarettes much more difficult for many people. Most hardware and e-liquid was manufactured in China. Not to mention, brick-and-mortar shops were nonexistent. With e-cigarettes being of such poor quality and difficult to obtain, it would be several more years before vapor products started to gain traction.
Gen. 1 e-cigarettes were mostly three pieces: the battery, the atomizer, and the cartridge. The atomizer screwed into the battery, and the cartridge was press-fit into the atomizer. The cartridge would be pre-filled with e-liquid, which would feed into the atomizer. The juice capacity was generally 8-12 drops, and would last about the same amount of time as an analogue; about 20 puffs. The atomizer featured a “bridge,” which was a piece of stainless steel mesh which protruded into the cartridge and fed e-liquid to the coil. Some cartridges could be refilled, but with e-liquid being hard to find and relatively expensive, it was much more convenient to purchase replacement pre-filled cartridges. The absorbent material within the cartridge, “polyfill,” would gradually get matted and worn out, contributing to reduced wicking and poor performance. In addition, strands of polyfill fiber would get tangled in the bridge, making for a mess overall.
Some of the more clever vapers at the time discovered that blue aquarium filter worked much better. It was cheaper than replacing cartridges, and had a texture similar to a sponge except it was more porous. With no strands and resistance to matting, “blue foam” is one of the first examples of user modification to e-cigarettes, and it led to more innovation further down the road.
Some vapers weren’t satisfied with early cigalikes whatsoever, and determined that they could make better ones themselves. E-cigarettes are literally the simplest electronic device that’s possible to make. It’s a power source, a resistor, and a switch at it’s most basic form. To combat the short battery life of a cigalike, some vapers modified flashlights. Not only did flashlights already run off of a similar battery, but the switch was already included. All that was required was to swap out the bulb with threading that would be compatible with an atomizer. The end result was a “mod,” which is a term the industry still uses to describe the majority of vaping devices. These early flashlight mods used a battery with the same chemistry as cigalikes, but could have up to 10x the battery life. In addition, these batteries were readily available, relatively inexpensive, and could be swapped out when depleted and recharged externally.
Eventually, vapers started getting more creative. Being that e-cigarettes were so simple, you could make a mod out of almost anything. People started using project boxes and battery boxes, wiring in their own custom switches, and sometimes even experimenting with potentiometers to incorporate variable voltage functionality.
Around this time, the first dedicated vape shops started opening online. Many sold their own custom mods, e-liquid, and cigalikes imported from China. With the American e-cigarette market starting to develop, variety and quality of vape devices started to improve, and innovation ignited.
After a round of feedback of Gen. 1 products, Gen. 2 saw a huge increase in variety, but not necessarily in quantity. Variable voltage devices were few and far between, and cigalikes still dominated the market. Marketing, especially on the internet, grew and saw the rise of some well-known cigalike brands that still exist today.
While some found satisfaction in mods, many people found them either prohibitively expensive given the quality and reliability, or too gaudy to be practical. As such, mods remained a niche market while cigalikes and eGo-style devices found their place among the majority of vapers. An increase in the size of the battery of the eGo sparked the beginning of the migration from cigalikes. While cigalikes always had and will have their place, they will never be as popular as they were in Gen.1 and Gen. 2.
With the advent of the eGo, many new atomizers became popular, such as clearomizers and cartomizers. Cartomizers were similar in appearance to atomizers, but were single components which were filled with liquid, but also included a coil. Although they were meant to be disposable, cartomizers were easy to refill and lasted just as long as atomizers for a fraction of the price. And because of larger batteries entering the market, cartomizers were available in many different sizes, allowing vapers to find their own preferred balance between size and capacity.
Shortly after, clearomizers hit the market. These found popularity mainly due to the selection of colors and the ability to see how much liquid was remaining. Clearomizers were generally made of plastic and were very cheap and easily damaged. Yet, they were cheap enough that most vapers didn’t mind buying replacements. After a time, clearomizers with replaceable coils came to market. These top-coil clearomizers were the first atomizers to allow the replacement of coils without having to replace the entire atomizer; a design still popular today. Gen.1 atomizers were still popular among a select few, although most had replaced the cartridge with a drip tip. Instead of filling a cartridge, you would drip 2-4 drops right onto the atomizer through the mouthpiece. This arguably offered the best flavor at the cost of convenience, but it’s where the term “drip tip” comes from. The majority of mouthpieces are no longer used to drip, but are still referred to as “drip tips.”
During this time, rebuildable atomizers, or RBAs, began to emerge out of a desire for a higher quality experience. Throughout vaping’s history, the advancement of RBAs has run parallel to that of other atomizers and devices. Genesis tanks and a few dripping atomizers were the only styles available at the time, and were generally expensive and difficult to set up. The 2 main drawbacks of RBAs were cost of entry and learning curve. The initial cost was usually offset by the reduced price of upkeep, as wicking material and wire were cheaper than having to continuously buy and replace coils.
Early rebuildable dripping atomizers (RDAs) were more well-made than cartomizers and clearomizers of the time, but nowhere near what exists today. Being more rare and generally made in smaller batches, it wasn’t uncommon for RDAs to cost upwards of $100. However, they were the cornerstone of vaping innovation and many of today’s atomizers owe their inspiration to vapers who took the leap and began experimenting early. Many found the price and learning curve for an RBA was a fair price to pay for the best vape experience of the time. Some would argue this still applies today.
