Do you remember seeing a museum or high-school science demonstration that featured two big metal balls, with a visible arc of electricity that could set a piece of paper on fire continuously flowing between the two balls? It used what’s called a Van de Graaff generator to create high amounts of static electricity. A more modern demonstration you may have seen involves a self-contained plasma ball, which ionizes plasma to create a beautiful series of electrical streams between an electrode and the sides of the ball.
When you want to light paper on fire – or more importantly, light a cigarette or cigar in a windy outdoor smoking area – you’re obviously not going to drag a huge collection of scientific equipment around with you. The right choice is a beautiful, modern plasma lighter which uses the same basic principles of the Van de Graaff generator or plasma ball – and you can keep it in your pocket or purse.
Even better, it will work immediately. Every time.
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How Does A Plasma Lighter Work?
A plasma beam lighter works on the same basic scientific principles as the Van de Graff generator, the plasma ball or a Taser. A Tesla coil produces high-voltage, low-current electricity that creates a plasma beam, which flows through ionized air from one pole to the other. The electric arc can easily ignite cigarettes or other smoking materials, incense or candles, or almost anything else you need to light.
Since the flameless lighter generates only electricity there’s no flame, and no way that a stiff wind can interfere. When you click the button on your lighter, the plasma beam simply works. The only thing that can stop it (other than closing the lighter) is a battery that needs recharging, and most plasma lighters can go through a full day of regular use before requiring a charge.
Pros and Cons of Plasma Beam Lighters
We’ve already touched on the biggest advantage of a plasma lighter: it’s windproof, since there’s no flame that can be blown out by the wind (or intrusive anti-smokers). This is obviously a huge benefit now more than ever since the bulk of most peoples’ smoking time is spent outdoors in designated smoking areas, far from buildings that could help shelter a flame. The same benefit holds true for campers who are fighting to light a fire in rainy or windy conditions, if their kindling is small enough to fit into the beam.
The other big advantage involves the way that a plasma beam lighter is powered. There’s no messy butane or liquid lighter fuel to worry about, since plasma models run on a rechargeable battery. No cans of smelly fluid to manipulate (and which may not even be nearby when your butane lighter runs low), no risk of fire, simple to recharge – what’s not to like?
The major objection some voice about plasma lighters is that they’re more expensive than more conventional lighters. On the other hand, most plasma models are beautiful accessories, and comparable in looks – and price – to comparable butane lighters. Sure, a plasma beam lighter will cost quite a bit more than a disposable plastic lighter, but you’ll be using the plasma for years.
Other negatives include the fact that many plasma lighters generate a pretty small arc which might not be large enough to light a cigar or pipe, and that most generate a whining or buzzing noise when used. We can’t imagine the latter being a deal-breaker, but to each his own.
Here are the major factors to look at when shopping for a plasma lighter.
- Single or dual-arc: Some plasma lighters generate just one beam, while dual-arc lighters are more powerful. Both will normally get the job done, but a dual-beam is particularly useful when lighting something that takes more than half-a-second to ignite, like a cigar or a campfire.
- Length of charge and type of charging required: The first part is self-explanatory; the longer you can go between charges, the more convenient the lighter will be. Most plasma beam lighters will recharge by connecting to a USB port on one of your devices, but be sure to check.
- Design: These lighters are meant to be used for the long-term and they definitely attract attention, so the look of your plasma lighter may be important to you.
- Weight: Again, this is self-explanatory. Since you’re carrying it around with you – the lighter, the better. (No pun intended.)
Enough with the preliminaries. Let’s look at some lighters.
Untivo Dual Luxury Gold Dual Arc Lighter
The Untivo is a beautiful plasma lighter available at a moderate price. This is a dual-arc model, so it will produce a strong plasma arc which will light anything (except a pipe, which requires a flame) in any weather conditions. It is reliable and sturdy, because it’s extremely well-built.
Its gold-patterned design is elegant, making this plasma beam lighter look much more expensive than it really is. The Untivo is shaped like a tall Zippo with a top that flips back in the same manner, but instead of revealing a thumbwheel and flame, it exposes a gold-colored mechanism with four small black poles. When you press the gold button on the lighter it generates dual crossing arcs of electricity between the posts. You just touch the cigarette to the streams to light up.
This is a lightweight unit; most plasma lighters aren’t too heavy, though, since they don’t contain any fuel. You’ll get anywhere from 100-200 sparks from the Untivo, enough for at least 5 packs of cigarettes, before it needs to be recharged. And when that time comes, you just plug the included USB cord into the lighter and any USB port. That certainly beats trying to drip a stream of fluid into an old-fashioned lighter.
