How Do E-Cigs Work?

Electronic cigarettes are simple devices with three main parts:

  • Heating element
  • Battery
  • Liquid reservoir

These three parts work together to heat up the e-liquid and produce vapor. Let’s take a closer look at each individual part to get a better understanding of how e-cigarettes work.

Heating Elements

The e-cigarette’s heating element plays an integral role in your vaping experience. This element is what heats the e-liquid and transforms it into vapor. E-cigarettes typically use either an atomizer or a cartomizer to heat the liquid.


Atomizers are basic heating elements. There are several different types of atomizers available, and some are more popular than others. Not all atomizers are compatible with every type of battery or cartridge.

  • 801 – The 801 was a popular atomizer in the early days of e-cigarettes, but is rarely used today. What makes this atomizer unique is its long barrel and recessed threading. Because of its threading, the 801 is incompatible with most cartridges.
  • 901 – 901 atomizers also have recessed threading. Cartridges designed for newer atomizers, such as the 510 or L88B, are generally incompatible with 901 atomizers.
  • 306 – The 306 atomizer is designed for drip tips. The intense flavor and warm vapor this atomizer produces makes it the ideal choice for casual e-smokers.
  • 510 – The 510 is the most popular atomizer available. Its design is more user-friendly, and drip tips can easily fit inside of the atomizer. The 510’s heating coil is also further from your mouth, which allows for a milder and cooler vaping experience.
  • L88B – The L88B is another popular atomizer and is primarily used in smaller e-cigarettes. This atomizer is also compatible with cartridges designed for 510 or 306 atomizers.


Cartomizers are relatively new to the e-cigarette market. As its name implies, cartomizers are a combination of an atomizer and a cartridge. This convenient solution eliminates the need for dripping and the hassles associated with disposable cartridges. Cartomizers rarely leak, and the vapor it produces is just as satisfying as the traditional atomizer/cartridge setup. Much like atomizers, there are several different types of cartomizers.

  • Tank – Tank cartomizers are similar to polyfill cartomizers, but are able to hold more liquid. The largest tanks are able to hold as much as 7 mL of liquid, which is equivalent to approximately 7 polyflil cartridges.
  • Dual-Coil – As its name implies, the dual-coil cartomizer features two heating coils. To really get the most out of this cartomizer, you need to ensure that your battery can output enough voltage to power each coil.
  • Bottom-Coil – A cartomizer with a bottom coil relies on gravity to feed the liquid to the wick. In most cases, the heating coil is isolated in its own chamber. The wick extends out of the chamber and is connected to the e-liquid tank.
  • Top-Coil – These cartomizers feature a horizontal heating coil and two wicks. They can hold up to 1 mL of liquid. Wick-feeding cartomizers may be clear, or they may be opaque. Clear versions are known as “clearomizers,” and are preferred by most e-smokers because they allow you to see how much e-liquid is left in the cartomizer.
  • Polyfill – Polyfill is one of the oldest cartomizers designs and is still the most widely available cartomizer on the market. The cylinder in the interior of the cartomizer is wrapped in gauze to fully saturate the wick and send the e-liquid to the heating coil. These cartomizers are easy to use and refill, which makes them a great choice for everyday vaping.


The battery is what powers the electronic cigarette. There are several different types of batteries available with varying voltages. The type of battery you choose will largely depend on the heating element you choose. For example, a dual-coil cartomizer will require a battery with higher voltage, while a typical 510 atomizer will require a smaller battery.

Liquid Reservoirs

The liquid reservoir delivers the e-liquid to the heating element. Reservoirs that can hold larger amounts of liquid are the preferred choice because you can go longer without needing a refill. There are two basic types of reservoirs used:

  • Cartridges – Cartridges are used in basic electronic cigarettes. They are disposable, pre-filled and considered a one-time-use reservoir.
  • Cartomizers – As mentioned earlier, cartomizers are a combination of both a cartridge and an atomizer.

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