On the other end of the RBA spectrum, we have rebuildable tank atomizers (RTAs). The first RTA design was the Genesis. Genesis tanks were notoriously difficult to build, tended to leak if not held upright, and required a perfectly horizontal orientation when being used. They required the use of a stainless steel mesh wick, which had to be oxidized first in order to make sure it was non-conductive. Genesis tanks were top-coil tanks, and e-liquid had to travel up the stainless steel wick to the coil, which is why it needed to be tilted 90 degrees when vaping. But again, all these drawbacks were reasonable for many vapers back then because of the exceptional flavor when built correctly.
Keep in mind, lung-hitting, or direct-lung vaping, was not conceived of at this time. Virtually every atomizer was created with small, non-adjustable airflow, and that’s the general theme of Gen. 2. Vaping starts to move away from cigalikes and towards eGos and mods. RBAs make their first appearance. Cartomizers and clearomizers explode in popularity and lay the foundation for how atomizers work. In addition, variable voltage, and later variable wattage, become the standard for many mods. Cigalikes and eGo batteries were fixed at a constant 3.7V, requiring you to buy atomizers of varying resistances to get more or less vapor and heat. With variable voltage, resistance options became less important since you could adjust your heat on the mod itself. Soon after, variable wattage began to overtake variable voltage, mostly for convenience and consistency purposes. Either increasing voltage or decreasing resistance is a somewhat roundabout way of increasing wattage, or power. Variable wattage mods ensured that you experience the same vape with every drag, compensating for small fluctuations in resistance due to heat, or even allowing you to change atomizers without adjusting any settings.
Most variable voltage and variable wattage mods at the time were tube-shaped, with a select few box mods being custom-made by hobbyist or enthusiast vapers on a small scale, and sometimes being sold online. Most variable mods were expected to meet a few unwritten guidelines, such as firing from 3W to 15W and/or 3V to 6V, requiring atomizers to be 1.2Ω or higher, and having an amp limit of 2.5A. These specifications were perfectly fine for 99% of atomizers at the time, but towards the end of Gen. 2, rebuilding started to take off due to the advent of sub-ohm vaping.
Rebuilders were coming up with new ways to improve their vape experience by modifying their atomizers, particularly the airflow. It wasn’t long before drilling out larger airflow holes, dropping nicotine strengths, and lung-hitting became the go-to vaping style for enthusiasts. In order to maximize vapor production, rebuilders also started building sub-ohm coils, or coils with resistances lower than 1Ω. Since regulated mods only fired resistances down to 1.2Ω, vapers started seeking out unregulated mods, particularly mechanical mods. Mechanical mods are made with no wiring, and use craftsmanship and a mechanical switch to provide power directly from the battery to the atomizer. With no board to regulate the device, resistances are only limited by what is safe for the battery. Due to the technical knowledge required to safely use mechanical mods with sub-ohm coils, sub-ohm vaping wasn’t popular with the majority of vapers. But like many other aspects of Gen. 2, the classic mech-and-RDA setup laid the groundwork for many of the trends we see today. Thus begins the transition into Gen. 3.
Gen. 3 sees the further development of Gen. 2 technology. Cartomizers get improved with an additional coil, and are modified to fit into tanks, called DCTs. Clearomizers have their coils moved from the top of the tank to the bottom, alleviating many of the dry hits by improving wicking. RBAs continue to improve and gain popularity, and mechanical mods surge in popularity. Gen. 3 also saw the largest increase in people taking up vaping, due to the quality and variety of vaping devices which now started truly meeting expectations.
Bottom-coil clearomizers and RBAs dominated Gen. 3. For the mass market, bottom-coil clearomizers offered a nearly endless variety of shapes, colors, coils, etc. Over time, many plastic clearomizers were replaced with glass. In addition, larger varieties (tanks) became popular, and would eventually replace clearomizers for most vapers. With tanks and clearomizers lasting longer due to better build quality, coil technology was able to flourish. Many manufacturers designed their own proprietary coils, with each claiming to be the best, and while many vapers eventually found their favorites, most coils were very similar. The overall design wouldn’t change drastically until Gen. 4, but Gen. 3 did see an increase in coil consistency, along with improvements designed to reduce leaking.
Meanwhile, mechanical mods and RBAs were all the rage, as this was the only way to effectively vape sub-ohm. RDAs began offering much wider airflow that didn’t require modification to blow clouds. Chinese manufacturers had a hard time keeping up with innovation, and rarely produced quality RDAs or mechanical mods, which required a level of craftsmanship that China just wasn’t equipped for. As a result, authentic mechanical mods and RBAs were very expensive, with mods costing upwards of $200 and atomizers costing $80 at a minimum. In a rush to capture the market, China began cloning authentic mods and atomizers. For a fraction of the price, you could experience high-end vaping at the cost of build quality. For many vapers, this was the only option since few people had the resources to spend $250 on a new setup.