The Untivo comes packaged in a gift box, so if you’re buying this lighter for a smoker in your life you won’t even have to wrap it up.
4Boss Luxury Electronic Lighter
This is the most expensive option in our plasma lighter roundup, but don’t be scared off. Even though it’s pricier than the Unitvo, you can still pick up one of these electric lighters for less than you’d pay for an entrée in an upscale restaurant – and if you were still allowed to smoke in upscale restaurants, the 4Boss would look right at home. Its good looks are somewhat wasted when you have to go out for a smoke, but because this is an arc lighter you’ll never have to worry about it working in the wind or rain.
The extra cost is largely explained by the use of high-grade metals, used to fashion an extremely durable casing for the 4Boss plasma beam lighter. It’s slimmer than the Untivo but its shape looks much the same, a bit taller than a Zippo with a top that flips back to reveal the arc mechanism. (If you’re curious about the dimensions, this electronic lighter is 3” tall, 1.5” wide and 0.5” thick.) There are two differences, however. The mechanism is recessed inside a brushed-metal housing and the arcs are purple in color; both features make the 4Boss look even more impressive and exclusive.
There’s an LED battery indicator that lets you know how much charge is left in your plasma lighter, and recharging via USB takes only about two hours. The 4Boss weighs just a few ounces and you can choose between a silver, black or metallic gold case. One small thing to know before buying: the recessed arc area makes lighting cigars with this model difficult.
Ralix Single Arc Flameless Plasma Lighter
Here’s our least expensive plasma beam lighter – but bear in mind we’re only talking about a difference of a few bucks between this model and a moderately-priced one. The Ralix has only a single arc and the space between the two poles is pretty small (making it difficult to light a large cigar), but this plasma lighter works perfectly. The one caveat is that in high winds, a dual arc is more reliable than a single arc.
The zinc alloy case isn’t quite as durable as the ones you’ll find on higher-priced lighters, but it’s not an issue for regular use. The size, shape and operation of the Ralix is similar to that of our first two reviewed models; the simple black matte color with a silver activation button and stylized white logo is attractive in its own way, although we’d hesitate to call it as “elegant” as the Untivo and the 4Boxx.
There is a short USB cable for recharging and an LED to tell you when your lighter is fully charged; expect the Ralix to last about as long between visits to a USB port as the top two plasma lighters we’ve discussed. The “cool factor” isn’t quite as strong as it would be with a double arc lighter, but it functions just fine.
Bolt Dual Arc Lighter
The moderately-priced Bolt Dual Arc is perfect for those who are looking to make a lifestyle statement with their windproof plasma lighter, since it comes in seven unique colors and designs. You can choose from black-and-gold or black-and-silver vertical stripes, two-toned silver with curvy lines, or even a grey-and-black dragon motif. They’re not what we’d call elegant, but they will definitely be noticed.
Our description of how this plasma beam lighter works should sound familiar by now; the top of the unit flips open Zippo-style and you push a button (which is located on the side, not the front) to activate the purple dual arcs. The size of this Bolt is almost identical to that of our other reviewed lighters. The posts are inside a metal housing and pretty close together, so lighting big cigars isn’t going to be an option.
You won’t get as many lights from the Bolt as with our top-three arc lighters. You’ll only get about 100 before a three-hour recharge is required (a green LED tells you when charging is done). But if you’re looking for cool instead of sophisticated, this plasma lighter is worth a long look.
Bolt Plasma Arc Lighter
And if you think that Zippos are the ultimate cool, this economy-priced single arc Bolt is your lighter. Its shape is identical to that of a Zippo, and the four available colors/designs are black dragon, rainbow spider, silver/gray tiger and dark/light gray diagonal stylized stripes. If you’re somewhat technically-proficient, you can also unscrew the lighter from its case and put it into a Zippo shell of your choice (although you’ll have to take it out again to recharge it). There is just one arc, but it’s purple; there’s absolutely no way this lighter won’t stand out in a crowd.
As with the Bolt double arc lighter, you shouldn’t expect the charge to last as long as those of the Untivo, 4Boss or Ralix. But it’s easy to recharge via USB, and the Bolt no-questions-asked return-at-any-time policy (which holds for the double arc model as well) is a definite plus.
For function, we’d choose Bolt’s higher-priced Tesla lighter over this one, but there’s a lot to be said for pulling out what appears to be a great-looking Zippo – and flipping it open to light up with a space-age purple arc of electricity.