Rebuildable Atomizer: Beginner’s Guide To RDAs & RTAs (2017)

RBA Guide title pic

When I started looking into buying my first rebuildable atomizer, I found it quite confusing. There are hundreds of these products on the market, and I couldn't tell the difference between a kayfun and a kraken. It took a lot of time to figure out what to look for, let alone which specific product to buy.

In writing this guide I hope to make the process of picking out your first rebuildable easier for you. I will be covering the main differences between 4 different product categories: RDA, RTA, genesis-style, and RDTA. My focus will be on explaining the differences between the styles and the basics of how they work.

If you haven’t already, please learn how to rebuild safely – a good guide to battery safety can be found here.

So let’s begin, shall we?

​What is an RDA/Dripper?

RDA stands for “rebuildable dripping atomizer,” often called a dripper for short. This is the most common type you will see. An RDA has no tank to hold extra juice; all of the liquid is held by the wick and coil, and sometimes there is a well, or pit, inside the base of the dripper to hold a little extra juice.

As someone who is likely progressing from clearomizer tanks, you may wonder what the usefulness is of having an atomizer with no tank. An RDA is actually a much nicer setup than you might think – since you drip directly onto the atomizer yourself, you can get a perfect hit every time. Also you don’t have to re-drip as often as you might think – a fully saturated wick can give you as many as 10-20 puffs, depending on several factors such as the resistance of your atomizer and the type of wicking material you use.

Here are a few examples of dripping atomizers you might see:

Dripper examples

From left to right: Smok Dripper, Doge, Plume Veil 1.5, Onslaught.

This alone doesn’t give you much information when you’re looking to buy one. In order to see what you’ll be working with, you need to take off the cap and look at the build deck:​

Dripper deck examples

Decks of drippers, from left to right: Smok Dripper, Doge, Plume Veil 1.5, Onslaught.

As you can see here, they are all different. Each of these decks has a different number or arrangement of posts, which are what you’ll be attaching the wire to.

This may look confusing at first, but they all operate under the same basic concepts. Each rebuildable atomizer has one positive post, usually located in the center, and one or more negative posts, usually located outside the center. When you build an atomizer you will attach one end, or lead, of your coil to the positive post, and attach the other lead to one of the negative posts.

As you see in the picture, most drippers have holes drilled into the posts. When building you will put your wire all the way through that hole, then screw down the bolt on top of the post to hold it in place. If there is no hole in the post, you will sandwich the wire between the top of the post and the bolt.

When you see a dripper with more than one negative post, that means you can build an atomizer with multiple coils more easily. Some atomizers, such as the plume veil in the picture, will make this easier for you by having multiple holes drilled into the center post.

When looking to buy your first dripper, you should look for one that has only two or three posts, and no more. This will be easier to practice with.

Let’s take a closer look at an example: the Tugboat v2.

Tugboat v2 front

Again, there’s not much to see here except that it looks nice. Let’s take the top off.

Tugboat v2 with top off

Now we can see that it has 3 posts, one positive post in the center and two negative posts on either side. It also has a fairly deep juice well, so it can hold a little extra liquid.

There is more going on with this tugboat, however. Let’s go ahead and take the top apart.

Tugboat v2 broken down

You can see that the top cap comes apart in two pieces. This is for airflow control. You can spin the top piece if you want to and close off the air holes a little, or you can open them up wide.

One thing that is worth noting is that when rebuilding your atomizer, you should line up the airholes in front of your coils when you put the top back on. This improves both the flavor and the amount of vapor you can produce.

Now let’s flip that top cap upside down and take a closer look at it:

Tugboat v2 top cap airflow

Notice how there’s three sets of air holes on the top cap, while only two sets on the bottom section? This is not an accident – it’s so that you can use your atomizer efficiently with either one or two coils. If you have two coils placed on opposite sides, you will want to have both sets of air holes open. If you only want to use one coil, you can spin that top piece so only one set of air holes is open, and the other is closed off.

When you hear people say that a dripper can be run in “single or dual coil mode,” this is what they are referring to. When they say “dual coil mode only,” they mean that third set of airholes in the middle of the top piece is not there, and so you can’t close off the airholes on one side without closing off the other. Technically you can run a single coil this way, but it will be very airy and you will lose some flavor and vapor.

For your first rebuildable dripper, I would highly recommend a 3 post design with adjustable airflow like the Tugboat v2 clone. If you’re ok with building in dual coil mode only, you can get a clone of the Tugboat v1 or a Smok Caterpillar for very cheap to practice with. Keep in mind that many drippers do not come with drip tips, so make sure you have an extra one just in case.

