Rebuildable tank atomizers come in different designations. Four are commonly used today. Each label has an acronym that starts with the letter “R” (for “Rebuild-able).
Let’s expand the four “Rebuildable” acronyms and define what they mean:
What is an RBA?
RBA (ReBuildable Atomizer) — the generic and all-inclusive term for any atomizer with a deck upon which the user mounts his own coils and wicks (called “builds”). Any atomizer with a build deck — including the more specialized sub-categories below — may correctly be called an RBA.
What is an RDA?
RDA (Rebuildable Dripping Atomizer) — an RBA with a deck with posts to anchor the coils and provide the electrical connections to the battery (mod) that heats the coils. The deck is covered with a cap (an outer shell) that screws on with threading or slides on with o-rings. RDAs have no tank section to hold e-liquid. They’re designed for e-liquid to be dripped from a bottle, drop by drop, directly onto the coils and/or wicks (usually after removing the cap, which is then replaced after dripping). Sometimes the decks have a well under the coils that holds a small amount of e-liquid, usually less than 1ml.
A commonly held opinion in the vaping community is that RDAs as a class produce purer and more intense flavor than any other method of vaporizing. Thus, RDAs represent the gold standard against which all other types of atomizers are measured.
RDAs can produce astonishing amounts of vapor, especially when outfitted with exotic multi-coil builds at ultra-low resistance (0.05-0.2Ω) and vaped at sufficiently high power (100+ watts), typically on unregulated mechanical mods (although the “arms race” in regulated mods toward ever-higher power may change that). In fact, RDAs are the stars of “cloud-chasing” competitions now held around the world.
What is an RTA?
RTA (Rebuildable Tank Atomizer) — a rebuildable atomizer (RBA) with a deck that has posts and is covered by a sealed metal chamber cap, around which is a tank reservoir for holding e-liquid. The chamber cap connects to a chimney that directs vapor to the drip tip. Gravity and pressure automatically force e-liquid in the tank down around the chamber cap and then up through slots or channels on the outer circumference of the deck. The wick ends are placed in these channels. As e-liquid saturates the wick, it is delivered to the coils to be vaporized.
The difference between an RDA and an RTA is the tank. There’s no manual dripping with an RTA.
What is an RDTA?
RDTA (Rebuildable Dripping Tank Atomizer) — This is the most confusing of the four categories.
Two years ago (as seen above), an RDTA was an rebuildable tank atomizer (RTA) with a deck, posts, chamber cap, and tank, plus an additional assembly (such as a spring-loaded pump operated by pushing down the drip tip) that allowed the user to manually control the flow of e-liquid from the tank to the wicks and coils. Each push on the plunger (drip tip) forced a measured amount of e-liquid to the wicks.
Another name for these early RDTAs was “auto-drippers.” That may seem odd, since the spring-loaded pumps were operated manually, but the “auto” part refers to not having to stop vaping, remove the top cap, and drip e-liquid from a bottle. Dripping was “automated” to make it more convenient, but automated in a manual way.
Those early RDTAs were the rarest type of rebuildable atomizers, and for good reason. They were complex in design and often didn’t work dependably or well. Even when they functioned correctly, whatever may have been gained in convenience was usually offset the loss of simplicity and reliability. In essence, they were too often more trouble than they were worth. As of 2016, only a handful of these “original-style” RDTAs continue to be produced and marketed. They’re mostly relics for the vaping museum.
Recently, however, RDTAs got a facelift and were redefined. Gone were the manually-operated pumps for “auto-dripping.” In their place was a new design for saturating the wicks and delivering e-liquid to the coils.
Starting in late 2015, manufacturers began producing new rebuildable tank atomizers (RTAs) that didn’t use e-liquid “channels” into which the wick ends were placed. Instead, these new tanks simply had holes drilled through the deck floor. Wick ends were trimmed to touch the floor of the deck and were saturated as e-liquid was forced up by gravity pressure through the holes in the deck floor.
A second, less objective reason that manufacturers have christened these re-designed tanks as RDTAs involves their supposedly enhanced performance. As noted above, dripping atomizers (RDAs) are considered the pinnacle of pure performance in vaping, so manufacturers are essentially claiming that the tanks they’re labeling as RDTAs offer superior performance over “regular” RTAs. This muddies the waters, since it’s essentially a marketing ploy — the equivalent of letting the foxes guard the hen house.
The first reason — a re-designed e-liquid flow system — may be valid as justification for renaming RTAs as RDTAs; the second reason is clearly bogus. But that’s the reality of the marketplace.
