2021 Color Trends: Pantone Colors of the Year

Pantone 2021 Color of the Year

Remember when we couldn’t wait for the reveal of Pantone’s Color of the Year? I used to stay up waiting with great anticipation for them to post the announcement. The past few years, I haven’t found it as exciting as it had been in previous years.

Courtesy of Pantone

In 2019, I was excited by the color but turned off by the name. In 2020, Classic Blue was a little ho-hum but a solid choice even though it didn’t bowl me over. This year my reaction was more challenging to pin down. Even though there was something modern and intriguing about the combination of yellow and gray, the colors seemed a little too predictable. For years, this combination has been associated with mental health.

Colors of Mental Well-Being

The two colors that Pantone selected are the same colors that people chose to represent the extremes of depression and happiness in this study – gray and yellow, respectively. The study results weren’t a surprise for those who know about the perception and meanings of colors.

The message of these two colors is so clear that they are the colors of the Hope for Depression Foundation and the iFred organization founded by my friend, Kathryn Goetzke, to shine a positive light on mental health and other similar groups.

As we have learned this year, depression breeds in isolation as worries about the future eat away at our sense of well-being. (Psychology Today) Perhaps as Pantone says, “two independent colors that highlight how different elements come together to support one another” apply to happiness and depression, too and why the organizations dealing with mental health use this combination of colors to communicate their mission.

Courtesy of Pantone

PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating

On its own, most of us have positive associations with the color yellow and can relate to Pantone’s description of Illuminating as a color “of strength and positivity. It is a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.” Sunny yellow is a warm, uplifting hue. It is hard not to smile when you catch a glimpse of this bright and cheerful hue on a gray, dreary day.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray 

As for the more positive aspects of Ultimate Gray, I can’t argue with Pantone’s reasoning. Their words are very close to what Kiki Redhead and I wrote in our trends report many years ago when gray was first creeping onto the scene. The ideas still hold true today.

“Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.”

Courtesy of Pantone

A Timely Choice?

These colors have often been used to give products or packaging a modern edge.

Both colors have been popping up in fashion as Vogue highlights in their article, Did The Runways Predict the 2021 Pantone Color of the Year?

A similar yellow and gray were in the Color Marketing Group forecast we put together for 2020.

These colors also pair nicely with Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year, Classic Blue.

Share Your Thoughts

I want to know what you think of Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2021. Leave a comment below.

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  • Ginger Runnels says:

    Pantone’s dreary gray and yellow were right up there with 2011’s Marsala. Kinda Blah, when what we really need right now are colors that feel hopeful and inspiring.
    Loved 2011’s Honeysuckle!
    Uplifting and optimistic.

  • Diana Tremblay says:

    I loved the grey and blush trend but wasn’t prepared for another grey combo. It feels done.

    I do understand the psychology behind this choice; yellow is a bright light in a dismal, depressing year. We all need some hope right now!! But I think I would have preferred just focusing on the sunshine.

  • I was very disappointed with this year’s choice. I think the yellow could have been stunning if it was brighter and cheerier. Perhaps even the gray could have been more exciting in a bolder shade. But they chose dull and bland for both colors, and it made a horrible combination on the slides where they used one as the text on the other as background – definitely not designed for readability!

    Personally, I’ll stick with Classic Blue with a hint of Greenery. That gets me more excited about the potential of 2021. 🙂

  • Vickery Upton says:

    I have in the past years enjoyed designers’ use of mattified gold and silver (yellow and grey) and this combination is particularly stunning when set with a rich brick red and white. However I was left “under-whelmed” with this as Pantone’s 2021 choice as color(s) of the year. Frankly, I could do without the grey. We all need some “ Here Comes The Sun” energy right now.

  • Elynn Taylor says:

    I attended the Pantone webinar yesterday and they explained in great depth all the reasons for the two 2021 colors. Their explanation was long, wordy, and very intricate. When a color or any design element needs that much explanation it’s a tip off that perhaps it wasn’t the best choice.

    Ironic that yellow is for youth and energy while the gray is represents stability and a firm foundation similar to concrete .. as if things are set in stone.