Watch a dual coil build on a 3 post dripper​ in the video below!

What is an RBA/RTA?

RBA just stands for “rebuildable atomizer,” but is still frequently used to refer to an RTA, or “rebuildable tank atomizer.” These have decks to rebuild on just like drippers, but also have a tank section to hold extra liquid. When built and filled, an RTA will function just like a clearomizer so you can vape repeatedly for much of the day before having to refill.

Here are a few examples of RTAs:

RBA examples

From left to right: Eleaf Lemo, Kayfun Black in copper, Erlkonigin, Orchid v3.

Again, you need to see a picture of the RTA broken down in order to really understand what’s going on. So let’s take a closer look at an example, the Russian 91%:

Russian 91% front

Here is the Russian broken down:

Russian 91% broken down

When you first see a pic of an RTA broken down it looks extremely confusing. It is not as bad as it looks though – there are only 4 main parts of the device, and each part is shown in pieces. Let’s take a look at it part by part.

​1) The Base and Deck

Russian 91% deck

This is the part of the RTA you will be building on. It can come apart further than that, but I would not recommend this since some of these break easily when you take them apart. The two screws on the top are what you will use to trap your leads. It is designed for a single coil build.

The little hole in the center is your airflow, which comes from a hole in the base (this is not visible in the picture). The hole further down on the right side is your fill hole – on the bottom there is a screw that you will take out to fill the Russian after you have it assembled.

Again, you will have different deck styles with different RTAs. Some have multiple posts for multiple coil builds. Some will have tiny holes that you stick your leads into, with screws on the side to trap them in. I do not recommend these deck styles if this is your first tank, as they are trickier to work with.

The grooves on the sides are your juice channels. They will allow juice to flow into the wick after you put your chimney on.

2) The Chimney

Russian 91% chimney

The chimney allows vapor to be pulled through the device from the coil to you.

The bottom section screws onto the base around the deck, and the top section will screw onto that and connects to the top cap when fully assembled.

3) The Tank

Russian 91% tank

These three sections make up the tank. The section to the far right is the middle piece, and the other two are the top and bottom pieces.

The Russian 91%, as well as many other RTAs such as the Kayfun, will also come with a clear plastic piece that can be used to replace the middle section. If you plan to use liquids that may crack plastic tanks, stick with the metal piece.

4) The Top Cap and Drip Tip

Russian 91% top cap

After assembling your tank sections it is now time to put on your top cap. When screwing in the top cap the chimney will slide into the middle, making a complete separation between the vapor chamber and the liquid-filled tank.

When the Russian is fully assembled, it is best to fill the tank using the fill hole at the bottom, rather than taking off the top cap. This is because when you draw on it, a vacuum seal is created, which prevents leaking. When you remove the top cap you break that seal, and you may end up with liquid leaking everywhere out of the air hole after you fill it. There are ways around this, but it’s best to use the fill hole until you have more practice with the device.

For your first RTA, I would highly recommend any version of the Russian or the Kayfun (which are almost identical to each other). These have been around for a while, and are tried and true.

Below is a video tutorial for building and assembling the Kayfun:​


The genesis-style atomizer is a type of atomizer that is modeled after an original design which was named the Genesis. There are now dozens of models of genesis atomizers, and they all follow the same basic design. I do not recommend this for your first rebuildable, as it is a bit tricky to get the hang of.

Here are a few genesis atomizers:

Genesis-style examples

From left to right: Smok RSST, AGA T4, Satburn 22, Kraken.

The genesis-style atomizer is designed with a build deck on top of a liquid tank. When building you will insert a wick into a hole that leads down into the tank. This wick can be cotton or silica, or it can be made of rolled up stainless steel mesh or a steel rod. The wick pulls liquid up to the coil by capillary action. You will build the coil so that it wraps around the wick.

Let’s briefly look at an example: the Smok RSST. Here is a pic of the atomizer broken down:

Smok RSST broken down

The RSST has a tall positive post and a short negative screw. This height difference makes it easier to build vertical coils – your leads will be wrapped around the top of each screw. As always, some genesis atomizers have multiple negative screws for multiple coils. For each negative screw there will be a hole for its wick.