Batteries, and 18650 batteries in particular, became the single-most popular battery size and the technology needed to improve in order to keep up with vaping. With people vaping lower and lower resistances, batteries needed higher amp limits to remain safe. While high-amp batteries generally had a low capacity at first, over time, developments in battery chemistry have allowed capacity to almost double while retaining the same 20A – 30A limit.
However, even with being able to get everything you needed to vape sub-ohm affordably, many people just weren’t familiar with how to do it, and do it safely. There was no shortage of guides on the internet, but some people just weren’t comfortable with it, and it remained this way for over a year. You had the enthusiast market who used mechanical mods and RDAs, and had a working knowledge of Ohm’s Law and battery safety. Everyone else was using variable mods or eGo-style devices, cartomizers, clearomizers, or tanks. The enthusiasts were mostly cloud chasers, and everyone else was stuck with mouth-to-lung vaping.
Of course, there were some exceptions such as the Kayfun. The Kayfun was a rebuildable tank (one of the first that wasn’t Genesis-style) which was completely geared towards flavor and MTL vaping. Most RDAs at the time could also be built to a higher resistance with the airflow closed off in order to MTL, but they were primarily designed for DL vaping.
Eventually, 2 and 2 finally added up to 4, and 2 things happened: first, variable mods that could fire sub-ohm were made available, and would become more affordable over time, and sub-ohm vaping would come to the mass market with the introduction of Aspire’s Atlantis tank: the first sub-ohm tank, and it would change the vaping market completely.
Make no mistake, the Aspire Atlantis was a game-changer. It was the first atomizer made to be lung-hit, and it didn’t require any knowledge of rebuilding. It worked the same way as bottom-coil clearomizers, except the airflow and coils were much larger to allow for lung-hitting and increased vapor production. The Atlantis finally allowed non-enthusiast vapers to get the cloud production of a rebuildable, but in a tank that they were already familiar with how to use and without having to dedicate time to learning how to rebuild.
The initial problem with the Atlantis was that sub-ohm regulated mods were still in their infancy. Any of these devices that were of good quality were expensive, and cheaper versions had their fair share of problems. Of course, mechanical mods were still an option, having the best quality in relation to price, but many people were already accustomed to regulated mods and didn’t like mechanical mods for one reason or another. Some people didn’t like the sense of the vape getting weaker as the battery died. Some liked the convenience of being able to turn the device off. Whatever the reason, mechanical mods surged in popularity for a short while, until regulated mod technology was able to catch up.
Eventually, mods began to fire lower resistances at higher wattages. With the Atlantis needing at least 30 watts of power, the standard 15-watt device simply wouldn’t work. In addition, the standard Atlantis coils were 0.5Ω, much lower than the Gen. 1-3 minimum for most mods: 1.2Ω. Almost all of the mods we see today are derivative of these early “high-wattage” mods. They generally had 3 buttons and a screen, and would fire sub-ohm coils. This began the “wattage wars,” or the time when every company was trying to create a mod that would fire higher and higher wattages. At the same time, every manufacturer wanted to copy the Atlantis, and even improve upon it. With different coils needing more and more power, mods also needed more and more power. The wattage wars are just now starting to slow down, with sub-ohm tanks using coils that work up to 220W, and mods that use multiple batteries in order to provide up to 300W of power.
What’s ironic is that the overall design of the Atlantis coils (and most of the coils that came after) is based on the Gen. 2 cartomizer. Instead of a wick going through the coil, it’s wrapped around it. The big differences between the 2 is that sub-ohm coils are much larger to allow for more airflow, and the wicking material is organic cotton instead of polyfill. Organic cotton wick was made popular with rebuildables in Gen. 3. Unlike standard silica wick, cotton can burn when dry, but it provides better flavor, was easier to find for purchase, and was significantly cheaper. Nowadays, silica wick is virtually unheard of.
At this point in Gen. 4, we have high-wattage mods and sub-ohm tanks that are improving every day. Airflow of sub-ohm tanks continues to get larger and larger, as do their replacement coils. Also, the number of coils within the replacement increases, and currently you can find premade coils for sub-ohm tanks housing up to 10 coils. The quality and reliability of mods increases significantly, while price simultaneously drops. Even starter kits are starting to come with sub-ohm tanks. Basically what we are starting to see is a homogenization of products. Mods can fire virtually anything and are reasonably priced. Sub-ohm tanks make large strides over the Atlantis, and even start to offer special coils made for MTL vaping, meaning that a single tank can cater to multiple vaping styles.
Now we’re starting to overlap a bit with the current generation: Gen. 5.
Generation 5 very may well be the final generation for vaping products because of both a lack of new technology, and the FDA Deeming Regulations which only exacerbates the technology stagnation. However, one very important development inherent to Gen. 5 is temperature control. While temperature control was technically born in Gen. 4, it was more of a gimmick until Gen. 5, where it became viable.
What exactly is temperature control? In short, a mod can control the temperature of the coil, in addition to being able to regulate the power. All wire used for coils actually increases in resistance when heated, some more than others. For example, nickel’s resistance changes drastically with heat, while Kanthal hardly changes resistance at all. Temperature control measures this change in resistance in order to calculate temperature, and the final product is burn prevention. Temperature control is specifically designed to eliminate dry hits and burning.
