Pantone colours of the year 2021: Ultimate Grey and Illuminating yellow

A solid grey and a cheery yellow combine to offer fortitude and optimism

My girl in her school yard just after school, a wall, a log & her imagination plus one sunny afternoon in November 2012. I merely observed in awe & fired some shots off with the sun at my back & this shadow play out front. A little imagination on my part led to the title...
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Ultimate Grey and Illuminating, a cheery shade of yellow, are the hues that will inform the year 2021, as predicted by Pantone, the institute widely considered the authority on all things colour. This marriage of shades, "conveys a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting", says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Colour Institute.

Grey represents thoughtfulness, composure and resilience, while Illuminating brings the optimism and vivacity of sunshine, and both in combination represent clarity, energy and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it. This is in keeping with the Pantone philosophy that colour trends influence not merely fashion runways and furniture catalogues, but also the collective mood in society.

“The selection of two independent colours highlight how different elements come together, conveying the idea that it’s not about one colour or one person, it’s about more than one," says Eiseman. "The union of an enduring Ultimate Grey with the vibrant Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude."

Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Colour Institute, adds: "As society continues to recognise colour as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolise thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of colour to engage and connect."

How does Pantone's Colour of the Year translate

Pantone's Colour of the Year influences fashion, design, beauty and home decor 
Pantone's Colour of the Year influences fashion, design, beauty and home decor 

Panrtone's colour choice typically acts as a cue for fashion, interior and industrial designers, among others, to adapt into their collections and concepts. The team says Ultimate Grey and Illuminating do not have to be used in equal measure, and "either can take precedence whether for apparel, beauty, home furnishings, product design or packaging".

For instance, Illuminating can lift an outfit dominated by Ultimate Grey, by way of a bright yellow scarf, footwear or handbag. The visibly contrasting combination is also a solid choice for activewear and athleisure.

When it comes to beauty, the warm and cool tones of the two shades can serve to make a dramatic statement: think sparkling eye make-up.

Home decor is perhaps the biggest translator of Pantone shades, and grey has long been a favourite colour of designers and architects alike, used in everything from couches to linen. These can now be juxtaposed against bright accessories or even an all-yellow accent wall or front door.

Above all, the team says, the colours should "light the way to intellectual curiosity, originality and the resourcefulness of an open mind".

How does Pantone select its Colour of the Year

Each year, the team at Pantone look to the colours that influenced society at large. This includes the entertainment and music industry, travelling art collections and new artists, the spheres of fashion, beauty and design, popular travel destinations, as well as new lifestyles, socio-economic conditions, technologies, relevant social media platforms and even sporting events.

Shades of the past  

2020: Classic Blue 

2019: Living Coral

2018: Ultra Violet

2017: Greenery

2016: Serenity and Rose Quartz