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The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video

Charles Yeager

Let’s explore the visual art style of two retro genres — Synthwave and Vaporwave — and talk about how to incorporate them into your video project.

Have you noticed the increase in 80s/90s visuals in modern entertainment? Ready to delve into the worlds of Synthwave and Vaporwave? In this video tutorial, we’ll learn about the visual styles of Synthwave and Vaporwave. Let’s get started!

DOWNLOAD FREE SYNTHWAVE AND VAPORWAVE ELEMENTS


Music Origins

We can’t talk about Synthwave and Vaporwave without mentioning the electronic music that is at their core — heavy on nostalgia with an 80s or 90s vibe to it. Two good examples of Synthwave music artists would be Kavinsky and The Midnight. Likewise, Macintosh Plus and Blank Banshee are two examples of popular Vaporwave artists. Both of these genres have a distinct visual art style, which is the focus of this tutorial.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — Music Origins

Accomplishing the Synthwave/Vaporwave vibe heavily relies on the music you choose.


The Look of Synthwave

The visual look of Synthwave is 80s-centric with plenty of retro-futurism styling. Dark scenes, with neon colored grids and sunsets, are quite common. Think of early wire-frame computer graphics with a low-polygon appearance. The original TRON movie is a good example of this. Speaking of movies, the Synthwave genre draws heavy influence from over-the-top 80s action heroes. Think of Escape from New York, The Terminator, and RoboCop.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — The Look of Synthwave

Some of the stereotypical images of Synthwave include sports cars and a darker color palette. Still via Larich.

Racing and mid-engine sports cars are also a frequent visual, as well. The color palette usually has a darker base tone, with complementary bright neon colors.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — The Synthwave Color Palette

Here are some great examples of the Synthwave color palette.


The Look of Vaporwave

The visual look of Vaporwave has a surreal 90s vibe to it, frequently combined with early Greek or Roman statues — similar to the interior design of shopping malls in the 90s. Consumerism and early computer technology are regular elements, as well. Vaporwave frequently has an over-the-top aesthetic, falling into the “so bad it’s good” arena. The styling is popular with meme culture. Even talking about the “aesthetic” of Vaporwave has become a meme of its own.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — The Vaporwave Look

Reminiscent of the 90s aesthetic, Vaporwave incorporates over-the-top, surreal visuals.

Japanese text, glitchy visuals with chromatic aberration, and tropical themes are quite common as well. The color palette usually has a lighter base of pastel colors, with pink and teal often paired together.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — The Vaporwave Color Palette

This is a perfect example of the Vaporwave color palette.


Modern Entertainment

Visuals from both genres frequently cross over to modern entertainment. Elements of Synthwave and Outrun can be seen in shows like Stranger Things and movies like Drive. Whereas, elements of Vaporwave (being more abstract), appears more in music videos. The music video “Cross Me” by Ed Sheeran has elements of both Vaporwave and Synthwave throughout.


Inspiration

If you’re looking for some artist inspiration, one motion designer who creates a lot of Synthwave and Vaporwave-style loops is KidMoGraph. He features a lot of work on his Instagram. Also, be sure to check out the Reddit groups r/outrun and r/VaporwaveAesthetics for some great examples.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — KidMoGraph Loops

Here are some additional Synthwave/Vaporwave-style loops from the KidMoGraph website. Image via kidmograph.com.


Free Retro Pack

PremiumBeat has a freebie retro pack that includes over thirty different loopable elements and backgrounds. Some of the elements are Synthwave and some are Vaporwave-inspired. You can combine them in different ways to get a lot of mileage out of the pack.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — Free Retro Pack

This free retro pack includes loopable elements and backgrounds.

If you’d like to take the look even further, I highly recommend checking out two other tutorials on PremiumBeat.

The first is How to Create a VHS Look in Premiere Pro, which includes a free VHS preset and assets. The second is How to Create an 8-Bit Video Game Look in After Effects, which also has a free preset. Use those presets on top of your retro creations for a new look!

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — VHS Preset

For a true 80s retrospect, utilize our free VHS preset.


Extra Resources and Plugins

If you’re still craving more retro visuals, check out the Synthwave and Vaporwave footage available from Shutterstock. Also, check out the website threedscans.com for some free statue models. All of the scans are from real collection pieces that are perfect for Vaporwave. Finally, a few After Effects plugins I recommend for creating retro visuals would include: AE Pixel Sorter, Deep Glow, and Saber.

The Visual Styles of the Synthwave and Vaporwave Video — AE Pixel Sorter 2

AE Pixel Sorter 2 is an example of some of the amazing After Effects plugins.


Interested in the tracks we used to make this video?

You can also listen and license this collection of curated royalty-free synthwave tracks.