Vape Coil Beginners Guide
How does a vape coil work?
Any vaper, whether new or advanced, is constantly dealing with electronics. The heart of any vapour-generating device is the coil or atomiser, primarily responsible for heating and vapourising the e-liquid.
A coil is typically a tiny metal chamber-like component. It is wrapped in a spiral shape around an e-cigarette’s wicking material, usually made of cotton (but can also be rayon, silica cord, mesh or ceramic). The atomiser connects to the positive and negative sides of the battery.
Electrical heat is sent from the battery to the coil when you press the button to vape. With the cotton wicking material saturated in e-liquid, the atomiser evaporates the juice into vapour.
Finally, this aerosol travels up your tank chimney and voila! Most e-cigarettes use refillable juices like pens, and some pod systems will provide a few extra coils. With disposable appliances, you simply throw away the device after a certain number of puffs and buy a new one.
For non-disposable options, users must keep up with the replacement to ensure the richest cloud and flavour production. Instead of re-buying coils, some experienced vapers prefer building their own to save money and customise their set-ups.
So, where is the coil in a vape? Usually, you find this around the centre of your vaping device. The battery source sits at the bottom, while the mouthpiece is above your tank that holds the juice.
We’ll explore different types of coils, resistance, how to take care of your coils, priming a coil, the best coils and other related concepts.
Do vape coils make a difference?
Yes! The atomiser is the central piece to vaping. Put simply, you cannot vape without a coil or heating element. As you’ll soon learn further, users need to take a lot into account when it comes to the atomiser.
What is vape coil resistance?
Knowing the resistance of a vape coil plays a massive role in the vaping experience. Resistance simply means how well an object conducts electricity and should be marked on all atomisers. We measure this in ohms (using the Greek omega sign Ω), named after the 1800s German physicist Georg Simon Ohm.
The lower the resistance is, the better a material conducts electricity, resulting in greater heat. Conversely, the object doesn’t distribute well with higher impedance, resulting in less power.
So, the golden question is what is the best vaping resistance, to which an answer is pretty multi-faceted. It all boils down to individual preferences. The average ohm range for vaping devices nowadays is 2.4-2.8Ω.
If you desire enormous clouds and warmth in your vape, low-resistance does the job. The downsides are that these coils will deplete your juice faster and use up your battery quickly due to the higher heat generation.
Also, you will have to replace the atomisers more frequently to retain the best flavour. On the other hand, as you climb up the resistance ladder, you get a cooler vape and less pronounced clouds because of the decreased power.
This results in slower battery drainage, less e-liquid depletion, and longer-lasting coils.
Coil types 101
Here, we’ll divide the different atomiser types in terms of ohms and the material used.
A sub-ohm coil is a coil with a resistance below 1Ω. This subset of the vaping industry is about cloud, flavour and warmth intensity.
Such is the extent that we even have ‘cloud chasing’ competitions where users compete to see who can produce the largest-sized vapour. Here, the contestants will be using sub-ohm resistance.
This allows for maximum power from the vaping devices, which, in turn, brings those massive clouds. The low-resistance options in vaping devices generally carry between 60 and 110W of power.
Despite the excitement of the sub-ohm niche, it carries several downsides, as we mentioned previously. We’ll go into greater detail a little later when discussing other factors. Regardless, devices with sub-ohm coils tend to incorporate adjusted ventilation.
When you allow for more airflow, this comes with greater vapour (but slightly less taste). Conversely, when the vents are closed, it has the opposite effect. Also, sub-ohm coils were designed for DTL or direct-to-lung puffing.
Here, you keep less vapour in your mouth by simply inhaling to your lungs and quickly exhaling (similar to normal breathing). Something else worth noting is the preferred juices for sub-ohm coils.
Always aim for e-liquids with more vegetable glycerin (VG) than propylene glycol (PG). This should be a ratio above 50/50 (e.g., 70/30). The reason is that VG is naturally thicker than PG.
As a viscous liquid, it takes more time to soak, meaning it needs higher temperatures to get through. Sub ohm-based vaping setups work best for this approach.
Plus ohm coils
A plus ohm coil is not a term frequently used. Nonetheless, it’s any atomiser with resistance above 1Ω, the opposite of a sub ohm. However, most vaping enthusiasts just call these standard coils, which tend to peak at about 2.8Ω currently.
