Steampunk vs Art Deco: Similarities and Differences

Steampunk and Art Deco are two distinct retro design aesthetics that emerged in different eras but share some commonalities. Here is an overview of the similarities and key differences between Steampunk and Art Deco design.


Steampunk and Art Deco are both retro design styles inspired by the past, but they originated in different time periods.

  • Steampunk emerged in the late 1980s as a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. The Steampunk aesthetic is based on imagining innovative sci-fi technologies powered by steam.
  • Art Deco flourished during the 1920s and 1930s and is characterized by rich colors, bold geometric shapes, and lavish ornamentation. The Art Deco aesthetic took inspiration from various early 20th century art movements like Cubism, Constructivism, Bauhaus, and Futurism.

Despite arising in different eras, Steampunk and Art Deco share the following core similarities:

  • Nostalgic retro styles inspired by the past
  • Incorporation of sci-fi/futuristic elements
  • Prominent use of metal and wood materials
  • Ornate embellishments and luxurious details

However, they have several key differences when it comes to specific design elements and overall aesthetic.

Key Differences

Technology and Science Fiction Themes

  • Steampunk heavily emphasizes retro-futuristic technology, like clocks, gears, steam engines, airships, etc. Science fiction themes are integral to Steampunk.
  • Art Deco design does not revolve around technology or sci-fi. The aesthetic incorporates some futuristic influences but does not feature fantastical science fiction elements.

Prominent Materials

  • Steampunk prominently features brass, copper, wood, and leather. The use of metal and wood evokes the feel of antique machinery and handcrafted elements.
  • While Art Deco includes some metal accents, it relies more heavily on luxurious materials like gold, silver, glossy lacquer, glass, and exotic skins. The emphasis is on lavish, shiny surfaces.

Influential Art Movements

  • Steampunk design was influenced by the sci-fi and fantasy genres, as well as Victorian era fashions and technology.
  • Art Deco was inspired by contemporary avant-garde fine art movements like Cubism, Constructivism, De Stijl, and Bauhaus.

Color Palettes

  • The Steampunk color palette revolves around burnished metallics like browned brass, aged copper, dull nickel. Leather and wood create neutral earth tones. Pops of color come from accent hues like crimson red or emerald green.
  • Art Deco style features vivid, saturated bright colors – jewel tones like sapphire blue, ruby red, citrine yellow paired with sleek blacks and metallics. The color palette is bold and exuberant.


  • Steampunk lettering uses Victorian-era fonts like sans serif types and decorative serif fonts evocative of the 1800s. Letters often appear distressed, weathered or handdrawn.
  • Sleek, geometric sans serif fonts reminiscent of the Machine Age are ubiquitous in Art Deco design. Lettering looks clean and orderly, without distressing.


  • Steampunk embellishments often reference machinery – cogs, gears, rivets, gauges, and mechanical parts. Objects incorporate visible functioning elements that allude to the inner workings.
  • Art Deco ornamentation is more abstract and streamlined. Motifs use simplified geometric forms, concentric circles, floral icons, sunbursts, lightning bolts, chevrons, and stylized animal shapes.

Shared Design Elements

While Steampunk and Art Deco differ in their specific aesthetic details, they do share the following common design elements:

  • Metallic accents and rich textures
  • Symmetry, repetition, and geometric forms
  • Luxurious attention to detail and craftsmanship
  • Nostalgic vintage charm
  • Influence from early 20th century avant-garde art and design

Both styles also may overlap in their usage of materials like leather, wood, glass, and metal surfaces with distressed patinas.

The two aesthetics sometimes blend together in “Dieselpunk” design which merges industrial Steampunk and sleek Art Deco influences.

Wrapping Up: Steampunk vs Art Deco

In summary, Steampunk and Art Deco represent distinct retro design movements inspired by different eras of history.

Steampunk immerses viewers in an imaginative sci-fi Victorian world powered by steam technology.

Art Deco encapsulates the sleek opulence and bold geometry of 1920s-30s Machine Age modernity.

While the styles have their differences, they share an appreciation for vintage design crafted with quality and innovative artistry.

Both Steampunk and Art Deco continue to provide endlessly inspiring retro-futuristic aesthetics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Post

Steampunk Vs Cyberpunk: A Comparison of Two Retrofuturistic Genres

Next Post

What Is Steampunk Romanticism?