Improve Your Steampunk Design Skills with These Simple Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Study the Steampunk Aesthetic
  2. Seek Inspiration in Historical Eras
  3. Use Analog Design Elements
  4. Experiment with Textures and Patterns
  5. Incorporate Steampunk Icons and Symbols
  6. Play with Color Palettes
  7. Focus on Detail and Depth
  8. Blend Old and New Elements
  9. Embrace the Quirky and Unusual
  10. Practice Regularly

Are you a fan of the unique blend of historical elegance and futuristic innovation that defines the steampunk aesthetic? If you're looking to refine your skills and get better at steampunk design, you've come to the right place. We're going to share some simple but impactful tips that can elevate your design prowess. Let's start by diving into the heart of the steampunk look — its distinctive aesthetic.

Study the Steampunk Aesthetic

Understanding the core aesthetics is the first step to getting better at steampunk design. Steampunk is a fusion of Victorian elegance and industrial era machinery, often with a dash of sci-fi thrown in. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Embrace the Mechanical: Steampunk design heavily features mechanical elements. Think gears, cogs, and levers. These items are often repurposed in innovative ways to create a fusion of function and style.
  • Befriend the Metals: Metals, especially copper and brass, are your best friends in a steampunk design. They bring in that industrial feel while adding warmth to your designs.
  • Value the Vintage: Vintage items, such as typewriters, pocket watches, and steam engines, can add authenticity to your designs. These items represent the essence of steampunk — a mix of old and new.
  • Imagine the Imaginary: Don't forget the 'punk' in steampunk. It's not just about replicating the past but also about reimagining it. Let your imagination run wild, and don't be afraid to incorporate fantastical elements.

Remember, steampunk is all about balance. While it's important to include the classic elements, how you mix and match them can make your design stand out. As you continue exploring and experimenting, you'll find your unique style within the steampunk genre.

Seek Inspiration in Historical Eras

One of the key aspects of steampunk design is its deep roots in history, particularly the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution. However, it's not about copying the past but reinterpreting it in fresh and imaginative ways. Here are a few tips on how you can use history to get better at steampunk design:

  • Research the Victorian Era: This period is a goldmine for steampunk design. Look at fashion, architecture, and technology of that time. Notice the intricate details, the rich patterns, and the grandeur that define this era.
  • Explore the Industrial Revolution: The Industrial Revolution brought about significant advancements in technology, many of which are iconic in steampunk. Steam engines, clockwork mechanisms, and early electrical devices are all worth studying.
  • Look Beyond Europe: While steampunk does have a distinctly British feel, don't limit yourself. Seek inspiration from other cultures and times. For instance, the American Wild West or feudal Japan could provide unique elements to incorporate into your designs.
  • Reinterpret History: The fun part of steampunk design is the ability to reimagine history. What if the internet existed in the Victorian era? Or if steam power was used in modern technology? These 'what if' scenarios can lead to exciting design ideas.

By tapping into history, you bring depth and authenticity to your steampunk designs. But don't forget, the goal isn't to replicate history but to use it as a springboard for your own creative interpretations.

Use Analog Design Elements

When you're working on getting better at steampunk design, one of the most important things to do is to incorporate analog design elements. Yes, we're talking gears, cogs, clocks, meters, and more. These are the heart and soul of the steampunk aesthetic, and they can add a whole new level of depth and interest to your designs.

  • Gears and Cogs: These are the quintessential symbols of the Industrial Revolution and a staple in any steampunk design. Use them to signify movement, progress, or as a simple decorative element.
  • Clocks and Meters: Timepieces, barometers, thermometers, and the like are perfect for adding a touch of Victorian scientific exploration to your designs. They can also function as interesting focal points in your work.
  • Steam Machines: Devices powered by steam, such as trains, steamships, or steam-powered robots, are another common theme in steampunk. Incorporating them can make your designs feel more dynamic and energetic.
  • Hand-drawn Illustrations: Add a personalized touch to your designs with hand-drawn illustrations of these analog elements. This can give your work a unique and authentic feel that's hard to achieve with digital design alone.

Remember, the key to getting better at steampunk design is not just about adding these elements, but finding creative ways to incorporate them into your overall design. So, go on, get those gears turning!

Experiment with Textures and Patterns

Textures and patterns are your best friends when it comes to getting better at steampunk design. They can provide depth, create a sense of realism, and help to establish the mood of your design. Ready to take your steampunk design skills to the next level? Let's dive in.

