Pantone Colour of the Year 2021: Ultimate Gray & Illuminating

Every year, the Pantone Colour Institute selects their “Colour of the Year”: a colour that will go on to influence global trends across every industry, from fashion to interior design to product packaging.

We’re here to give you an overview on everything there is to know about Pantone’s Colour of the Year, from its history beginning in the year 2000 to how the 2021 Colour of the Year can be incorporated in your style today!

Cerulean - the first Pantone Colour of the Year in 2000.

When did Pantone Colour of the Year start?

The tradition of picking a “colour of the year” started back in 2000, and two decades ago the colour of choice was Cerulean. A powdery blue shade which was the leading favourite shade of designers and consumers around the world at the time, this colour was chosen due to its connotations of tranquillity, calm and comfort – making it a fitting colour to introduce the new millennium.


A statement was released in 1999 to announce Cerulean as the first Pantone Colour of the Year, referring to it as “Hue of the Future”.

Why does Pantone pick the Colour of the Year?

The Pantone Colour Institute is the unit within Pantone – an American colour coding company – that developed the “Colour of the Year” concept. From forecasting global colour trends to highlighting top seasonal runway colours, the actions of the Pantone Colour Institute have a major influence on multiple industries worldwide.

As the world’s leading authority on colour and colour trends, the Pantone Colour Institute created the tradition as an innovative concept for branding, marketing and creativity in general. From fashion to home décor to graphic design, the Colour of the Year offers direction to businesses and individuals everywhere when implementing their visual strategies.

How is the Pantone Colour of the Year chosen?

It’s a more complex process than you might expect!

Colour experts at the Pantone Colour Institute conduct careful analyses of colour trends across the world, for example in the art, entertainment, travel and fashion industries. They also look at emerging technologies, materials and textures that might relate to colour in some way. Their overall goal is to identify new colour influences and trends on a global scale.

Beyond looking at trends, the deciding group must also consider another very important factor: how the Colour of the Year will connect with the “zeitgeist” of the upcoming year. In simpler terms, they look to find a colour that people everywhere will be able to relate to and draw inspiration from; a colour that reflects the global “mood” of a particular generation or period of time.

Pantone themselves have stated that colour “has always been an integral part of how a culture expresses the attitudes and emotions of the times”, citing the example of “The Earthy 70’s” (as the recession brought about more subdued colours) versus “The Vibrant 80’s” (when the economic upturn resulted in the return of bright colours).

Twice a year, a secret meeting is held in a European capital, hosted by Pantone. Representatives from colour standards groups from a variety of countries gather for two days of presentations and debates, after which they select the Colour of the Year for the following year. In other words, the colour for 2020 could be chosen nearly a year in advance!

What is the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2021, and why?

The union of enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope.



– Leatrice, Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Colour Institute

A colour combination that embodies happiness and strength, Pantone has selected two colours for 2021: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Yellow.

Following on from such a tumultuous year, it’s no surprise that such colours were chosen. 2021 calls for increased optimism, determination and unity in the face of ongoing crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic; above all it’s essential to maintain hope. Pantone’s Illuminating Yellow symbolises a promise of brighter and happier times in the future ahead, while Ultimate Gray signifies a solid and reliable foundation which we must hold onto for the time being.

While the 2020 Colour of the Year (Classic Blue) signified stability and reassurance, this year we see a movement towards less familiar horizons. But rather than feeling afraid, we should feel inspired and excited for what is to come.

What has the Pantone Colour of the Year been in past years?

Since 2007, Pantone has produced official press releases for each Colour of the Year, usually with plenty of detail on why each colour was chosen. Take a look below for a snapshot of every Colour of the Year from 2000 to 2020…

Cerulean - the first Pantone Colour of the Year in 2000.
Fuchsia Rose - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2001.
True Red - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2002
Aqua Sky - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2003
Tigerlily - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2004
Blue Turquoise - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2005
Sand Dollar - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2006
Chili Pepper - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2007
Blue Iris - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2008
Mimosa - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2009
Turquoise - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2010
Honeysuckle - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2011
Tangerine Tango - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2012
Emerald - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2013
Radiant Orchid - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2014
Marsala - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2015
Rose Quartz & Serenity - the joint Pantone Colours of the Year for 2016
Greenery - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2017
Ultra Violet - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2018
Living Coral - the Pantone Colour of the Year for 2019

How celebrities are wearing Pantone’s 2021 Colour of the Year

Embed from Getty Images

Sienna Miller

Embed from Getty Images

Ariana Grande

Embed from Getty Images

Mindy Kaling

Many celebrities got ahead of the trend, and could be seen wearing these striking shades even before the Pantone Colour of the Year official announcement at the start of December.

Sienna Miller sported a boho-inspired Gucci dress in Illuminating at the Golden Globes, while Mindy Kaling took this vibrant yellow hue to new levels of glamour at the Oscars. Meanwhile, Ariana Grande blew us all away with her take on Ultimate Gray at the Grammys: a flowing steel tone ballgown by Giambattista Valli.

How to incorporate the Pantone Colour of the Year in your 2021 style

While the combination of these two colours together might not lend itself to everyone’s tastes, there are plenty of ways to wear 2021’s Colour of the Year.

If you prefer a neutral look, there are endless ways to incorporate Ultimate Gray into your style: from smart office co-ords to stone wash jeans to simple grey tee’s.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to make a statement, this colour combo is the perfect way to go about it. These two tones contrast and complement each other perfectly for a sharp, eye-catching appearance. Add some life to your everyday grey jeans with a vibrant yellow coat, or add a smart grey blazer to your yellow dress for a lively evening ensemble.

Of course, don’t forget some gorgeous silver jewellery to match! Another take on 2021’s Ultimate Gray, we recommend layering up some minimalist pieces and incorporating a mix of brushed and polished silver to really embrace this colour trend.

Joshua James Motive Silver Huggy Hoop Earrings
Joshua James Motive Silver Huggy Hoop Earrings
ChloBo Silver Ariella Necklace
ChloBo Silver Ariella Necklace
Shaun Leane Sterling Silver Rose Thorn Band Ring
Shaun Leane Sterling Silver Rose Thorn Band Ring
Thomas Sabo Silver Dots Ear Climbers
Thomas Sabo Silver Dots Ear Climbers
Joshua James Serenity Silver Bali Style Charm Necklace
Joshua James Serenity Silver Bali Style Charm Necklace
ChloBo Silver Lightning Bolt Cuff Earrings
ChloBo Silver Lightning Bolt Cuff Earrings
Joshua James Motive Silver Organic Pebble Assembled Hoop Earrings
Joshua James Motive Silver Organic Pebble Assembled Hoop Earrings
Fiorelli Silver Organic Statement Cuff Bangle
Fiorelli Silver Organic Statement Cuff Bangle
Joshua James Silver Engravable Bar Necklace
Joshua James Silver Engravable Bar Necklace

What do you think? Have you fallen in love with this striking colour combination, or did you prefer the calming hues of 2020’s Classic Blue? Let us know in the comments below!

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