Nickel was the first wire to be used for temperature control since the resistance changes more than any other wire when heated. There were some health concerns with using nickel, but given the nature of temperature control, nickel couldn’t get hot enough when used properly to be harmful. Nevertheless, some vapers weren’t comfortable using nickel. In response, titanium and stainless steel wire became popular. Over time, every mod would offer temperature control for nickel, titanium, and stainless steel in addition to the classic variable wattage.
Temperature control is basically a standard feature on variable mods these days. Some people love it and some people hate it, but it’s most likely going on be possible on any modern regulated device. Most experienced vapers don’t have a problem with dry hits when using variable wattage, and so don’t find any value in temperature control. Others like having the extra peace of mind, or just enjoy the unique sensation that vaping with temperature control offers.
Sub-ohm tanks are currently the most popular type of atomizer, and many share certain qualities. The majority of modern sub-ohm tanks are filled from the top and use similar coils that haven’t changed much since the Atlantis. In addition, even flavor chasers mostly lung-hit nowadays, albeit with more restricted airflow compared to cloud chasers. Many sub-ohm tanks also offer a coil that can be rebuilt. A handful of tanks offered this in Gen. 4, but the RBA decks were generally finicky, and served more as a backup or something to tinker with. Now, RBA decks are good enough to rival dedicated RTAs.
Dedicated RTAs have also come a long way, with more airflow, reduced leaking, and top-filling. Even Genesis-style tanks have made a comeback, although they more closely resemble RDAs with large juice wells than classic Genesis tanks. RTAs come in all shapes and sizes, with varying airflow designed for either flavor chasing or cloud chasing, and some work well for both.
RDAs have also been perfected, and offer some of the widest variety when it comes to vaping products. The simple premise of a dripper allows designers and manufacturers to get creative, offering all kinds of different airflow options and deck varieties. In general, RDAs are some of the easiest atomizers to rebuild, and there’s no shortage of wire types and vaping styles. If you can deal with the inherent relative messiness and the lack of e-liquid capacity, RDAs offer some of the best flavor and vapor production possible.
Rebuildables in general have never been more accessible, in no small part due to the fact that they are competing with sub-ohm tanks. They’re inexpensive, well-made, easy to find, and simple to build with minimal investment and learning curve.
Unfortunately, on May 10, 2016 the FDA released the Deeming Regulations. We’ll get more into detail about that in a future article, but the most immediate effect is that no new products can enter the US market after August 8, 2016. The good news is that vape technology has reached a plateau. We have mods that can do virtually anything at reasonable prices and in all shapes and sizes suited to any vaper. We have a myriad of atomizers, many of which are able to satisfy multiple vape styles. Starter kits have never been more versatile, with many consisting of a single piece and allowing new vapers to, again, experience multiple vaping styles in order to determine which they prefer before upgrading. The vape industry is well past the point where every product needs to be treated with skepticism as to whether they’ll even work or not. 99% of the products on the market work as intended, and the only thing left to determine is which one works best for you.
That catches us up to current day, and that doesn’t even touch upon everything. Vaping began as an underground, niche product that had huge potential but didn’t work very well. It’s been nothing but non-stop improvement and innovation since 2007, and now is finally starting to stall out. In only 10 years, vaping has become a worldwide phenomenon. For as many products that are out there, there are just as many vapers. There truly is something for everybody if you know where to look. From devices that almost perfectly replicate an analog cigarette experience, to devices that are more comparable with fog machines, vaping has become a sprawling landscape of atomizers and mods. While people who started vaping in Gen. 1 or Gen. 2 remember that time with fondness, vapers who’ve just started recently and curious non-vapers alike might find it interesting to know where vaping started and how far it’s come. Take a close look at the newest device or atomizer, and you’ll start to see remnants of an era of vaping long past.
Master Guide to Vaping Part 3 – E-Liquid
Perhaps the most important component to any e-cigarette or vapor device is the e-liquid. No matter your setup or vaping style, every vaper needs e-liquid. You may have heard it referred to as juice, liquid, e-juice, or possibly another variation, but it all means the same thing: it’s the liquid component that gets vaporized and inhaled.
E-liquid is comprised of up to 4 ingredients:
- Vegetable glycerin (VG)
- Propylene glycol (PG)
However, it’s possible to vape e-liquid with a single ingredient, either VG or PG only. In reality, most people vape for either the flavor or nicotine, or both, and most wouldn’t find it purposeful or enjoyable to just vape the base liquid.
There are 3 desirable qualities in any e-liquid: flavor, vapor production, and throat hit. Everyone has their own preference as to which of these are most important. For those who favor throat hit and flavor above vapor production, a liquid with more PG would be better. If you value vapor production over flavor and throat hit, an e-liquid with a higher VG concentration is ideal. However, you don’t have to think of this in extremes, as there are an infinite number of variations that allow you to find the perfect balance that’s right for you. We’ll discuss this more later, but first, what’s the important information to look for when choosing an e-liquid?
There are 3 important numbers when looking at e-liquid: the nicotine strength, the size, and the PG/VG ratio. Nicotine strength is measured in mg/mL, which is often shortened to “mg” only. You will often see nicotine strengths such as 3mg, 6mg, 12mg, etc. Sometimes, the nicotine level of the e-liquid will be measured in a percentage, and you’ll see the nicotine level displayed as 0.3%, 0.6%, 1.2%, etc. An easy way to convert mg to percentage is to move the decimal place to the left by 1 digit, and change “mg” to “%.” For example, 24mg would become 2.4%. Conversely, 1.8% would be equivalent to 18mg.
