Pantone 2021 — The Color of the Year 2021 ‘Ultimate Grey’ and ‘Illuminating’

4 min readDec 18, 2020
Photo by Unsplash by Dee Copper

For more than 20 years, Pantone Color of the Year announces each December the color for the coming year. A color that forbodes new opportunities for the industry. To arrive with a suitable color, Pantone’s experts examine, among others, social trends, and those of the fashion industry. For all those who have fashion at the forefront of their minds and for all sectors connected to fashion, the day Pantone announces the color of the year is much anticipated. — By a range of people for as many as different reasons. This announcement has a significant impact on product development and purchasing decisions across various industries, including fashion, furniture, industrial, product, packaging, and graphic design.

The Pantone Color of the Year selection process requires careful consideration and trend analysis. Therefore, each year, Pantone Color Institute color experts look for new color influences around the world before selecting the Color of the Year. Their investigations consider color trends in entertainment and film, art collections, and work by new artists. The upcoming fashion, design, popular travel destinations, unique lifestyles, playstyles, and socioeconomic environments are equally considered. Influences may also come from new technologies, materials, textures, and effects that affect colors. Social media platforms and even upcoming sporting events with global reach can help shape color trends.

If you look back at the year, which is just coming to a closure, one topic had the globe in its grip! Not just that. Covid19 turned our lives on the head, isolated us from our loved ones, and made us rethink the way we work. For much of the year, it looked pretty bleak. Pantone Color of the Year could not go past this ongoing change without reflecting on it. It became clear quickly: There was not one color that could lead us out of what most likely was the single most challenging year of our generation. A brighter future seemed to be too far away!

However, choosing two supplementary colors is not the first time that Pantone decides on a color pair. The first time this happened was in 2016. Pantone announced two hues: rose quartz and serenity. Inviting colors, which psychologically fulfill our longing for reassurance and security. They reflect both relationship and well-being, as well as a soothing sense of order and peace. All of the above might be relevant to 2021. Yet, Pantone of the Year has chosen ‘Ultimate Grey’ and ‘Illuminating’ as the colors we will see more about in the months to come.

Pantone describes the combination as “a marriage of colors that conveys a message of strength and hope that is both enduring and uplifting.” Globally we certainly can do with all the strength and hope we can get.

Photo by Unsplash Mika Baumeister

‘Ultimate Grey’ and ‘Illuminating’ reflecting on the global culture.

One might argue that grey is a “colorless color,” only a wink away from black. And maybe that is true for some. I like to see it instead as a sober, timeless color. Grey provides a neutral background on which brighter colors can start their ageless dance. And dancing we do with the warm and inviting yellow, allowing us to reflect and illuminate every dark cranny of the year just passing. But then! We will fly. With newfound strength, we will embrace a new area with brand new colors. We will advance our lives and maybe one day not all too far away, look back at 2020, shake our heads and marvel: “What a year indeed this was”!

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, calls the colors “practical and rock-solid, yet warming and optimistic. A color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential for the human spirit.”

Pantone colors especially suitable for activewear and eye makeup

According to Pantone, the combination of colors with “energetic presence” goes excellent with activewear. Besides, the bright color of ‘Illuminating’ is perfect for adding some brightness to a scarf, shoe, bag, or top. When using the colors in the beauty industry, the combination of warm and cool tones gives in its application of ‘hair and nails’ a dramatic message. ‘Illuminating’ sparkles and shines in combination with the ‘Ultimate Gray,’ especially in eye makeup.”


If the stress and challenges of 2020 got under your skin, 2021 is the year to live it up. Combine different yellow hues with a splash of grey and celebrate life like those ever-friendly sunflowers on the field. Hold your heads high and your faces to the sun. Globally we have come so far; the next year will take us further indeed.