The 2021 Pantone Colors of the Year and What They Mean
Updated: Jan 24
What's the Pantone color of the year?
Every year, Pantone’s color specialists travel the world looking for new color influences that will shape branding and design for the year to come. They observe trends in industries such as travel, fashion, technology, and show business, as well as lifestyles and socio-economic conditions. By compiling these results, they choose a color that they feel will most reflect the needs of the year to come. However, choosing a color for 2021 was a bit different, as the global trends of 2020 for many included adjusting their lives to accommodate a global pandemic. International travel to observe global trends was impossible, and COVID-19 encompassed so many parts of our lives that it would necessarily dictate what colors we would crave in the year to come. Keeping all this in mind, the Pantone color specialists landed on Ultimate Gray and Illuminating as the two colors that would represent 2021.
Why these colors?
The reasoning was that Ultimate Gray offers strength and resilience, whereas the yellow of Illuminating represents the light at the end of the tunnel promised by a vaccine for COVID-19 (not to mention a little added brightness is a welcome sight in these troubling times!).
Choosing two colors instead of one is an unusual choice for Pantone, but it isn’t unprecedented. In 2016, the colors of the year were Rose Quartz and Serenity, two gentle colors meant to bring comfort and represent a blurring of gender lines. The decision to choose two colors for 2021 reflects the theme of different elements working together while also acknowledging that the past year has been too tumultuous to be represented by a single color.
While Pantone chooses their colors based on visual trends, the political and social climate often plays an important role as well. In 2006, Sand Dollar Brown was chosen to reflect the weakening of the economy. In 2009, when the economic situation was still a major cause of concern for many, the color of the year was Mimosa, chosen to infuse people with optimism (similar to the choice of Illuminating as one of the colors of 2021). In 2017, they chose Greenery to offer a respite from the technology that was playing a more and more important role in our lives.
What does this mean for you?
This shows that the colors we surround ourselves with don’t exist in a vacuum. Colors trigger emotional responses, and when confronted with certain emotions, there are particular colors we seek out to restore balance. That’s why color psychology plays an important part in Pantone’s decisions. While Pantone may not be able to understand what every individual is going through, their choices reflect global emotional trends, which cannot be separated from global design trends.
People are torn about this year’s colors. Some love it, saying the balance of comfort and light is exactly what they need mid-pandemic. Others feel like the Ultimate Gray in particular is a poor choice, since after collectively going through such a depressing time, the last thing we need is a lack of color.
Whatever your thoughts are on Pantone’s particular color choice, the need for comfort and illumination can’t be denied. Let these themes guide you through your branding, home décor, or any creative endeavors you choose to undertake in 2021. And let’s hope that in 2022, whatever color Pantone chooses will represent relief, hope, and good times with friends!
To incorporate the two colors into your design, use these key color codes:
Illuminating: Pantone 13-0647 TCX sRGB: 245 223 77 Hex: # F5DF4D
Ultimate Gray: Pantone 17-5104 TCX sRGB: 147 149 151 Hex: # 939597