When you look back on the history of the industry, what do you think is the most important vaping technology? Is it the nicotine salts that so many first-time vapers now use? What about the variable-wattage technology that allows us to dial in the exact vapor production and warmth that we want? Maybe you believe that the most important technology is the rebuildable atomizer that so many people now use for cheap cloud chasing enjoyment.
All of those answers would certainly be valid ones. If you ask us, though, the most important technology in vaping history is something far simpler. We believe that the cartomizer is the greatest invention in the history of vaping. The cartomizer was the first e-cigarette attachment that really defied convention and forced manufacturers to think outside the box and become more innovative in their product designs. Many small e-cigarettes still use cartomizers today even though the technology is now more than eight years old, and those that don’t use cartomizers often use very similar technology.
So, why are cartomizers so important? If you started vaping after 2010, there’s a good chance that you never used the technology that cartomizers replaced. Let’s go back in time.
Three-Piece E-Cigarettes Were Problematic and Unreliable
The above is a picture of a typical three-piece e-cigarette that was on the market about eight years ago. Around 2010, trends in the vaping industry began to shift in favor of smaller devices. While the earliest e-cigarettes looked a bit like pens, second-generation e-cigarettes were as small as tobacco cigarettes.
These are the three components that you see in the picture.
- Battery: The batteries of early e-cigarettes were much the same as the small e-cigarette batteries in use today, although the battery type pictured above – it’s called an L88 battery – is no longer common because it only provides a number of puffs equivalent to about four tobacco cigarettes before it dies. The battery has an air pressure sensor that activates the atomizer automatically when the user puffs on the e-cigarette.
- Atomizer: The atomizer of an early e-cigarette was a semi-permanent component that typically lasted up to a couple of weeks and cost about $6-9 to replace. Inside the metal shell was a tiny heating coil that looked much the same as the coils of today. The pointy thing at the top of the atomizer is a stainless steel mesh bridge. We’ll explain the purpose of the bridge next.
- Cartridge: In an early e-cigarette, the cartridge was a plastic capsule with a wet sponge inside. When the user pushed the cartridge over the atomizer, the sponge in the cartridge would touch the steel bridge at the top of the atomizer. Heat would cause the mesh bridge to act as a wick, drawing the e-liquid down toward the heating coil in the atomizer. After a few hours of vaping, the user would discard the cartridge and push on a new one.
Don’t get us wrong; at the beginning of the vaping industry, simply having a device that allowed you to inhale nicotine as vapor rather than smoke was a life-changing revelation. The first e-cigarettes, though, really didn’t work that well. These are just a few of the problems that early vapers encountered.
- Since an e-cigarette stored its e-liquid in a plastic sponge within a plastic cartridge, the vapor tended to taste like – you guessed it! – plastic.
- E-liquid had to travel a significant distance to get from the sponge to the heating coil. Invariably, some of the e-liquid would remain stuck in the top of the sponge.
- Disposable e-cigarette cartridges had poor airflow. If you tried to compensate by puffing more firmly, you’d get e-liquid in your mouth.
- The steel bridge of an early atomizer could sometimes get hot enough to melt the sponge in the cartridge – probably not healthy and definitely not tasty!
- The vapor production of early e-cigarettes was very poor. It was difficult to absorb enough nicotine to attain any real level of satisfaction.
How the Cartomizer Changed Vaping Technology
Ditching the atomizer and cartridge of a three-piece e-cigarette gave you a two-piece e-cigarette like the one pictured above. The word “cartomizer,” in fact, is simply a combination of “cartridge” and “atomizer.” What, then, is a cartomizer? Let’s take a closer look.
The above picture depicts what a cartomizer looks like on the inside. While the disposable e-cigarette cartridge of the past used a sponge to supply the heating coil with e-liquid from above, a cartomizer uses gauze wrapped around the heating coil. With less distance for the e-liquid to travel, the heating coil always stays wet. At a result, the e-cigarette produces much larger vapor clouds with no dry hits or off flavors.
The best part about cartomizers is that each one includes a new heating coil. When a cartomizer loses its flavor or stops producing vapor, you can start using a new one and expect the same experience that you had when you opened up your e-cigarette and used it for the first time.
Cartomizers Helped Vaping Reach the Mainstream
Without cartomizers, there’d have been little chance for vaping to reach the level of mainstream popularity that it enjoys today. If you read vaping message boards in 2010, you’d find post after post from people who couldn’t get enough nicotine or wanted to know why their e-cigarettes tasted so bad. You’d even find posts from people having trouble getting their e-cigarettes to work at all. Can you imagine what it was like for an early adopter who wanted so badly to find an alternative to smoking that he or she would put up with an e-cigarette that barely worked at all?
Cartomizers gave us exactly what most people expect with consumer electronics: They gave us devices that just worked. Screw a cartomizer into a battery, and you’ll get vapor. Cartomizers made vaping simple, predictable and reliable. Without them, the vaping industry as we know it might not exist today.