  • Wood and Metal Textures: Steampunk designs often feature a mix of wood and metal textures. Metal offers a rough, industrial feel, while wood provides a warm, natural counterbalance. Experiment with these materials in your design to create a striking contrast.
  • Patterns: Geometric patterns, floral designs, and Victorian-era motifs can add an elegant touch to your steampunk designs. Try using them in your backgrounds, on clothing items, or even in the details of your machinery.
  • Grungy Textures: A little bit of grunge can go a long way in creating an aged, worn-out look that's common in steampunk. You can use grungy textures on your backgrounds, or to give your design elements a weathered effect.
  • Layering: Don't forget about layering! It can help you create depth and complexity in your designs. Start with a base layer, add your main design elements, and then add more layers with different textures and patterns to create a rich, detailed design.

Remember, while textures and patterns can add a lot to your designs, balance is key. Too much can make your design feel cluttered and overwhelming. So, play around, experiment, but always keep an eye on the overall composition. That's your ticket to getting better at steampunk design!

Incorporate Steampunk Icons and Symbols

Steampunk wouldn’t be steampunk without its iconic symbols. Incorporating these symbols into your designs will add authenticity, help convey the steampunk aesthetic, and is a key part of getting better at steampunk design.

  • Gears and Cogs: These are the bread and butter of steampunk design. Gears and cogs represent the industrial machinery that defines the steampunk genre. You can use them in your backgrounds, as design elements, or even as a pattern.
  • Timepieces: Clocks, pocket watches, hourglasses - timepieces are another popular icon in steampunk. They symbolize the passage of time, a key theme in steampunk. Try incorporating them in your designs, both as focal points and subtle details.
  • Victorian Fashion: Top hats, corsets, goggles - the fashion of the Victorian era is a goldmine of design elements. Including these in your characters or as standalone design elements can instantly give your designs a steampunk vibe.
  • Steam-powered Machinery: Steam engines, airships, automatons - these are the stuff steampunk dreams are made of. Use them to reinforce the steampunk aesthetic and add a sense of adventure to your designs.

Incorporating these icons and symbols is a fantastic way to capture the essence of steampunk in your designs. But remember, it's not just about using these elements, it's about how you use them. Be creative, think outside the box, and most importantly, have fun with it. That's the true spirit of steampunk design!

Play with Color Palettes

Color is one of the most powerful tools in a designer's toolkit. It sets the mood, highlights key elements, and ties everything together. When it comes to getting better at steampunk design, the right color palette can make all the difference.

Steampunk design typically leans towards warm, earthy tones. Think deep browns, rich ambers, and aged brass. But, that doesn't mean you can't mix things up. Here are a few color combinations that can add a fresh spin to your steampunk designs:

  • Brass and Sapphire: The warm tones of brass paired with the cool, deep blues of sapphire can create a striking contrast. This combination can bring a sense of elegance and sophistication to your designs.
  • Charcoal and Gold: The dark, moody tones of charcoal paired with the bright, shiny hues of gold can make your designs pop. This combination can give your designs an edge and make them stand out.
  • Teal and Copper: The vibrant, refreshing tones of teal paired with the rustic, warm hues of copper can create a harmonious balance. This combination can give your designs a unique, modern twist.
  • Burgundy and Cream: The rich, intense tones of burgundy paired with the soft, neutral hues of cream can create a cozy, inviting atmosphere. This combination can give your designs a vintage, nostalgic feel.

Experimenting with color palettes can open up a whole new world of possibilities for your steampunk designs. So, don't be afraid to step outside the box. Who knows? You might just stumble upon the perfect color combination that takes your designs to the next level.

Focus on Detail and Depth

Getting better at steampunk design means paying attention to the fine points. Think of your design as a rich tapestry, and every thread, every stitch matters. This is where detail and depth come into play.

Detail, in steampunk design, is about the little things. It's about the tiny gears on a pocket watch, the intricate patterns on a Victorian corset, or the ornate engravings on a brass telescope. These elements may seem insignificant on their own, but together, they paint a vivid picture of a world filled with wonder and invention.

  • Watch the Clock: Clocks and timepieces are a common motif in steampunk. Try incorporating minute details like clock hands, Roman numerals, or even tiny cogs and gears into your designs.
  • Explore Victorian Fashion: The Victorian era is a gold mine of inspiration for steampunk designs. Look for intricate lace patterns, elaborate brooches, or detailed embroidery that you can use in your designs.
  • Go for the Gold: Brass and gold are staples in steampunk design. Try adding some shine to your designs with detailed gold accents, like ornate filigree or engraved patterns.

Depth, on the other hand, is about giving your design a sense of dimension. It's about making your design feel like it's part of a larger, three-dimensional world. This can be achieved through layering, shading, and perspective.

