Pantone Color of the Year 2021 in a Nutshell

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ultimate gray and illuminating

Pantone has declared yet another provocative color of the year (pair!).

Breaking news for all color enthusiasts - the Pantone Color Institute shared their predictions for the color of the year 2021 and it’s - a bit unexpected.

By now, we are all used to Pantone delivering provocative (even controversial) suggestions, and this year is by no means an exception.

According to Pantone, the year 2021 will be painted in Ultimate Gray (PANTONE 17-5104) + Illuminating (PANTONE 13-0647). 

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating
Pantone Color institute

Unprecedented times often result in unprecedented decisions, however, this is not the first time that color experts from Pantone have put their hopes in two shades as their “color of the year”. Serenity and Rose Quartz were Pantone’s heroes back in 2016, but this time the interpretation follows a different path.

Pantone Color of the Year 2021 in a Nutshell
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What is the meaning behind Ultimate Gray + Illuminating color combo?

According to Pantone, the Color of the Year 2021 tells a story of strength and happiness. It stands for solidarity and resilience, while at the same time suggesting optimism and sunshine.

“As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity, and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality.” 

Ultimate Gray denotes fortitude and thoughtfulness. Evocative of pebbles at the beach or a stone that’s been around for millions of years, it delivers a message of endurance and patience that pays off. 

In the conversation with Vogue, Pantone Colour Institute's executive director Leatrice Eiseman points out a fashion association as well

People have been living in grey sweatpants, right? We're not going to spend the rest of our lives in them, but the point is that we’ve learned to be OK with them and what they say about our lifestyles in 2020.

Pantone 2021 Ultimate Gray
Ultimate Gray, designed Mandy Fisher using SampleBoard

On the other hand, Illuminating is selected for its promise of sunny and friendly days ahead. Vivacious yellow is universally seen as the shade of optimism and joyfulness - the feelings we are hoping to nurture as we enter the new chapter. 

As you may remember, we already predicted that Gen Z Yellow is about to become one of key colors in the years ahead, and we even tried our luck with the gray + yellow color combo with this mood board here.

Gray + Yellow mood board, designed by Rosslyn Tebbutt using SampleBoard

In the Pantone Color of the Year 2021 duo Illuminating is the messenger of hope. It is there to signal the light at the end of a tunnel and give us something to look forward to. It highlights the intellectual energy and resourcefulness and sparks curiosity.

The two are brought together to remind us how much we need each other to get through all this. This color story is about solidarity and coming together, but also about how crucial it is for us to learn how to balance the qualities of the two in these tumultuous times.

We do see the light ahead. We just have to carry the resilience, the fortitude, and the composure that Ultimate Grey signals into 2021. To be patient and positive, knowing we will get there.” - says Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute.

Pantone Color of the Year 2021 in a Nutshell
made with SampleBoard mood board creator

Is Pantone Color of the Year a prediction or an aspiration?

Each year Pantone color experts travel the world to sense the pulse of cultural events and trends emerging across all creative industries and lifestyles. With travel restrictions and events being cancelled (or migrating online), this time the form of their research had to be altered, but the final selection is still a result of an insightful investigation, not a wishful thinking.

But yet - should we actually call Pantone Color of the Year a prediction?

No, we shouldn't.

Pantone Color of the Year is indeed an insightful selection, reflecting the desires and sentiment of humankind at a given moment in time. But it is still an aspiration, not a prediction, as it tends to model our feelings towards desired outcomes.

According to Pantone Colour Institute's executive director Leatrice Eiseman,

"[Ultimate Gray + Illuminating] It's a combination that speaks to the resilience, the optimism and hope and positivity that we need, as we reset, renew, reimagine and reinvent".

made with SampleBoard software

How do you perceive Ultimate Gray + Illuminating color story?

Remember the Color of the year 2019 - Living Coral? How did you feel about its context?

Pantone’s script for these color stories doesn’t always match the sentiment of the public. What some might see as fortitude and happiness, others might consider depressing and threatening.

While an achromatic shade has never been selected before, it is the second time that yellow has found its place on the throne. Remember Mimosa - Pantone Color of the Year for 2009? Mimosa was selected to bring hope as the great recession took over America and Europe.

How to use Ultimate Gray + Illuminating color combo in interiors and decor?

The duo is meant to be used together, but not in equal proportions. Either color can prevail depending on the concept. Illuminating will infuse energy and positivity into gray interiors, or provide a lively accent in gray patterns and textiles. It is a good choice for offices and it favors wisdom and mindfulness.

"[Illuminating] is definitely an aspirational color, no question, but I think with the solidity of the gray... when you juxtapose those colors against each other, the concept is clear. Here’s what we’re hoping for. And this is the solid grounding to get us there.", Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, concludes. 

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