Determining which nicotine strength is best for you requires some trial and error. A good place to start for most people is 6mg, but it depends on how much nicotine you’re used to. If you’re still craving nicotine at 6mg, try increasing it to 12mg. If it’s harsh or if you don’t feel well, try decreasing your nicotine strength. And of course, if you’re not used to any nicotine, just use 0mg! Also, keep in mind that you’ll get more nicotine from Direct-Lung vaping than from Mouth-to-Lung vaping. If switching from MTL to DL, it is strongly recommended that you decrease your nicotine strength by at least 50%.
The size of the bottle is generally displayed in milliliters (mL). The most popular sizes are 10mL, 15mL, 30mL, and 50mL, although bottles of any size can be used by the manufacturer. To provide some context, 30mL is equal to 1 ounce. Any given volume of liquid will vary in how long it lasts, based on how often someone takes a puff, what setup they’re using, etc. Also, remember that the size of the bottle has no bearing on nicotine strength. Any given volume of 3mg e-liquid, for example, will always be 3mg, since it’s actually 3mg/mL.
The PG/VG ratio tells you how much PG and VG are used in the base liquid.
- a more defined throat hit
- carries flavoring very well
- produces less vapor.
- thicker and sweeter
- produces more vapor at the expense of flavor and throat hit
Every e-liquid uses a different ratio, and every vaper eventually finds their preferred ratio. Most modern e-liquids don’t use more than 50% PG, since it’s about the same viscosity as 100% PG. However, 100% PG tends to be too bitter and harsh, and adding that 50% VG to the mix smooths it out and makes it sweeter. However, if you choose to DIY, you can absolutely choose to create 100% PG mixes if you prefer to.
Vapers who lung-hit generally prefer high-VG liquids. The atomizers they use are designed to feed thicker e-liquid to the coil faster, so thinner liquid tends to leak. Also, DL vapers tend to prefer more vapor production, and VG is better for that. Since each flavor extract used in e-liquid can be a different concentration or simply a stronger or weaker flavor, many liquids are designated “Max VG.” Since most flavorings use PG as a base, it’s virtually impossible to create 100% VG liquids, so manufacturers simply omit PG from their base liquid, and add flavoring. As such, each flavor may have a different PG/VG ratio, so it’s much easier to label these liquids as “Max VG.”
One thing to note is that e-liquid is not, and contains no, oil. Even though some people refer to e-liquid as “oil,” this is incorrect. There’s a simple way of experiencing the difference. If you were to rub olive oil all over your hands and run them under water, your hands would still be oily. Water and oil separate, and water doesn’t do a good job of cleaning off oil without soap. On the other hand, if you were to rub e-liquid on your hands (without nicotine, of course) and run them underwater, you’d find that your hands are clean. E-liquid is closer to an alcohol than an oil, and it mixes with water. It’s important to note the difference, because some people prefer to make their own e-liquid instead of buy it, and there are certain flavorings that are oil-based. Not only will these oil-based flavorings ruin an atomizer, but they may also be related to negative health effects. To avoid confusion, it’s important to refer to things as precisely as possible, and calling e-liquid “oil” is not only incorrect, but may be dangerous.
One thing that’s important to recognize, especially if you’re a new vaper, is that eventually, you’re going to vape an e-liquid that you don’t like. Even the same type of flavor between 2 different brands may taste completely different. Half the fun is sampling the thousands of different e-liquids that are out there. Most people start with tobacco flavors, but eventually move on to a variety of different flavors. Some people constantly change flavors, sometimes multiple times per day, while others find 1 liquid that they love and stick to it. The moral of the story is that there’s no correct way to choose liquid. Change flavors and try new things if you want, but stick to what you know you like if that’s more comfortable. Buy e-liquid if you’d like, or try your hand at making your own. This guide is a good starting point, but the world of e-liquid is endless, with discussions, reviews, and recipe sharing happening all over the internet.
Now that you know what to look for and what the numbers mean, go forth and enjoy the myriad of flavors vaping has to offer!
Master Guide to Vaping Part 4 – Starter Kits
Starter kits are the cornerstone of vaping. Generally, they will be the first vaping experience for newcomers, and as such, it’s important to know what to look for. Luckily, starter kits have become increasingly more reliable and versatile in recent years, and many will allow you to try several styles of vaping, allowing you to determine which works best for you, and the route you should take if and when you decide to upgrade.
A common misconception among many is that new starter kits are difficult to use, or too advanced for them. Even with modern technology such as sub-ohm vaping and temperature control now available in a starter kit, they are remarkably simple and easy to use. They’re designed to be, because they’re offering the first taste of vaping and can make or break a first experience. In fact, starter kits are largely the reason vaping has exploded in the last 2-3 years, even though it’s been around for 10.
Starter kits used to be unreliable, offering a relatively poor experience compared to more complex devices. As a result, many people who tried starter kits didn’t have the patience to deal with all the problems such as leaking, manufacturer defects, etc. In the last few years, these problems have largely been rectified, and starter kits have been able to provide more people with better experiences. As a result, more people have continued vaping. Your first experience with vaping has an impact that can affect the rest of your vaping journey, either sparking interest and encouraging you to continue vaping, or with a poor experience, completely turning you off to vaping altogether.