    I see these two colors symbolic of the great AGE divide happening due to Covid. On one hand we have the “yellow” energy of the young … their lives are being drastically changed and impacted because of huge limitations on what they can do and where they can go. The “gray” represents the graying of America and the elderly/Sr Citizen population who lives are greatly jeopardized by Covid.

    Based on the slides shown during the Pantone webinar, the yellow/gray color combination seemed to shine in athletic clothing and equipment. However, the color choice seemed dated and stale for residential and commercial design. A COTY needs to do more if it’s going to capture the attention of the design world!

    • Kate Smith says:

      I had a client commitment so couldn’t watch the webinar but had read many of the interviews. The colors needed too much explanation and it seems that they pulled out the thesaurus to help find a few choice words to toss into the word salad. Not that I can point a finger as I have often had to come up with flowery words to describe a color choice. ;-?

  • Jan Bloom says:

    Truly tired of grey.

    • Kate Smith says:

      You aren’t alone, Jan. 😉

  • Linda McCourt says:

    Yes, predictable & boring. Actually somewhat depressing even with the yellow but then I really like primary colors.

  • Trudi Smith says:

    For the last six months my clients have been screaming for anything but grey. Upsatate NY is grey so many days of the year, we are just over it. As for the yellow, maybe in a nursery or modern astetic – which you find little of here.

    • Kate Smith says:

      You’re right, these are not the colors for that region. The light doesn’t support a basic gray.

  • I can certainly agree with your thoughts here Kate. A somewhat unsurprising selection from Pantone but a reflection of the times and the fact that we are straddling that divide of safe choices and the need for optimism.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Exactly, I suspect they were going to go with yellow alone but in this cultural climate that would have seemed tone deaf. The combination helped balance out that bold yellow making it a safer choice for many reasons.

  • I have never felt so ill as when I read Pantone’s color choice of yellow and gray as their color selections for 2021. I thought we were done with gray? Gray has been over used for the last several years and it’s time to move on. Have you ever walked outside on a gray, gloomy day? How depressing. Walking into a furnished Modern home decorated in tones of gray’s? How boring, how unimaginative, talk about depression? Just because Vogue pops up with yellow on their runways… we now want yellow in our homes as color of the year? Using these two colors together to deal with mental health is observed. My brother, Charles, was schizophrenic and bipolar for 50 years until he died. Before I became an interior designer 30 years ago, I was an artist of all medias and I painted using all colors of the spectrum. Charles would walk into our home and his face would light up, because of the beautiful colors… that is what puts a smile on your face… not gray and yellow. You can never shine a light on mental health. I lived with it through 50 years. It is far deeper than the color of yellow and gray. Oh yeah, let’s go outside on this gloomy, gray day and put our yellow parkas on… yes, this will put a smile on our face. Now let’s go inside and see how we can add touches of yellow around our living space designed in various tones of grays.

    • Kate Smith says:

      I appreciate your views based on first hand experience. The mental health angle was what came to mind but I do know it is a much more complex issue.

  • Yellow is one of my 2 favorite colors and I find all shades of it cheery and uplifting. I do not like the coupling of these 2 colors at all for painting inside a home, though. Maybe, clothing. . . I’m
    Not a fan!

    • Kate Smith says:

      I think we will see this in fashion, graphics, products and packaging more than in home.

  • Rebekah says:

    What a lovely combination – gray and yellow! I had no idea it would look so amazingly beautiful. Thank you, Kate, for sharing this informative and fun article.

    • Kate Smith says:

      You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

  • i was hoping to see an easing up on Grey as a focus in 2121. As i look out my window this morning all is see is grey, to bring it indoors into an interior puts too much emphasis on it – overwhelms when i want to feel warm…i personally have seen enough – particularly the cooool greys – i love me some warm grey – bring on the Sun! Yellow!! that said, i really do love a grey/yellow combo if you throw in a spark of black & white..

    • Kate Smith says:

      Me, too, Charlene or at least a cozy warm gray.

  • Kim says:

    Love……………
    I would like more exploration of the perfect gray for
    north facing rooms

  • Christine Newton says:

    Meh…gray and yellow, seems unimaginative to me.

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