E-liquid, also called vape liquid or vape juice, is the substance we vapourise in e-cigarettes to deliver the nicotine-containing vapour we then inhale to satisfy cravings. They come in a variety of different formats, with varying properties suited to different vaping styles. If you want to try vaping, understanding the different liquids available to you is vital if you want a pleasant, satisfying experience!
Deciding which e-liquid to choose, particularly when starting out on your vaping journey, can be a daunting process. Not only are there thousands of different brands out there, but there are many different types of e-liquid that all offer different experiences, designed to suit different personal preferences. UK vaping brand LiQuid has put together this handy guide to help you understand e-liquids and how they work.
The first step is understanding what goes into an e-liquid, the different types of e-liquid these ingredients create, and how each could fit into your personal journey.
E-liquid might seem complicated, but it typically only contains four primary ingredients: PG, VG, nicotine & flavouring.
PG is a clear, tasteless, and colourless base material used in many common products including inhalers. It is used in e-liquids as it is a very effective carrier for flavourings and nicotine. PG is thinner in consistency than VG and produces far less vapour.
50/50 vape liquids are made using a higher volume of PG, allowing them to accommodate higher nicotine strengths.
VG is a clear, slightly sweet, and colourless base material that is used in a massive range of products, from food to hand sanitiser. It is perfect for e-liquids as it helps to create bigger and bolder flavours. VG is very thick in its consistency and can produce massive vape clouds.
Most e-liquids use a balanced combination of VG and PG, as VG is not an effective carrier agent.
This is the most common type of nicotine used in e-liquids. It is called “freebase” as the nicotine itself is freely suspended in a base material like PG or VG. PG is far more common due to its superior properties as a carrier, which create more stable mixtures when blended with other ingredients.
Most freebase nicotine is suspended in PG at 7.2%, this allows manufacturers like LiQuid to accurately blend it into e-liquids to create the various strengths offered.
Nicotine salts or nic salts are a more recent addition to the vaping industry but are already very popular. They work in the same way as freebase nicotine but require the nicotine to be combined with one of a variety of potential “salt acids”. These salt acids neutralise the naturally alkaline pH of the nicotine. The result is an e-liquid that is smooth on the throat and less harsh in taste, even at very high strengths like 18mg and 20mg.
Nic salts deliver deep, lasting satisfaction far faster and for far longer than is offered by freebase. They come in different forms – common nic salt varieties include: nicotine salicylate, nicotine benzoate, nicotine ditartrate and nicotine levulinate. These different types can create slightly different properties (like a slight cooling effect) but all function in largely the same way.
E-liquid made from nic salts is the same type found in the incredibly popular disposable vaping devices you may have seen on UK shelves, like GEEK, Elux, and Elf bars.
Flavourings are what truly bring an e-liquid to life, they come in near limitless varieties. They are usually suspended in a base consisting primarily of PG, which allows the flavourings to be properly blended alongside VG to create the finished product.
They are classed as “food-grade” and are very similar, if not identical to those used in the catering industry. However, this does not mean you can add vanilla essence for baking to your e-liquid! While similar, many vape flavours, like those used in LiQuid products, have been specially developed to perform better when vaped.
The ingredients above are combined in varying amounts to create the different types of e-liquid available for you to try. The most common categories are 50/50 or high vegetable glycerol (HVG), but there are subtypes within these that offer experiences suited to different needs.
It is very common for vapers to switch between different types throughout their journey; however, most new starters will tend to opt for 50/50 freebase or nicotine salt e-liquids as they offer the higher strengths that tend to better manage the cravings that come from a heavier smoking habit. New vapers who find high-strength freebase 50/50 juices too harsh, tend to opt for nic salts as they can offer that same high-strength satisfaction, without a significant throat hit.
More experienced vapers often progress to thicker HVG e-liquids that produce bigger clouds but have reduced nicotine strengths owing to the very powerful and more complex devices they are best paired with – trust us, you don’t want to inhale that much high-strength vapour, it’s just not pleasant unless the nicotine strength is weaker.
The most commonly used e-liquids are typically called “50/50”. This refers to the fact that in most cases these e-liquids will contain an even ratio of PG to VG, which results in a stable mixture capable of supporting nicotine strengths of up to 20mg (which is the regulatory maximum strength in the UK).
50/50 e-liquids are better suited to smaller vaping devices that are designed to support mouth-to-lung (MTL) style of vaping (i.e. you inhale into the mouth first, then into the lung – like a drag on an analogue cigarette).
Most pre-filled pod devices will utilise 50/50 recipes in a variety of flavours and strengths. Otherwise, most 50/50 e-liquids will be available in 10ml bottles.
Nicotine salt e-liquids follow the same principles as 50/50s and are blended in the exact same way. The primary difference is that they utilise salt rather than freebase nicotine. This offers some benefits including a smooth taste and deep satisfaction even when vaped at higher strengths.
Due to their rising popularity, there are some manufacturers producing vaping devices that are described as specifically designed for nic salt e-liquids – this does not mean that you need specialised hardware. Nic salts are compatible with most MTL devices.
HVG e-liquids are, along with 50/50s, one of the longest standing liquid varieties available to consumers. They utilise a much higher ratio of VG in their recipe. Due to the lower volume of PG, HVG e-liquids are typically unavailable in strengths beyond 3mg or 6mg.
Higher strengths of nicotine (12mg and above) are less preferable for HVG juices as vaping them is generally considered to be an unpleasant experience due to the large amount of vapour and nicotine that is inhaled, creating a particularly harsh throat hit.
HVG e-liquids are only compatible with sub-ohm vaping devices, with a coil rating of less than 1.0ohm. These devices are instantly recognisable in most cases due to their large size, often outlandish designs, and detailed user interface – these devices are typically used by experienced vapers.
E-liquids of the HVG variety are typically suited to a direct-to-lung (DTL) vaping style, whereby you inhale immediately deep into the lungs and exhale in one smooth action, this is because holding a bigger cloud of vapour often makes people cough.
Short fills are a very popular kind of HVG e-liquid that allow the user to purchase much larger bottle sizes as opposed to the traditional 10ml. They are always sold as nicotine-free, which allows them to bypass the regulations that limit the size of nicotine containing e-liquids to a maximum of 10ml. UK law prevents a nicotine-containing e-liquid to be sold in a bottle bigger than 10ml.
To meet consumer needs, the larger bottles are often filled just short of their maximum volume, allowing the user to add separate nic shots to create a large volume of their favourite flavour with a customised nicotine strength.
Exclusively intended to be added to short fill products, these are a rare example of a HVG e-liquid that is also high strength, often found in 18mg, and not for isolated consumption. The nicotine content is diluted down when added to the base e-liquid in a short fill.
It is important to match the PG/VG ratio of a shot to the short fill so as not to dilute the thickness of your e-liquid. An example of how to blend a nic shot with a short fill would look like this:
50ml of 0mg, 80/20 short fill base + 1x 10ml, 18mg, 80/20 nic shot = 60ml of 3mg, 80/20 e-liquid
Nic Salt Shots function in the same way but utilise salt instead of freebase nicotine.
By Lacey George, Quality Control and Lab Manager at LiQuid