Devices with these atomisers typically don’t produce anything about 30W, a stark contrast to sub-ohm vaping. These coils suit those who prefer discreetness in vapour production and a cooler feeling to their vape.
So, everything is less about power as with sub-ohm coils. Also, devices with higher resistance are best for MTL or mouth-to-lung inhalation, similar to smoking a cigarette.
Here, you let the vapour linger in your mouth for a short while before transferring it to the lungs. When you vape with a standard coil in this approach, it is less harsh because the device doesn’t produce as much ‘smoke.’
This is perfect for ex-smokers and beginners looking to closely replicate the act of smoking. Vapers should aim for higher PG content (above 50%) for the best juices. As a thinner liquid, higher resistance will better vapourise it than the thicker VG.
Coil type material
Aside from resistance, all atomisers will share characteristics in gauge and ‘ramp-up time.’ The former measurement is essentially the wire diameter and thickness. Typically, coils have a gauge between 22 and 32.
A higher number means a thinner wire and tinier circumference, while the opposite is true for a lower figure. In short, the more wiring used, the more improved the resistance; the fewer coils, the lower the resistance.
Ramp-up time refers to how long the atomiser arrives at a vapourising temperature. With greater wire mass, the ramp-up time is slower. Conversely, less wiring means your vaping device will quickly reach a vapourising temperature. We should also note that wattage plays a role in this aspect as well.
The last beneficial factor we’ll cover is the different vaping settings that play a role in the coil material. Two well-known modes are variable wattage (VW) and temperature control (TC).
VW allows the user to adjust the output power of their vapeware. So, you can fine-tune the device through different wattage levels. On the other hand, TC is a relatively recent mode in vaping technology.
Here, the device allows the vaper to set their desired temperature while automatically adjusting the heat when it becomes too high. Such a system eliminates any chance of ‘dry hits’ (covered later).
The point is that some wires are compatible with either of the two modes, while others can work with both. Nonetheless, let’s explore the common types of coil materials. This information is helpful for those looking to customise their vaping kits.
Kanthal is a hugely popular and versatile wire type for users building their own atomisers but is also found in many vaping devices. It is a ferritic iron-chromium-aluminium alloy made by the Kanthal Corporation.
Kanthal is a heating element for many household items like ovens, toasters and hair dryers. It is simple to use, relatively inexpensive and widely available in vape shops. Of course, such a wire offers several benefits for e-cigarettes as well.
Kanthal comes in various resistance levels but is only suitable for variable wattage. Also, it is not too soft but stiff enough to hold shape when twisted. Another benefit to Kanthal is its durability, because it forms a protective layer when heated. So, it’s one of the most robust types of vaping coils.
Good ‘ol stainless steel is the only multi-duty material in vape coils, i.e., it can work with VW and TC. This metal, composed predominantly of chromium, carbon and nickel, provides numerous advantages.
You can manipulate stainless steel more easily into different shapes than Kanthal while retaining strength. This metal provides a fast ramp-up time and lower resistance than most wires.
However, it has been documented that some people are allergic to nickel in steel. Various research reports suggest just over a fifth of the global population may be sensitive to metals.
Nichrome, a combination primarily of nickel and chromium, is another fan-favourite in vape coils. Similarly to Kanthal, it’s a highly durable and malleable material found in the heating elements of many everyday products.
Also, like Kanthal, nichrome is only suitable for wattage-based vaping but has a lower resistance than its counterpart. So this means the wire can operate better in high-powered situations.
Nichrome also doesn’t put a dent in your pocket, but it’s not as widely available as other wires. Yet, as with stainless steel, it might not be recommended for people allergic to nickel.
Vaping experts regard nickel or Ni200 as one of the first wires (along with titanium) used in temperature-controlled devices. Hence, you should only use it for these systems due to concerns of overheating and melting.
Still, it’s not the most popular coil wire found nowadays. For building purposes, nickel is challenging to work with as it’s quite flexible and brittle unless tempered. Also, this metal is toxic and a known carcinogen (a substance capable of causing cancer).
Nickel allergy is a real thing. High exposure to the metal (especially through a vaping coil) in some individuals can have various side effects like irritations, blisters, eczema, rash, breathing problems, etc.