Three other kinds of rebuildable tanks deserve a mention in this article: Carto Tanks, Genesis Tanks, and Kayfun Tanks.
In 2012, custom mod designer imeothanasis (his ECF handle), otherwise known as the Golden Greek (GG), created two new tank designs — the Penelope and the Odysseus. They were revolutionary in their use of seals that insured much higher internal pressure inside the tank to force e-liquid into the wicks, and also to minimize leaking.
Soon after in 2013, a similar tank design appeared called the Kayfun, followed by its slightly smaller sibling, the Russian 91. The Penelope and Odysseus were very complicated and custom manufactured in small quantities, while the Kayfun, Russian, and various clones that followed were relatively simple and mass-produced. Before long, the Kayfun took the tank market by storm and had become a household name among cutting-edge vapers.
A significant factor in the Kayfun’s popularity was that its single-coil “deck” was an easy coil-building platform. The majority of decks we see today in contemporary RDAs/RTAs evolved from the Kayfun deck design.
Kayfuns became known as “flavor” tanks. Their vapor production was nothing to write home about (in part, because they were designed with a stiff draw to accommodate mouth-to-lung vaping), but the flavor they provided was legendary.
Many versions of the Kayfun have been sold; even today, new versions and spin-offs appear in the marketplace every so often. While a majority of vaping enthusiasts have moved on to higher power, direct lung inhale tanks, the Kayfun was truly a game-changer.
A further sub-category of Rebuildable Atomizers is the Genesis. In 2011, around the time when Carto Tanks using punched 510 cartomizers were emerging in the vaping marketplace, a German vaper on ECF called Raidy came up with a new and very different tank design. (Some people dispute that Raidy “invented” the Genesis, but that’s the myth; at the very least, however, Raidy named it.)
Traditional genesis tanks used stainless steel mesh rolled into a tube for wicking e-liquid to the coil, which was wound around the mesh. The mesh extended through the base of the deck and into the e-liquid in the tank below.
Now a new generation of “Genny-style” tanks is appearing. These use cotton rather than rolled-up steel mesh for wicking. They differ from more typical RTAs in that the cotton wicks simply “hang down” into the tank, just above the e-liquid, and the natural physical movement of vaping the tank causes e-liquid to slosh around inside the tank and saturate the wicks, carrying e-liquid up through the deck and to the coils.
So, in a sense, these new Genny-style tanks are hybrids that combine different tank designs. Unlike some hybrids, where the mixed designs are not always well-suited (such as RBA decks with certain sub-ohm clearomizer tanks), here the marriage is a happy partnership. It’s a match made in heaven.
Though the spelling G-e-n-e-s-i-s is most used when referring to those kinds of atomizers, the correct spelling is G-e-n-i-s-i-s. Raidy said it is an acronym for “Genial Simpler Siebdampfer (ingeniously simple mesh steamer)”.
Carto Tanks represent probably the truest beginnings of the tank atomizers that we use for vaping today. They emerged out of another development: one-piece, metal-tube 510 cartomizers.
Way back when, in 2007-2009, atomizers were typically two-piece units that were matched to a battery and designated according to their connector type and threading: 401, 808-D, 904, and 306/510 were competing designs (510 won out eventually and is now the universal standard). The atomizer part was a coil embedded in a ceramic cup inside a short metal tube. That could be used alone as a “dripping atomizer.” A second section often included was a plastic tube that fit over the atomizer’s metal tube, in effect, a mini-tank for holding e-liquid, as well as a makeshift drip tip (formal drip tips hadn’t yet been invented back then). People would fill that tube with polyester batting or what was called blue foam and saturate it with e-liquid.
Then some Chinese manufacturer came up with the bright idea of a single, longer metal tube with batting wrapped around the coil. Thus the cartomizer was born. It didn’t take long for cartomizers to become popular, and soon after, tanks were designed to fit around the cartomizers (which were “punched,” or had holes drilled into their metal tubes), and thus hold more e-liquid. Many intrepid vapers even bought plastic medical syringes, cut them up, and drilled or punched their own cartomizers to make DIY carto tanks.
When they worked properly, carto tanks were brilliant. But that amazing vape experience usually didn’t last long before various problems emerged: leaking, flooding, and dry hits. The original style of carto tanks effectively died when Kayfuns came along, although they were resuscitated, in effect, when direct-lung-inhale, high-power, sub-ohm clearomizer tanks using factory-built heads hit the market like a tidal wave in 2014-2015.