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The Pantone Colors of 2021: Ultimate Grey & Illuminating Yellow

Since the year 2000, the Pantone Color Institute has taken up the annual tradition of announcing the color that would best reflect the year ahead. The big reveal for 2021 includes not one, but two independent colors – a neutral Ultimate Gray and a vibrant Illuminating Yellow. These accentuate how different elements come together to complement and support one another, and aim to set more optimistic aspirations for the future.

A marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.

With the run-of-the-mill grey and the bright and warm sunny yellow, Pantone wants to tell us that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The past year has been quite difficult for everyone. We’ve had to face many challenges: a global pandemic, social turmoil and economic distress. So, a reminder that we are on the path to a more stable and promising future is what we all undeniably In Search for Grounding and Supportneed.

In this article, we will go into more detail about how Pantone made their decision and what Ultimate Grey and Illuminating Yellow can do for web and graphic design in 2021.

In Search for Grounding and Support

Last year Pantone anticipated the color of 2020 to be PANTONE 14-4052 Classic Blue – a shade to represent a stable and dependable foundation onto which we can build upon as we transition into the next decade. With Classic blue the Institute wanted to capture the universal desire of the tranquility and connection our society seems to crave. Unfortunately, 2020 has been anything but calm and soothing. So, to reflect the tumultuous events we all had to face, in 2021 two colors were selected as core shades – PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating.

The duo palette conveys the idea that it’s about more than one color and one person. It reminds us about coming together to encourage and nurture one another. To pull through the rough past months, we had to equip ourselves with strength, endurance and optimsm, and these are the traits attributed to the annual shades. The grey acknowledges the seriousness of the ongoing challenges and the yellow brings a sense of positivity and hopefulness that things can get better. The combination of two otherwise independent colors is a token of remembering that there is light even in bleak times. It acknowledges the importance of picking ourselves up and appreciating the possibility to create a better tomorrow.

Stepping Forward with Color

The Pantone Institute of Color very well understands that with specific colors we can set the tone and mood, both on an individual and industry level.

Color plays a big role in marketing. It’s everywhere we look from product design and packaging to designs of logos, websites and marketing campaigns. It influences emotions, stimulates visual memory and acknowledges the diversity between cultures, mindsets and individuals. According to Digital Information World, about 93% of consumers focus on visual appearance when making a purchasing decision, 84.7% say that color is the primary drawcard, and 80% believe that it’s responsible for brand recognition.

Pantone’s experts have been predicting the shades that best reflect each year’s aspirations for the past two decades. Their authoritative opinion influences purchasing decisions and product development across multiple industries: home design, industrial design, fashion, graphic design and more. They highlight the seasonal runway colors and predict global color trends. They consult companies on color for their brand and product visual identity and partner with global brands to successfully translate the emotion, psychology and power of color in design.

Reaching the final color verdict, however, is a rather complex process. The Institute’s specialists use color theory and make a thorough trend analysis looking for various color influences from films, art collections, artists, travel destinations, new technologies, textures, materials, etc. They arrive at their decision by carefully considering the past and present so as to have an aspirational outlook on the future.

Pantone’s experts usually travel around the world to research the color trends. However, due to 2020’s unfortunate health crisis, they had to take an online collaborative approach and rely on local staffers to report worldwide trends. Regardless, the goal is to reflect on the past and set the appropriate tone for the next year, just like the years before, which has remained unchanged.

Ultimate Grey and Illuminating Yellow are inviting us to welcome a brimming with possibilities 2021. On one hand, we have the grey tone which signifies neutrality and balance, dependability and solidness, a metaphor for the ‘grey matter’ reminding us of our wisdom and intelligence. On the other hand, there is the yellow tone, that resembles sunshine and optimism, bringing a sense of excitement for change, like flowers in Spring after a long and harsh winter.

With these two seemingly unrelated shades, Pantone sets the themes of dependability, adaptability, togetherness and optimism. It sends a message of positivity supported by fortitude, and reaffirms the idea of working together.

Different Is an Asset

After everything that has been going on in the world over the past 12 months, 2021 comes with the realization that we cannot fight global distress on our own. We need to work together and support each other.

It’s not about one color or one person, but about truly coming together, despite our being independently different. The need to translate this important message is why there are two annual shades.

This is the second time in Pantone’s 20 years history of predicting color trends that two shades have been chosen to depict the year. It first happened in 2016 when PANTONE 13-1520 Rose Quartz and PANTONE 15-3930 Serenity were selected. However, while these tones were intended to blend with each other as a sign of recognising gender fluidity and social progress, PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating are about standing out on their own and showcasing how different elements can be united.

Both shades are part of Pantone’s color wheel of the year. The yellow tone has already been the color of the year in 2009 with PANTONE Mimosa 14-0848. However, it’s the first time for a grey tone to earn this honour.

Driving Change with Design

Pantone’s Color of the Year has been selected with the consumer in mind. It’s intended for client designs and consumer products, and primarily used for product development and marketing.

There are creative brands that update their look to reflect the color trend of the year, but it’s not a practise that all businesses have to do. Implementing the color(s) of the year into marketing initiatives and brand visuals is more than enough for businesses to spice up their presence and follow global shifts in trends.

The Color Institute has its own Pantone Matching System (PMS) and an extensive Color & Formula Guide that matches colors in print and on the web. This ensures that marketing materials look the same in both physical and digital spaces.

Pantone Color Systems – For Graphic Design makes it easier for web designers to incorporate the color of the year into their works. It includes both solid and processed colors allowing creatives to make color swatches easily transferable. Additionally, with the Pantone Color Finder designers can quickly find any PMS color, with its corresponding RGB, HEX/HTML and CMYK codes, and seamlessly use it with any visual content editor.

Pantone also provides the Color Bridge Guide: The Graphic Designer’s Best Friend. This tool allows designers to see all the different ways a Pantone Spot Color can be recreated. It enables the most accurate comparison possible between Pantone colors and CMYK colors, to find the closest match. This is helpful when deciding on whether a more budget-friendly solution is needed for designing marketing materials (i.e. with CMYK), compared to a specific spot color from Pantone’s palette. Additionally, the Color Bridge Guide includes an extension for Adobe Creative Cloud that eases color specification and a light indicator to make sure you know what the color will look like in the physical space.

The possibilities to incorporate Ultimate Grey and Illuminating Yellow are practically infinite. There is no requirement that they should be used in equal proportions. Either color can be used to achieve high reflectivity and visibility.

With Pantone’s PMS, you can add any hue to your design with the utmost ease. What is more, the institute has even prepared five unique palettes – Aviary, Enlightenment, Intrigue, Orbital, Sun and Shadow, to help you incorporate 2021’s colors in the best possible way for your brand. Each palette is supported by three sample color combinations and has a distinctive mood, illustrating the flexibility of Illuminating Yellow and Ultimate Grey.


We hope that PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating Yellow will help brighten your design and brand visuals in 2021. May they bring the much needed sense of stability and optimism to you and your customers as a kind reminder that there’s sunlight behind the grey clouds.

We would love to see your creative approach to this year’s Pantone colors and look forward to having you share your designs with us.