So what should you look for in starter kit? You probably don’t yet know what kind of vaping experience you prefer. In order to get the most value out of your starter kit, versatility should be your main concern, in addition to quality. Quality is easier to identify. Generally, choosing a starter kit from a brand-name manufacturer will ensure that you get a device that has been tested and is reliable. Innokin, Smoktech, Joyetech, Vaporesso, and Aspire are just a few of the name brands that are respected in the vaping community.
There are 2 main vaping styles:
- Mouth-to-lung (MTL) : Less Airflow, Smaller Coils
- Direct-lung (DL): More Airflow, Larger Coils
Most starter kits allow you to try out both styles. The 2 main ways they do this is by allowing you to adjust the airflow, and offering replacement heads with different size coils. MTL vaping requires less airflow, but if the coil is made for DL vaping, reducing the airflow of the tank results in poor vapor production and a harsh throat hit. Conversely, the airflow potential of any atomizer is going to be determined by the smallest part of the airflow path. This means that coils designed for MTL vaping will be the determining factor of the maximum airflow, rather than the airflow adjustment on the atomizer itself. Therefore, DL vaping requires the larger coils and MTL vaping requires the smaller coils to get the best respective vape experiences for each style.
The above 2 factors are really the only variables when it comes to choosing your vape style, and most starter kits nowadays have adjustable airflow and allow you to choose among several coils. Of course, other features will vary based on which particular starter kit you’re considering, but the purpose of a starter kit is to give you the best vaping experience possible with the minimum amount of hassle. There is no longer any reason to be apprehensive about vaping if you’re concerned that there’s just too much information to understand. Nobody starts with a wealth of knowledge; it’s learned if and when you decide to get more invested in vaping and take a larger interest. Luckily, vaping has finally reached a point where little knowledge is needed to get started. You may have heard some horror stories from veteran vapers, or even a passing conversation between enthusiasts and thought to yourself, “that stuff is way beyond me.” I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t matter!
I can’t stress this enough: getting into vaping has never been easier or more satisfying. When looking at starter kits there are no shortage of options. The best advice is to choose something that is made by a reputable company and that is versatile, so you can experience the widest range of vaping styles with minimal hassle. Madvapes offers an entire category of quality starter kits made by a variety of brand-name companies, so I encourage you to take a look, and don’t forget about e-liquid and replacement coils!
Master Guide to Vaping Part 6 – Advanced Devices
Advanced devices generally have similar functionality compared to intermediate devices. Sometimes they’ll have a few extra bells and whistles, but mostly offer higher consistent power and longer battery life, mainly due to the fact that advanced devices usually require multiple batteries. More batteries means a longer period of time between charges, and the ability to fire at a higher power without the device scaling back due to lack of battery voltage and less current per battery. Nowadays, advanced devices function exactly the same way as intermediate devices, except the majority require separate batteries, a separate charger, and generally cost a bit more. Eventually, many people find that the advantages of owning such a device are well-worth the cost.
So what are the advantages and why to they justify the higher price? We already mentioned a couple of them above; more battery life and more consistent power. But what does that mean for you practically? First, it opens up the number of atomizers you can use. More robust sub-ohm tanks and rebuildables can require anywhere from 50W to 250W: power levels single-battery devices just can’t handle. Alternatively, you can choose a tank that requires a low power, and get insane battery life! Depending on the specific advice, some more advanced devices will let you use temperature control with different wire types, or customize more settings when it comes to temperature control.
Advanced devices usually mean a larger size, which is mostly determined by how many batteries it requires. Of course, there are some single-battery intermediate mods which are larger than dual-battery advanced mods, but those are the exceptions. For the most part, you can expect advanced mods to be some of the largest devices you can find. Many are still designed to be comfortable and ergonomic, but remember that these mods are focusing on power and quality over convenience. However, few people jump into vaping and go straight to advanced devices and therefore have a separate device to use as a backup or something to travel with when convenience needs to take priority.
If you had to pick one device to use exclusively, an advanced mod is the best choice. They have the ability to fire almost any atomizer, and are some of the most well-made devices on the market. Generally, you’ll be basing your purchasing decision on aesthetics, build quality, and maximum power/number of batteries. Also, if you want delve more deeply into the features, the chip that the mod uses may also be a factor. Some boards actually fire differently, and although subtle, it can affect the way a particular atomizer vapes. Boards like the DNA200, FSK chip, and SX series are some of the most revered and coveted due to the reliability, wide range of features, customization potential, and consistency of the vape quality.
So you’re probably wondering when you should consider an advanced mod over something intermediate. If you’re a heavy vaper, an advanced mod will give you more battery life, which is more convenient if you find yourself unable to charge your batteries for long periods of time. If your device uses removable 18650 batteries, as most do, you can bring extra batteries along with you too, but depending on how many batteries your device needs, how much you vape, and what resistance/power your setup is running at, this might not even be necessary. If you want to use certain sub-ohm tanks, or at least would like the option of using them optimally, the higher power offered by advanced devices is necessary. Even if you use a lower-power atomizer but want to “future-proof” your setup, an advanced device is the best way to do that. Remember, just because your mod is capable of 200W doesn’t mean that it won’t work just as well at 20W.
