When I started vaping in 2008, there wasn’t much choice. Unless you were in the modding/DIY camp, there was little to choose from other than cartridges that you could use with cigalikes and a few, mostly high PG, e-liquids.
Nowadays, though, there is a ton of choice. You can choose between high VG and high PG, between nicotine salts and free base, between 10ml and shortfills and more.
In many ways that’s a good thing. The different options available mean that vaping can meet the needs of more people. But it can also be very confusing when you first start vaping!
We’ve put this post to explain what the different types of e-liquid are, and what needs they address, so that you can choose the right e-liquids for your needs.
If you're knew to vaping, it's helpful to know a few key terms before you start! Common terms which can help when you are selecting e-liquid include:
MTL: When you inhale into the mouth and hold vapour briefly before inhaling into the lungs.
DTL: When you inhale directly into the lungs. See MTL v. DTL for more info.
Nicotine salts: A form of e-liquid that uses the salts found in tobacco leaves to create a smoother throat hit. E-liquid without nicotine salts is known as freebase e-liquid.
Bar salts: Double-flavour, often sweet, nicotine salts that replicate the flavour of disposable vapes.
Hybrid e-liquids: Contain both freebase e-liquid and nicotine salts.
PG: Propylene glycol. Used in e-liquid, it is thinner than VG, and creates more of a throat hit.
VG: Vegetable glycerine. Thicker than PG, it is slightly sweeter, smoother on the throat and creates larger clouds of vapour. See PG v. VG for more info.
Short-fill: A large bottle of e-liquid with no nicotine. There is a space at the top of the bottle to add a nicotine shot.
Nicotine shot: A small bottle of usually flavourless e-liquid that can be added to a short-fill.
Jacques Houzec is a scientist who has spent a lot of time training vape shops and helping smokers to switch to vaping.
His experience is that most vapers choose nicotine strengths that are too weak for them to successfully switch. (Bear in mind that the maximum nicotine level allowed in the UK is 20mg (or 2%), which is far lower than the 5% levels that are sold in the US by the likes of JUUL.)
If you’re smoking 15-20 cigarettes a day or more, you are probably best off using the strongest e-liquid you can get, which is usually 18mg in a 10ml bottle.
If you smoke less, or if you prefer light/mild cigarettes (e.g. Silk Cut), you might be able to drop down to 12mg (1.2%), but if you find that vaping is not working for you, you will probably need a higher nicotine strength. Generally, when you start, a higher nicotine level is better, although many vapers do gradually drop down the strengths over time.
For a more detailed guide, see our post: E-Liquid & Nicotine: Choosing the Right Strength.
Cigarettes can be harsh on the back of the throat, and many people actually miss that when they stop smoking. If you are looking to replicate that throat hit, you need an e-liquid with plenty of propylene glycol.
The key here is to look at the VG:PG ratio. A VG:PG ratio of 50:50, such as Halo Vapour Co. or WizMix, gives enough throat hit for most smokers, although if you are looking for an even stronger throat hit you might look for a VG:PG ratio of 40:60.
When you first use a high PG e-liquid, Dr Houzeq advises taking a long drag and not allowing too much air in, as this can cause coughing. With both high PG and high nicotine e-liquid it's best to use vape hardware that is designed for mouth-to-lung vaping such as the TECC Arc 5S.
It’s not just e-liquid that affects throat hit. For more tips, see our post 7 ways to tailor your throat hit experience.
There are two ways to soften the throat hit of an e-liquid.
The first is to use nicotine salts. Nicotine salts are a relatively new innovation. They were originally introduced because vapers found the nicotine hit with very high strength e-liquids (legal in the US, but not available in the UK) was too harsh.
Nicotine salts, which utilise the original form of nicotine found in tobacco leaves, create a much smoother throat hit. It may also increase the speed of nicotine delivery, making it more satisfying.
Nicotine salts are very popular with new vapers and are ideal for smokers who prefer light/mild cigarettes and tobacco. However, if you are used to a strong hit on the back of the throat, they may not be for you. Examples of nicotine salts include Nasty Juice Salts, Ohm Brew and Halo Salts.
Another way to minimise the throat hit is to use a higher VG e-liquid. However, high VG e-liquids are best used with more advanced equipment. We talk more about this below under cloud vaping.
Disposable vapes have taken the UK by storm in recent years - but the average vaper only uses a disposable vape device for three months before switching to a reusable device.
What, though, if you want to switch to a reusable device but have become wedded to the taste of disposable devices?
Then you're best off using a bar salt. Strong and often sweet in flavour, these are nicotine salts which are designed to replicate the taste of a disposable vape. Popular ranges include Elf Liq and IVG Bar Favourites.
If you are looking to replace the feeling of a cigarette, there are two options.
The first is an e-liquid with more propylene glycol, typically with a VG:PG ratio of 50:50, which gives a similar throat hit to that of a cigarette. These e-liquids, best used with pod systems and lower-powered devices, are also best for a tight, restricted draw that more closely mimics a cigarette.
But recently, many vapers have reported that pod systems that use a combination of nicotine salts and regular e-liquid, such as the Hexa Pro, to enjoy a very realistic smoking experience. The Hexa is a closed pod system, but hybrid salts are also starting to be used in 10ml bottles, as with Riot S:ALTS.
Starter kits and pod systems are usually designed for use with higher PG ratios (e.g. VG:PG 50:50). You can check this by checking the resistance of your coil. If the resistance of your coil is above 1 ohm, you are usually best off using a high PG e-liquid.
If your priority is to blow larger clouds of vapour, then you’ll be best off with short-fills. Short-fills are larger bottles of e-liquid, which come with a space at the top of the bottle to add a nicotine shot.
Short-fills such as Cotton & Cable and Nasty Juice usually have a higher VG ratio, such as VG:PG 70:30 or 80:20. The VG is responsible for the clouds, but do bear in mind that you need to use these with more advanced kits. That’s because the battery needs to provide more power, and the coil in your tank needs to be built to handle that power and a thicker e-liquid.
To handle the thicker e-liquids and produce those clouds, you also need to use coils with a lower resistance (typically well below 1 ohm) and with wider holes in the coil to help absorb the e-liquid.
Also see: Best E-liquids for Clouds.
Flavour is very personal, and the best way to find the best flavour for you is to experiment, so we won’t write too much about it here. But one key thing to mention is that while many smokers start with a tobacco flavour, evidence suggests that smokers who start with a non-tobacco flavour are more likely to switch successfully.So even if you love smoking, it’s well worth experimenting with non-tobacco flavours from the off.
Choosing your first e-liquid can seem like a minefield when you see all the alternatives. But if you can identify your needs using the guide above, you can quickly narrow down the type of e-liquid you need to start with. And then you can start exploring the wonderful and varied world of e-liquid flavours!
Do you have any tips for choosing e-liquid? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.