To wet the wick (or wicks) of your genesis atomizer, you will have to tip it upside down briefly. The RSST has a tiny little rubber stopper on the deck. This is covering up your fill hole so you don’t spill liquid all over when you tip it. Once wet, your wicks will pull up liquid on their own.

I would highly recommend that you not buy this as your first rebuildable, because it is trickier to get the hang of. If you insist, however, the Smok RSST is a good one to start with.

Below is a video tutorial of a build on the Smok RSST:


RDTA stands for “rebuildable dripping tank atomizer,” and is exactly what it sounds like. It is also sometimes referred to as an “auto dripper” because it is designed to drip liquid onto your coils for you.

Here are a few auto drippers currently on the market:

RDTA examples

From left to right: Big Dripper, Big Dripper v2, Revel, 3D.

RDTAs are so new that there are very few available. They generally work by dripping onto your wick when you press down on the drip tip. Let’s take a closer look at an example broken down, the Big Dripper v2:

Big Dripper v2 broken down

Here you can see that the Big Dripper v2 has a standard 3 post deck and cap with adjustable airholes, typical of an RDA. However, it also has a tank to hold liquid that sits above the deck, and a chimney post with a spring around it. That spring sits between the drip tip and the bottom of the tank. There is a tiny hole at the bottom of the tank, and when you push down on the drip tip, the liquid is pressurized and a few drops are pushed down through the hole and onto your wick.

Not all auto drippers drip liquid from the top. Some, like the 3D, hold liquid below the coils, which squirts up when compressed.

I would not recommend this as your first rebuildable, as it is a bit complex. However, if you insist, I would recommend the Big Dripper v2.

I do not have a tutorial of the RDTA for you – as I said, they are very new and they are all different. However, you can understand them quite well just by working on your knowledge of RDAs, since that is what they are based on.

Final Thoughts

I wrote this guide to try to make it easier for you to understand your options when getting into the world of rebuildable atomizers. There are a lot of products out there but they all follow the same principles of giving you a platform on which to build a coil, wick it, and vape it.

I hope this helps you on your journey. I wish you the best of luck when buying your first rebuildable and happy vaping!


  • Marc S. 12/02/2014

    Thank you for clearing that up! I have been rebuilding those tiny clearomizer coils long enough to be familiar with ohm build and I am ready to evolve. This article is exactly what I needed to help me make the right choice. Very well written. Thanx again!!

  • Schaun Johnson 01/03/2015

    good stuuff. ive been researching into using rba/rda and this gave me very valuable info

  • tallpinoy 01/15/2015

    This is very informative. Very helpful for the intermediate vapers or people looking to transition from clearomizers. I have been researching the differences between the RDA vs RBA and this article is the perfect answer. Thanks so much! Keep up the good work and vape on.

  • Jim 01/24/2015

    Finally some good informative information on the differences of the various devices. This really helped to clear up several of my questions. There are so many contradictory post online that just creates a lot of confusion for people that are new to these types of devices.
    Thank you for taking the time to put this together.

  • Joni 03/09/2015

    There’s one error in the article: You link to your page on “Rebuildable Tank Atomizers” with the abbreviation “RBA”, rather than imho correctly “RTA”. I have only ever seen and heard “Rebuildable Tank Atomizers” being shortened to “RTA”, never to “RBA”.

    An “RBA” is the parent category to both RDAs and RTAs. RBA simply means any type of “ReBuildable Atomizer”, be it a rebuildable dripping atomizer (RDA) or a rebuildable tank atomizer (RTA). So RBA =/= RTA. An RTA is one type of RBA.

  • adnan al kazi 07/02/2016

    it helped me alot the thing i was searching for so long i found it here thnkz keep up the good work and let newbies grow strong .vape on. I wana knw more about ohms in rda ?

  • VilaR 08/02/2016

    Really helpful intro cheers.
    Anyone have advice re: longevity of the post screws? It seems a likely place for problems to start – with damaged threads. Have knurled screws seemed less prone to thread stripping than screwdriver tightened types? Also the insulated post’s base seems a weak spot.
    Have any models earned a reputation for durability?

  • MJ 09/16/2016

    Thank you so much – this is extremely valuable information as I just started looking to switch to rda 🙂

    I just started vaping about a month ago to quit smoking and it worked wonderfully but isub coils are quite expensive so i am thinking of using an RDA coil in my cool fire iv plus but not sure if thats possible or not? I mean, looking at the 510 thread specs and if I use 0.2 ohm wire to rebuild mechanical coils, it shouldnt be any different to a mechanical mod?


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