Yet, assuming you have no allergic reactions, nickel is still a perfectly safe wire. It has wide availability, is inexpensive, and comes with a speedy ramp-up time.
Along with nickel, titanium is not a widely used vaping coil but is still quite familiar to knowledgeable vapers. Firstly, it’s a little on the high end in price. Another concern of this metal is titanium dioxide.
When heated above a specific temperature, it releases this toxic chemical. Therefore, like nickel, you should only use this wire in a TC-built device. Again, assuming you have no susceptibilities and understand all the safety precautions, titanium works just fine.
The wires are remarkably malleable, making them easy to twist and cut. Many have also noted that the vape emanating from such wires is somewhat crisper compared to other options.
How long can a good vape coil last?
This is an age-old question asked by virtually all new or beginning vapers. As with many things in vaping, it all depends. With experience, you know when your coil has passed its ‘sell-by date.’
Most literature suggests a good coil should last between 1-2 weeks, but it’s more complicated than that. In many cases, this time frame may be shorter. We should consider the wattage, vaping frequency, coil quality, types of juices, and many other things.
So, we’ll first look at the distinct factors that can shorten the lifespan and offer a few solutions.
- Wattage/power: Fundamentally, a coil loses quality because of the juice residue that builds up on the wicking material over time. When the atomiser is brand-new, the wicks are white. As you vape, the colour becomes brownish, meaning it will soon be time for a replacement.
This can be compounded with high-powered devices using sub-ohm resistance. As your atomiser becomes hotter when vaping, more juice gets sucked onto the cotton or wicks. This means you use a greater amount of e-liquid, and your coils end up ‘working overtime.’
So, generally, the lower the resistance, the more you may need to replace your coils. Not doing so will clog the wicking material, leading to a deterioration in flavour and vapour production. This is also not good for the workings of the overall device.
- Vaping frequency: Of course, not much stops someone from vaping all day long, but this will undoubtedly use up your coils faster. One thing you’ll want to avoid is ‘chain vaping’ (which is like chain smoking).
This is a typical beginner thing where the user takes multiple draws in a matter of seconds. When one keeps firing the button continuously, the wick doesn’t have enough time to be re-saturated with juice after each hit.
So, chain vaping interrupts this flow, leading to a speedier deterioration of the atomiser.
- Coil durability: As we already covered, some materials are more durable than others.
- Types of juices: Another major player in a coil’s lifespan are the juices fed into them. For instance, naturally, dark-coloured flavours like dessert and vanilla are known as the ‘worst offenders.’
High-VG juices can negatively impact your coils. Yet, it primarily comes down to the PG/VG content. Since VG is naturally chunkier than PG, it clogs in the wicking material much easier. Lastly, you should avoid juices with added sweeteners like sucralose.
Although this substance gives new life to a flavour’s profile, it’s certainly not kind to your coils as it creates dark debris in them.
How to make vape coils last longer
Now that we have the problems out of the way, let’s look at the most popular solutions.
- Priming: This refers to applying the e-liquid directly onto the wicking material of a new coil to ensure its fully saturated before use. We’ll go over priming and the different methods later.
However, priming is something you do once for every fresh coil and a fundamental practice every vaper should adopt.
- Avoiding chain vaping: Besides the threats to your coil, chain vaping is strenuous on your lungs. The solution is taking a slow and steady draw for 3-5 seconds and waiting for at least 15-30 seconds before the next hit.
- Keeping your tank filled: When vaping, you should constantly monitor how much juice is consumed. Similar to a car, no one wants their tank to run empty. The wicking content must always have liquid to saturate.
Without this, the heat generated will go more to the coil instead. Something that continues receiving debate is ‘dry burning,’ where you intentionally fire up your vaping device without any e-liquid.
It is usually done by advanced vapers building personalised coils to remove any residue and allow greater current to pass through it. Therefore, it’s not something that everyone should attempt.
- Cleaning your coils: We should note that doing this only gives your atomiser a few days of life and nothing more. Many vapers prefer buying a new component instead to avoid the work. This is because cleaning cannot completely remove all the built-up excess.
