Steampunk Vs Dieselpunk [Similarites & Differences]

Steampunk and dieselpunk are two closely related retro-futuristic genres that take inspiration from different eras of history. Both evoke nostalgia for the past while imagining fantastical advancements in technology. But what exactly are the similarities and differences between steampunk and dieselpunk? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Steampunk?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. The steampunk aesthetic is recognizable by its incorporation of materials like brass, iron, wood, and leather. Common steampunk tropes include airships, clockwork devices, steam-powered vehicles, mad scientists, corsets, top hats, and goggles.

Some key characteristics of steampunk include:

  • Setting in the 19th century, often Victorian-era Britain or America
  • Prevalence of steam power and clockwork technology
  • Retro-futuristic inventions and contraptions
  • Drab color palette of browns, blacks, grays, and sepia tones
  • Incorporation of Gothic and industrial influences
  • Romanticization of the past mixed with futuristic fantasy elements

Famous examples of steampunk works include books like The Difference Engine by William Gibson, films like Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese, and video games like Bioshock Infinite.

The steampunk subculture also incorporates music, fashion, and DIY crafts.

What is Dieselpunk?

Dieselpunk draws inspiration from the aesthetics of the Diesel Era which spanned 1920s to 1950s.

It incorporates retro-futuristic technology and design elements from the interwar/World War II eras up through the early Atomic Age.

Common themes and imagery include:

  • Setting in the 1920s-1950s time period
  • Prevalence of diesel-powered machines
  • Influence of Art Deco and wartime industrial design
  • Prominence of jazz, swing, and big band music
  • Dark, gritty, noir atmospheres
  • Aviation technology like zeppelins and prop planes
  • Speculative and futuristic visions of technology like robots, Atompunk, and rayguns

Some noteworthy examples of dieselpunk works are the films Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, and Batman: The Animated Series.

Dieselpunk fashion includes military and aviator looks, pinup/bombshell styles, tailored suits, and Art Deco elegance.

Similarities Between Steampunk and Dieselpunk

Though they originate from different eras, steampunk and dieselpunk have some noteworthy similarities:

  • Retro-futurism – Both genres blend old and new, reimagining the past with fantastical and speculative technology. This creates distinctive, nostalgia-filled retro-futuristic worlds.
  • Advanced technology – Steampunk focuses on steam power while dieselpunk incorporates diesel fuel, but both feature advanced machines and inventions that go far beyond what was available in their respective eras.
  • Alt history themes – Works in these genres often diverge from true history, imagining alternate timelines and possibilities as though advanced tech had developed decades sooner.
  • Strong visual aesthetics – There are iconic steampunk and dieselpunk aesthetics centering around fashion, architecture, and industrial design. This creates visually striking settings.
  • Subcultures and DIY crafts – Both have spawned thriving subcultures focused on music, fashion, and crafts that anyone can participate in. Makers, tinkerers, and cosplayers keep the genres alive.

So in many ways, steampunk and dieselpunk have parallel retro-futuristic themes and subcultures, just anchored in different periods of history.

Differences Between Steampunk and Dieselpunk

While they have their commonalities, steampunk and dieselpunk also have distinct differences:


  • Steampunk tech is steam-powered, inspired by the Industrial Revolution era. Dieselpunk technology centers around combustion engines, electricity, and early electronics.

Visual Aesthetics

  • Steampunk design is heavily influenced by Gothic, Victorian, and industrial styles. Dieselpunk draws more from Art Deco, wartime industrial design, and midcentury modernism.


  • Steampunk takes place in an alternate 19th century while dieselpunk is set in the early to mid 20th century. Different eras with distinct architecture, culture, and technology.


  • Steampunk has an air of romanticism, adventure and frontier spirit. Dieselpunk is darker, incorporating noir, dystopianism, and occult elements.


  • Steampunk was inspired by 19th century Gothic writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Dieselpunk drew from the World Wars, pulp fiction, film noir, and midcentury sci-fi.


  • The steampunk palette is earthy, neutral, and sepia-toned. Dieselpunk uses high contrast, inventive color palettes with brighter avant garde colors.

So within their overarching similarities, steampunk and dieselpunk have nuanced differences in their settings, technologies, influences, and aesthetics. Their distinct eras show through.

Steampunk vs Dieselpunk: Side by Side Comparison

To summarize the key differences:

EraLate 19th century1920s-1940s
TechSteam powerCombustion engines, electricity
DesignVictorian, GothicArt Deco, wartime industrial
ThemesAdventure, frontier spiritNoir, occult, dystopian
InfluencesVerne, WellsWorld Wars, film noir, pulp fiction
ColorsEarth tones, sepiaHigh contrast, bright avant garde

This table helps capture some of the major distinguishing features between the two retro-futuristic genres.

Blending Steampunk and Dieselpunk Elements

While steampunk and dieselpunk may seem quite distinct, some works blend elements of both to great effect.

For example, imag [[What Makes a Movie Steampunk?|]]ining a dieselpunk setting of the 1920s, but with steampunk airships and Victorian fashion mixed in.

Or perhaps a steampunk world with themuted palette and noir atmospheres of dieselpunk.

This fusion of eras can create richly textured and complex retro-futuristic worlds.

The mix of historical threads and speculative technology is part of the creative fun of these genres.

So both genres have plenty of room for imagination and remixing to create something new!

Wrapping Up: Steampunk Vs Dieselpunk [Similarites & Differences]

Steampunk and dieselpunk may overlap in some key ways, but they derive inspiration from different eras which gives each genre its own distinct aesthetic style, technology, themes and influences.

Steampunk romantically reimagines the 19th century industrial age while dieselpunk speculates on mid 20th century technology through a darker, retro-futuristic lens.

Both celebrate the old made new again with advancements and ingenuity that make the past feel like the future that could have been. Yet their differences in history, visuals and tone make each genre uniquely transportive.

Exploring the nuances between steampunk and dieselpunk is part of what makes retro-futurism so endlessly creative!

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