Remember, detail and depth are more than just fancy add-ons. They're crucial in bringing your steampunk designs to life and making them feel real and tangible. So, take the time to focus on the details, add depth to your designs, and watch your steampunk world come alive.

Blend Old and New Elements

One of the unique aspects of steampunk design is its ability to blend elements from different eras. It's like being a time traveler, picking up pieces from the past and the future, and weaving them together into a design that's uniquely your own. This is why getting better at steampunk design involves mastering the art of blending old and new elements.

Start by exploring the old. Steampunk draws heavily from the Victorian era, an age characterized by ornate decoration, intricate craftsmanship, and a fascination with machinery. Look for elements like brass gears, steam engines, and vintage maps which you can incorporate into your designs.

  • Embrace the Gears: Gears and cogs are a staple of steampunk design. Use these to add a vintage industrial vibe to your designs.
  • Find Inspiration in Maps: Antique maps can provide a wealth of design elements, from ornate compass roses to intricate border designs.

Then, bring in the new. The "steam" in steampunk might be old, but the "punk" is all about rebellion and innovation. Think modern technology wrapped in a Victorian shell. You could design a smartphone with a brass casing, or a computer with a typewriter keyboard. Remember, steampunk is as much about the future as it is about the past. Don't be afraid to experiment and push the boundaries.

  • Typewriter Tech: A modern device like a laptop can take on a whole new character when paired with an old-fashioned typewriter keyboard.
  • Brass and Glass: Imagine a sleek, modern smartphone encased in brass, with a glass screen reminiscent of an old-timey magnifying glass.

Blending old and new elements in your steampunk design is like mixing a cocktail. You need the right balance of ingredients to get the perfect taste. So, experiment with different combinations, and see what exciting concoctions you can come up with.

Embrace the Quirky and Unusual

Steampunk is anything but ordinary. It's a genre that thrives on the unexpected, the weird, and the wonderful. So, if you're interested in getting better at steampunk design, one of the best tips is to embrace the quirky and unusual. Let's unpack this idea further.

Have you ever seen a pocket watch that's also a miniature steam engine? Or a top hat decked out with goggles and brass gears? That's the kind of quirky, out-of-the-box thinking that defines steampunk design. As a steampunk designer, you're not just a creator. You're an inventor, a tinkerer, a dreamer. You're someone who sees the world not just as it is, but as it could be.

  • Think Beyond the Box: Ordinary objects can become extraordinary in the world of steampunk. A simple umbrella could transform into a flying device with a few tweaks and additions.
  • Inventive Accessories: From gear-laden goggles to ornate pocket watches, accessories are a playground for your creativity in steampunk design. They add character and depth to your designs.

But embracing the quirky and unusual isn't just about adding gears to everything. It's about reimagining the world through a steampunk lens. It's about asking "what if?" What if we lived in a world where steam power was the dominant technology? What if we could travel through time in a Victorian-era airship? What would that world look like? What kind of objects would we find there?

  • Reimagine the Mundane: A teapot isn't just a teapot in steampunk. It could be a steam-powered communication device, or a mini hot-air balloon. Let your imagination run wild!
  • Time Travel with Design: Design as if you're a time-traveler. What would a Victorian-era laptop look like? Or a steam-powered hoverboard?

So don't be afraid to embrace the quirky and unusual in your steampunk designs. After all, it's those unexpected twists that make steampunk so fun and fascinating!

Practice Regularly

Just like with any other skill or talent, getting better at steampunk design requires practice. It's not something that happens overnight. And while it may feel a bit daunting at first, remember that every expert was once a beginner.

Imagine being able to create a steampunk-themed room that looks like it's straight out of a Jules Verne novel, or designing a costume that would turn heads at any convention. Sounds exciting, right? But all of this doesn't come instantly. You need to work on your skills, learn from your mistakes, and continue to explore the fascinating world of steampunk.

  • Daily Doodles: Spend a few minutes each day sketching steampunk-themed doodles. It could be anything from a gear to a full-blown airship. This daily practice will help hone your skills and stimulate your creativity.
  • DIY Projects: Try your hand at creating small steampunk DIY projects. This could be as simple as converting an old watch into a steampunk accessory or as complex as creating a miniature steampunk cityscape. The idea is to get your hands dirty and gain practical experience.

Remember, the key to getting better at steampunk design is consistency. It's about showing up, day after day, and putting in the work. And along the way, you'll not only improve your skills, but you'll also discover your unique style and perspective. So start sketching, inventing, and exploring. Because the world of steampunk is waiting for you to create something amazing.

If you're looking to further enhance your steampunk design skills, don't miss the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights into character design and creation, which can be applied to your steampunk projects. Discover new techniques and take your skills to the next level by enrolling in this workshop today!