Nonetheless, vapers soak their atomisers in some kind of ethanol, vinegar or alcohol mixture for hours, rinsing and leaving them to dry for a few days. Still, you should at least clean your tank weekly.
- Using lower wattage: A vaping device with adjustable power can help with your coils. When too much heat is constantly generated, this means more work on the atomiser.
- Keeping your device upright: If your appliance is kept facing down or sideways when unused, a few unwanted things may creep up. The major one is that your coil may soak up too much liquid, not to mention other irritants like dust entering the device.
Another potential problem is leakage, which would prove an unintentional waste of your juice. Therefore, you should adhere to the correct storage methods for your device at home and when travelling.
- Buying juices with greater PG, no added sweeteners and lower nicotine: Where possible, stick to e-liquids with more PG than VG as this substance is the thinnest of the two. Alternatively, you can purchase juices with a 50/50 ratio.
As mentioned, stay away from e-liquids with extra sweeteners. Lastly, nicotine generally above 6mg makes the overall flavour of the e-liquid darker. While high nic delivers the strongest taste and throat hit, it can impact the coil quality over time.
What is priming a coil? What happens if you don’t prime a coil?
We’ve briefly looked at priming, but it essentially ensures a new coil is absorbed with juice before vaping it for the first time. You can prime in two ways:
- After taking the atomiser out of its packaging, you drip a few e-liquid drops into the holes of the cotton material before attaching it to the device. You may also put some juice at the coil head.
Regardless, check that no liquid is anywhere outside the coil. Lastly, users must leave their vapeware for 5-10 minutes before they’re ready to go.
- The alternative and quicker method is simply filling your tank with juice after attaching the new coil. Then, you should wait at least 10 minutes before vaping.
Priming is something every vaper should perform for a few reasons. If not done, you will very likely encounter a dry hit, which is when you unintentionally inhale vapour with a sort of burnt taste.
This happens because the coil wicks are too dry. So, your device is essentially not firing any or too little juice. A few consecutive dry hits can render a coil completely unusable, necessitating a replacement.
Aside from priming, you should note all the tips provided before on getting the most out of your atomiser.
What happens if you vape a dead coil?
A number of awful things can transpire when vaping a ‘dead coil.’ The first most likely outcome is a burning taste when you vape. This comes with a rough hit to your throat that can make you cough.
However, an overused coil also deteriorates the taste of your juices. The vapour production will also be weak as a result. Something likely to happen is a gurgling sound coming from your appliance.
Another unfortunate thing to mention is that, in some rare cases, you may receive a defective coil caused by faulty manufacturing. This is common with the vaping brands on the cheaper side of the scale.
In such instances, the seller or shop should swap this product with a new coil or organise a refund.
Best vape coils
Needless to say, there are countless options in vape coils. You should also consider that each vaper is different and will need a different type of atomiser for their vapeware. Nonetheless, we have listed seven vape coils which have been heavily reviewed as excellent (and what they are best for):
- HorizonTech Falcon 2(best for flavour)
- Freemax Fireluke 3 (best for clouds)
- HorizonTech SAKER (best for durability)
- Flatwire UK Flat Sixty 22g Flat Wire (best for building your own coil)
- Freemax Quad Mesh (best for sub-ohm and DTL vaping)
- Aspire Nautilus BVC (best for wide range of ohmages)
- SMOK Nord (best for compatibility with different vaping devices)
- Aspire AF (best for MTL vaping)
Can I build my own vape coil?
Absolutely. Such activity has become a pastime for many experienced vapers. Despite needing some skill with some pliers, wires, tweezers and other building tools, this practice has a few benefits.
The biggest one is understandably the cost-saving. When done correctly, building custom vape coils can be cheaper than purchasing pre-built ones in the long run. Also, there is the customisation aspect to this approach.
Ultimately, this information may be a lot to consume for the uninformed layman. Vaping is a bit of an art and science; there’s more going behind the scenes than puffing vapour. However, it’s just like getting to grips with any technology that may seem daunting initially.
From this full coil guide, you should now have a basic understanding of:
- What a coil is and its principal role
- What resistance is, and how does the coil affect vapour production
- The two types of coil resistance in vaping devices
- The different materials used in coil wires
- How to care for your atomisers to maximise their efficiency
- What happens when you don’t prime your coils
- The best coils for specific functions.