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Atomizers, Cartomizers, & Clearomizers: What’s the Difference?

When you start vaping, particularly if you use something more complex than a disposable or pod vape, you will be introduced to almost a whole new vocabulary. Some of those new terms you will hear and read will be easy to understand, but several are confusing or have interchangeable meanings. 

Few vaping terms cause more confusion than atomizer, cartomizer, and clearomizer. In this guide, we’ll explore the meaning of each term, what they commonly refer to, and clear up where mix-ups often occur. 


What is an Atomizer?

Vape Atomizer

The most commonly used dictionary definition of an atomizer is “an apparatus for reducing liquids to a fine spray.” In vaping, the term is used to describe a component that can convert vape juice into vapor. But, perhaps confusingly, it is also used to describe a specific type of vape component.

Technically, every vape device, ranging from the smallest disposable vape to the most complex vape kit, will feature an atomizer. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to vaporize e-liquid and wouldn’t be classed as a vape. 

However, when the term atomizer is used in the world of vaping, it most commonly refers to the more complex rebuildable tanks known as RDAs (Rebuildable Dripping Atomizer), RTAs (Rebuildable Tank Atomizer), and RDTAs (Rebuildable Dripping Tank Atomizer). These are not something you find on a beginner pod vape

An atomizer is made up of several individual parts, including a base that conducts the electricity from the battery, a coil (which can be made of a variety of different materials), and some type of wicking material that absorbs and holds the e-liquid. In combination, this is the atomizer. 

The atomizer in every other vape device will include the same components. The main difference is that they won’t be individually swappable as they are in an RDA/RTA. 

Examples of Atomizers:


How Vape Atomizers Work

Turning vape juice into vapor is a pretty simple process. A vape atomizer works similarly to a tea kettle, albeit on a tiny scale and in a shorter time. 

A small heating element (the coil) is surrounded by or encloses a piece of wicking material. The wicking is most commonly made from cotton these days, but a few other materials can also be used. 

Vape juice is absorbed by the wicking, either from a liquid reservoir or by having the e-liquid dripped onto it. The coil increases in heat rapidly when you draw on the vape or press the firing button. In turn, the liquid in the wicking close to the coil heats up and is converted into vapor. Just like steam from a kettle. 

When you stop drawing on the vape, the wicking will either absorb more vape juice from the reservoir or, as in the case of an RDA, require more vape juice to be dripped onto it. It is then ready to be used again. 


What is a Clearomizer?

Vape Clearomizer

The name “Clearomizer” may seem a bit strange, but it makes more sense when you think of it as a combination of the words “clear” and “atomizer.” The term is most commonly used to describe a clear glass or plastic vape tank (or pod) that encloses an atomizer. The atomizer is either integrated with the tank itself or is a removable component. 

Clearomizers are now one of the most popular forms of vape atomizing components. The term would originally have been applied to vape tanks and coils that were attached to a battery using a 510-threaded connector. Clearomizers nowadays mainly refer to subohm tanks, which are tanks that use pre-made, user-replaceable coils. Technically, everything from the Voopoo Argus Kit to the L200 Classic Kit (which use subohm tanks) could be described as a clearomizer vape. 

That said, if you search online for a “clearomizer vape,” you are unlikely to see pod vapes in the returned results. Pod vapes, which didn’t really exist when the term clearomizer was first used in vaping circles, tend to be put into a different category. 

Examples of Clearomizers:


What is a Cartomizer?

Vape Cartomizer

Although cartomizer is a distinct term for a particular piece of vaping apparatus, it is often confused with clearomizer, even by some vape retailers. The term cartomizer, which is a combination of the words “cartridge” and “atomizer,” refers to a component containing e-liquid and an atomizer coil in a single unit. 

Cartomizers are usually attached to a battery to create a pen-style or cigarette-style device. In fact, cartomizers are commonly also called cigalikes or e-cigarettes, even though the term refers only to the replaceable cartridge rather than the battery component. 

Some clearomizer tanks designed to be used with pen-style vape kits look like cartomizers, but the most obvious difference is that cartomizers are almost always pre-filled and generally cannot be refilled when empty. Nor can the atomizer coil be replaced. Instead, the entire empty cartomizer unit is discarded and replaced with a new one. 

When used in reference to vaping, “cartridge” almost always means a pre-filled, disposable unit containing the e-liquid, coil, and wicking material. The term could be used for both pod-style cartridges or actual cartomizers, but it’s a handy guide when searching for the vape component you need. 

Examples of Cartomizers:


Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the questions the team at Versed Vaper is most frequently asked about vape atomizers, cartomizers, and clearomizers. 

Do disposable vapes use atomizers?

Disposable vapes, just like any other type, contain an atomizer. The closest comparison would be to a cartomizer, although that term is seldom (if ever) used to describe a disposable vape. 

What does no atomizer mean?

Your vape LED screen displaying the message “no atomizer” or “check atomizer” could be caused by a few things. Check that the 510-threaded connector isn’t loose, and then check the coil head is tightly screwed in. If both are fine, the coil itself could be a dud or at the end of its life and needs to be replaced. For more information on solving this issue, check out our full guide on how to fix check atomizer/no atomizer.

Why does my clearomizer leak?

Clearomizers are made up of several separate components, many of which can result in a leak if not fitted properly. The most common cause is the seals around the tank failing or not being fitted correctly. The atomizer unit (often called the coil) may also be loose or need replacing. 

Can you refill a cartomizer?

In most cases, cartomizers cannot be easily refilled. They are designed to be used until empty and then discarded. Some cartomizers can be refilled by removing the cap at the mouthpiece end and slowly dripping liquid onto the wicking material inside. 

Is a coil the same as an atomizer?

The pre-built, replaceable atomizers used in clearomizers, like subohm tanks, are often called coils. Technically, the coil is just one part of the atomizer, but increasingly the term is used to describe the complete unit that fits into a vape tank or pod. 

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Versed Vaper Team

The Versed Vaper team are a group of passionate and experienced vapers who take pride in writing helpful, quality content about vaping. From deals, to news and reviews, we've got you covered on all things vaping. Remember to subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

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