How Do Vape Pens Work? (Beginner Friendly Guide)

how do vape pens work

You do the usual smoking session, casually relaxing until you are suddenly bombarded by friends and ads about how smoking is dangerous and vape pens are the better alternative. However, you know next to nothing about vaping. You don’t even know how vape pens work!

Well, we can easily fix that by giving you this article. Here, we will delve into vape pens, how they work, the components that make them tick, and the variations that you’ll see in the market right now. That way, you’ll become that friend who recommends vape pens next!

What is a Vape Pen?

The vape pen is one of the three main devices under the category of vaporizers. These vaporizers are often considered to be better alternatives when compared to traditional smoking methods.

The vape pen is a vaporizer about the size of a pen, hence the name. Some people call them by other names, like weed pens and oil pens. Unlike other vaporizers, vape pens were only specifically designed to vaporize cannabis distillates and oils.

Vape pens, as most vaporizers are, are attractive to most smokers because of one key characteristic: they emit vapor instead of smoke. Aside from nicotine, traditional cigarettes have been shown to be more dangerous because of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals emitted from the combustion process.

How Do Vape Pens Work?

Vape pens work by heating up the distillates and oils to a specific temperature below the combustion point upon the press of a button or inhalation on the mouthpiece. At this temperature, vape pens emit the desirable vapor without the dangerous stuff found in smoke from tobacco.

At lower temperatures, the flavor is more robust and more discrete, since it produces less smell and smaller clouds. Higher temperatures allow for larger clouds, but may often defeat the idea of discretion.


Components of a Vape Pen

Components of a Vape Pen

So that we can fully understand the workings of a vape pen, it helps that we get to know the components of this pocket-sized device.

1. Atomizer

The atomizer is the heating element of a vape pen and perhaps the heart of the device itself. This tiny component draws power from the battery and heats the e-liquid to a certain temperature, up until the oils turn into vapor, which can then be inhaled by the user.

The atomizer heats up the distillate using a method called conduction. This means that the atomizer needs physical direct contact in some way with the distillate to heat it up. Compared to the convection method used by other vaporizers, the atomizer unfortunately delivers less smooth and smoky vapor.

Given its small size, the atomizer does not last for quite a long time, compared to the other heating elements used in other vaporizers. You might need to replace atomizers every 3-4 weeks.

That can be both a blessing and a curse. Aside from being a recurring expense, a replaceable atomizer makes a vape pen customizable. There are quite a variety of atomizers. They can come in ceramic and quartz, and single-rod or double-rod.

The 510-thread is a standard size for an atomizer. This refers to the connection between the atomizer and the battery. In this standard, the cartridge is connected to the atomizer, and fitting a compatible 510-thread battery will make the vape pen customizable.

2. Battery

As the power of the device, the battery allows the entire vape pen to be portable. Sporting the same lithium-ion technology found in phones and other portable electronics, the battery lasts long enough for your outdoor vaping sessions. The battery also often dictates the size of the pen, with larger capacities needing larger pens.

A vape pen’s single charge duration is not just dependent on the size of your battery. As stated above, atomizers are replaceable, and atomizers that need a bit more power to pump higher temperatures will effectively make for a shorter duration.

Most vape pen batteries are rechargeable via a USB charger, although there are removable varieties, depending on your vape pen. Additionally, disposable vape pen batteries cannot be charged at all, since they were meant to be for single use.

Similar to the atomizer, batteries also come in a 510-thread size. Most, if not all, 510-thread batteries will fit in snugly with 510-thread cartridges.

3. Tank/Chamber/Cartridge


Now we get to the interesting part. Depending on your vape pen, you may have a refillable tank or heating chamber, or a replaceable oil cartridge. No matter what you have, this component stores the distillates and oils that you need to make the vape pen actually release the vapor.

Given the size of a vape pen, most tanks can only hold a small amount of cannabis oil. They can only hold around 2 mL of oil, while cartridges only have around 0.5 to 1.0 mL of oil. Each mL of e-liquid can last for 100-300 puffs, which should last for at most a week for infrequent vapers, and half of that for frequent users.

The most common type of vape cartridge is the 510-threaded one, which is standard across most vape pens. The 510-thread cartridge simply needs a 510-thread battery, so you can easily swap out most cartridges and batteries as long as they are compatible.

4. Sensor

Depending on your vape pen, it can be turned on via two methods. The first one is a straightforward button, where a single press turns it on and a second press turns it off. For vape pens with a variable voltage setting, multiple consequent presses indicate the level of temperature. You want to refer to your own vape pen for these instructions.

Other vape pens are “smarter,” where you simply need to inhale on the mouthpiece. A sensor detects this and turns on the vape pen automatically. After some time, the vape pen simply turns off once you stop inhaling it.

5. Mouthpiece

As the name goes, this is the part where you draw the vapor. You can often find this attached together with the cartridge or tank, at one end of the pen. Nothing much fancy about this component, except for the part where you want this cleaned every now and then.

6. LED Indicator

As with any device, you want to know if your pen is on or not. A simple LED indicator does this job perfectly fine.

Types of Vape Pens

There are two types of vape pens: rechargeable and disposable. Both work fundamentally the same, with the key difference being that rechargeable vape pens are, well, rechargeable, while disposable vape pens cannot be charged once the battery is exhausted. First-time vapers might want to try using disposable pens first before committing to a rechargeable one.

Rechargeable pens are also differentiated by how they store the distillates. As mentioned above, a vape tank stores a lot more distillate, and it can be easily refilled once empty. On the other hand, a vape cartridge stores less oil, but can be easily removed and simply slots in the pen once replaced.


Other Types of Vape Devices

Other Types of Vape Devices

Portable Vaporizers

The vape pen can be often confused with portable vaporizers. After all, both devices are portable. However, they have distinct differences that either stand out immediately or affect the performance of each device.

Firstly, the vape pen is specifically called such because it is often in the form and size of a pen, making them discreet. Meanwhile, a portable vaporizer is handheld but not necessarily discreet. They are just a bit bigger than vape pens, making them just a tad more obvious than vape pens.

Because portable vaporizers are larger, they can house larger components. They can have a larger tank, a larger battery, and a variety of heating elements. They can also be used with distillates, oils, or flowers, another distinction from vape pens.

Where the vape pen is stuck with an atomizer or coil, portable vaporizers have a choice between conduction and convection heating systems.

You already know about conduction systems as explained before. The convection system works differently, in that it blows hot air to the cartridge and lets that hot air vaporize the oil in the tank. The advantage of this method is that it reduces the risk of incineration that produces smoke. Hence, convection systems produce purer vapor that is considered smoother and more flavorful.

Additionally, portable vaporizers have room for extra fancy features. Some of them have extra chambers that cool the vapor before it hits your mouth, while some can be controlled through your phone.

Tabletop Vaporizers

Compared to the other two options, a tabletop vaporizer is more of a stationary device that needs to sit on a tabletop. It has all the necessary components similar to most vaporizers: a heating system, a temperature control dial, a chamber for oils or cannabis flower, and a mouthpiece.

While portable vaporizers and vape pens are relatively inexpensive upfront, tabletop vaporizers cost a fancy amount of money. In exchange, you get more precise temperature control and more flexibility on what form you will be vaping on.


Vape pens are amazing devices for people who like to vape discreetly in public, and they are convenient to store and use everywhere. They work in quite a straightforward way, too, and most components are replaceable, so you can get them fixed if a component is broken. If you’re still dipping your feet into vaping, disposable vape pens are definitely a great start.


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