What are RBAs, RDAs, and RTAs?

The world of vaping is full of apocryphal little pieces of language. What’s a shortfill? What’s your opinion on nicshots versus nic salts? Would you ever sub-ohm at 12mg? What’s your opinion of RBAs/RTAs/RDAs vs. vaping with a pre-built atomiser?

We can’t help you with the first few questions there (yet—keep an eye out around here), but we can help with that last one.

So what the heck is going on with these little three-letter abbreviations?

Rebuildable atomisers

RBA is a catch-all term for any rebuildable atomiser. But that’s not any clearer.

An atomiser is easy to explain. It’s just a fancy word for the assembly that screws onto the top of your battery or mod, and which vaporises—or atomises—e-juice. It’s the part that gets hot.

Rebuildable, on the other hand, refers to a class of coils that are installed by hand on a ‘deck,’ and then threaded with a cotton wick. They’re the counterpoint to pre-built atomisers, which come in a metal container and pre-installed with coils and a cotton wick.

The problem with pre-built atomisers is that they often trade convenience of use for sub-optimal performance, since they’re complicated and rely on capillary action to pull e-juice into the wick. Beyond that, they’re often more expensive, since they have to be assembled by the manufacturer.

When you ‘build’ your deck, you attach a coil yourself—generally bought as a bare, pre-wound coil—and thread the cotton through the coil in some configuration dependent on the deck you’ve bought.

What happens next depends on whether you’re using an RDA or an RTA.

More abbreviations

Both RDAs and RTAs are types of RBAs (which, for a refresher, stands for rebuildable atomisers). Both RDAs and RTAs have decks upon which you install coils and cotton yourself. But the way that you introduce your e-juice to the system is what differentiates them.

An RTA is a rebuildable tank atomiser. They’re a good balance between the customisation and DIY ethos of rebuildable atomisers and the low configuration and maintenance of pre-built coils. The deck, coils, and cotton are covered with a ‘chamber cap’, which is basically a metal housing for the coils and cotton much like you see in pre-built coils. The chamber cap sits inside a standard tank, which you fill up with e-juice. The juice is fed by gravity into the bottom of the chamber cap, into the cotton, and finally is vaporised by the coils when you hit the fire button.

While they probably don’t look particularly different from bog-standard pre-builts on the outside, RTAs offer a much finer-grained level of control over your particular vape, since you get to decide what coils, how many, and at what resistance to install. However, all of the moving parts means that RTAs tend to be more complicated to build, even if they’re more convenient to fill and use day-to-day.

But if you’re looking for a serious level of control, you’ll want to look into RDAs.

An RDA is a rebuildable dripping atomiser. It does away with the tank and chamber cap and leaves the coils and cotton exposed. A cap threads or slides onto the deck to direct the vapour into your mouth, but generally doesn’t offer the same watertight seal that a tank does.

When the cap is removed and the coils and cotton are exposed, e-juice is dripped, one drop at a time, onto the cotton itself. No wicking or gravity feeding or capillary action needed.

The downside of this is that you’ll only get two or three hits before having to re-drop your cotton. Which means you’re going to have to keep the bottle nearby.

The upside is that RDAs can produce a ton of vapour. With huge multi-coil setups and low-resistance coils, and with a fully saturated wick, you could probably blow a cloud thick enough to hide in. No wonder that cloud chasing competitions are rife with RDAs.

But that’s not all

Rebuildable atomisers are undeniably popular and manufacturers left, right, and centre are jamming the word ‘rebuildable’ on the front of whatever they can come up with. You’ll find, for example, a small e-juice labyrinth featuring both exposed cotton and coils as well as a sub-deck tank labeled as a ‘rebuildable dripping tank atomiser’, or RDTA, sold at some retailers. RDTAs are meant to combine the pure cloud-pushing might of an RDA with the convenience of an RTA. The jury’s still out on RDTAs; you’ll find that some love them, while others hail them as the first true coming of Satan.

We’re not even going to touch on the myriad other rebuildable deck, coil, and tank combinations that go by many more properly trademarked names than we care to memorise. But for both the eager DIYer and the vaping newbie alike, the rebuildable world calls.


…Okay go build something already, the article is over.

Lilian Yang

Author Lilian Yang

Lilian Yang is an every-day, every-hour vape user. With 6 years under her belt, she can bind taste-test almost any ejuice and pick out the most subtle flavour notes. She's an expert at building coils and loves to ramp high for those huge clouds. She can often be seen behind a mask of Heisenberg, advocating switching from cigarettes to electronic alternatives.

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