Not even a year ago, I could have told you that advanced devices offer the latest vaping technology and are the most difficult to use. With the innovation plateau that the industry is currently experiencing, this is no longer true. Today, advanced devices are just as easy to use as intermediate devices. Conversely, many of the features available in advanced mods are available in intermediate devices, and even some starter kits. The key difference is the reliability. While certain starter kits may be able to do things like temperature control, an advanced mod will be able to do it better. The temperature will be more accurate, you’ll be able to change your temperature more precisely, etc.
In conclusion, advanced devices will give you the maximum versatility you can achieve in vaping. They work with anything, have the most features, and generally have the best battery life. In theory, they’ll last longer and are better-made. Additionally, there’s not really a reason to be intimidated anymore; “advanced” isn’t synonymous with “difficult,” as most are relatively easy to use compared to intermediate-level devices. While intermediate devices and kits will generally be more compact, advanced devices emphasize power and performance over size, and that’s the main difference to consider. Also, consider that since many advanced devices are larger, they’re much better-suited towards larger atomizers, particularly those with 24mm or 25mm diameters. With such atomizers becoming more popular and numerous because of the increased capacity, coil size, and power requirements, this is just one more reason to consider a larger multi-battery mod.
Madvapes offers a wide selection of advanced devices that represent the best of what vaping has to offer. This includes the Reuleaux RX300, Sigelei Fuchai 213, and the Alien 220, just to name a few. So when you’re ready to get the best vape experience currently possible, be sure to check out www.madvapes.com and remember, we price match! We already offer some of the lowest prices on the internet, but if you find a lower price from an eligible website, we’ll match it! If you’re looking for a worthwhile upgrade or to just add another great mod to your collection, our “Mod” category is where you want to look.
Master Guide to Vaping Part 7 – Rebuildables
Rebuildable atomizers are some of the most varied components in vaping. In addition to a wide selection of different atomizers, each one can be built in a number of ways. Rather than replacing a premade coil, rebuildables require you to wrap your own coil. You can choose the wire type, size, wicking material, etc., and that means that rebuilding is the most effective way to perfectly tailor your vape the way you want it.
There are several types of rebuildable atomizers (RBAs). The most common is the rebuildable dripping atomizer (RDA). RDAs are made for dripping, and don’t hold any more liquid than the wick and drip well can absorb. RDAs are usually the best for cloud-chasing, but also offer great flavor. Rebuildable tank atomizers (RTAs) do hold liquid and are generally larger than RDAs. They’re slightly more difficult to build depending on the particular RTA you’re using, but the majority of modern RBAs are relatively easy to build. Last, we have rebuildable dripping tank atomizers (RDTAs). It may sound counter-intuitive, but RDTAs are a sort of hybrid between RDAs and RTAs. They will usually have a deck similar to an RDA, but also some sort of reservoir to hold a bit of e-liquid.
That’s a lot of letters to remember, so let’s make it easy: RDAs, RTAs, and RDTAs all fall under the RBA, or rebuildable atomizer, category. RDAs are dripping atomizers, RTAs are tanks, and RDTAs take some features from both.
There are pros and cons to each type of RBA, but keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and there are a few exceptions. RDAs are the easiest to build and use. This is mainly due to the fact that you’ll be dripping liquid directly on the coil, so you don’t have to worry about wicking. RDAs are also the best type of atomizer for cloud-chasing. Many are designed with huge airflow potential and have the most room for large coils. On the other hand, RDAs are the messiest RBA. Because of the nature of RDAs, the liquid isn’t held in a sealed tank, and it tends to “spit” or splatter out of the airflow holes when fired. This is generally a small price to pay for the performance that you get, but in certain circumstances, it might be inconvenient to keep your device upright at all times.
RTAs offer the most convenience, but can be difficult to wick correctly. Instead of simply absorbing liquid like an RDAs wick, the wick in an RTA but move your e-liquid from the reservoir to the coil. Depending on the design of the tank and the thickness of the e-liquid that you’re using, you may need to adjust the amount and/or length of wick you’re using. If it’s too loose, your tank can leak. Too tight, and you’ll get dry hits. In addition, many RTAs have smaller decks, which means you’ll need to build smaller coils and they may be more difficult to install. Tanks generally have less airflow potential compared to RDAs, and that can provide better flavor. However, the comparison of flavor and vapor production between RTAs and RDAs is going to depend on many things, so make sure to research any RBA you’re considering before buying.
RDTAs are surprisingly varied when it comes to design and what they’re designed for. For the most part, they will have a large build deck, similar to an RDA, and as such will accept RDA builds. However, they’ll also have a reservoir that holds a relatively small about of liquid; usually less than an RTA. Longer wicks are usually required, and that means you have to worry about dry hits, but it’s more lenient than an RTA. RDTAs are difficult to make blanket statements about since they’re all very different. However, many are top-coil and resemble a Genesis-style atomizer with the deck on top and the reservoir below. Unlike traditional Genesis tanks, RDTAs have an RDA deck and work best when wicked with cotton as opposed to stainless steel.
Speaking of wicking materials, there are a handful of options. The most popular is organic cotton. It’s affordable, easy to find, and minimally affects the flavor of your e-liquid. There are many different brands of cotton, but the 2 main styles are cotton balls and Japanese cotton pads. One isn’t inherently better than the other, but I encourage you to try both and find what works best. Another option is rayon, which is basically synthetic cotton. Like cotton, it’s extremely inexpensive, but you may need to search the internet to find it since it is more rare to find in stores. While cotton will expand when e-liquid is applied, rayon will actually shrink. This means you’ll need to wick it tighter than cotton to compensate. Again, it’s impossible to say which is better, so you’ll need to try it for yourself to make a determination. Silica and stainless steel can still be used for many RBAs, but they’ve largely fallen out of popularity over the last few years. Silica doesn’t burn, but it tends to be more expensive and harder to find than cotton, while not being as absorbent and muting flavor. Stainless steel can offer some of the best flavor, but its extremely difficult to work with and must be treated before using it as a wick. Unless you’re using a traditional Genesis-style tank, avoid using stainless steel as a wick. With modern atomizers, it doesn’t offer any advantage.
Next we have wire type, size, and shape. First, you should determine what type of wire you want. If you’re building for temperature control, you’ll want nickel, titanium, or stainless steel. Just make sure your mod can support the wire type. For wattage mode, Kanthal A-1 or NiChrome work best. Stainless steel is unique because it can be used in wattage mode or temperature control mode. The next thing you need to determine is size. Size in measured by the gauge of the wire, and 26-gauge is a good place to start. The higher the gauge, the thinner the wire and the higher the resistance. For example, compared to 22-gauge, 26-gauge is thinner and will give you a higher resistance if you use the exact same coil in terms of diameter and number of wraps. The most common size is 24-gauge, which is a good balance between resistance and ease-of-use. Remember, wire that is too thin will be difficult to wrap because of its “springiness” and tendency to break. Wire that is too thick will require a good amount of finger strength to manipulate, and may result in a resistance that is too low for your mod or batteries. Thick wire also takes longer to heat up and requires more power.
Last, you have wire shape. Round wire is the basic shape that’s perfect if you’re just starting out. Flat wire can still be found and offers more surface area that heats up more evenly. However, it’s more difficult to build with and has mostly been replaced with more complex wire in recent years. The most basic of the complex wire shapes is Clapton wire. Clapton wire is a thick wire with thinner wire wrapped around it so that it resembles a guitar string, hence the name. Almost all complex wire is based on the basic Clapton, and some people go as far as wrapping their own Clapton wire, although it is possible to find pre-made wire too. Fused Clapton wire is a parallel wire (2 round wires touching, parallel to each other) with a thinner wire wrapped around them. Alien wire is similar, except the thinner wire has been warped to give it a wavy look. There are many other similar wire shapes, but they lie beyond the scope of this guide. Just know that they are out there and mostly used by hobbyist vapers. However, there is a good reason to consider trying Clapton or fused Clapton wire.
First and foremost, it’s relatively easy to find on a spool, meaning you treat it as any round wire and don’t need to make it yourself. Secondly, Clapton wire actually absorbs some e-liquid. This gives a few advantages. First, it can improve flavor compared to round wire. The heat is internalized to where the liquid is and acts more like an oven. The difference is subtle, but worth it for some. Additionally, Clapton wire doesn’t produce dry hits as often as round wire since it has a greater surface area. It spreads the heat out, which also means it has a wider range of power that it works well with. And, because the wire itself absorbs some liquid on its own, it encourages improved wicking in tanks. So there are advantages to using some type of Clapton wire, but the difference may not be worth the additional cost or learning curve for new vapers looking to rebuild. More advanced users that don’t wish to make their own wire will most likely get some value out of buying pre-spooled Clapton or fused Clapton wire to wrap their coils.
When it comes to rebuilding, there’s a lot to learn. Most of this comes from experience, and just to get started, you only need to know a few basics. The result is the best vape experience you can get, because you can choose better quality material than what comes with pre-made coils, and you can tailor your vape exactly the way you like it. Many people find the learning curve well-worth the payoff, and many who start rebuilding never go back. That said, it’s definitely possible to continue using standard vape gear. Even hobbyist vapers with extensive collections of atomizers and mods occasionally turn to subohm tanks or even AIO devices when they need something more convenient or something less valuable if there’s a high chance of their vape getting lost, damaged, or stolen.
Every vaper should try rebuilding at least a few times. It’s not for everyone, but you’ll never know until you try and the learning curve has been greatly mitigated over the last few years with new designs making building easier and easier. If you’re wondering what you need to get started, the bare minimum will do. You can find everything you need right here at Madvapes:
• 24-Gauge Kanthal A-1
• Rebuilding Kit (Or scissors, screwdriver, and pliers as a bare minimum.)
• Mod Suitable for your Chosen RBA
• E-Liquid and Batteries (If Applicable)
If you need to know how to rebuild, a picture’s worth 1000 words, and a video is worth 1000 pictures. Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, which has several videos showing how to rebuild the most common atomizers.
There’s an RBA for every type of vaper. Your favorite vape is only slight dedication and a small investment away!