Pantone Just Announced Two Colors of the Year for 2021—Get a First Look at the Unexpected Pairing

The team executive shared that "the color combination presses us forward."

pantone colors of the year 2021 ultimate gray and illuminating
Photo: Courtesy of Pantone

Each December, Pantone announces its Color of the Year, or a shade they think will define the coming 365 days. But in true 2020 fashion, the color experts at Pantone decided to throw everyone for a loop with their selection: Rather than choose one single hue to define 2021, Pantone announced two picks for the coming year. "Illuminating," a bright, punchy yellow, and "Ultimate Gray," a classic, saturated gray, were chosen as the final selection. As for the company's reason for a color combination? One hue simply couldn't define all of the experiences from 2020 that will inevitably impact 2021, their team explains. "No one color could get across the meaning of the moment," Laurie Pressman, the vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, told the New York Times. "We all realized we cannot do this alone. We all have a deeper understanding of how we need each other and emotional support and hope."

Since selecting one hue didn't seem fitting, Leatrice Eiseman, the executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, decided that choosing "two independent colors really coming together" would be the best course of action. This is only the second time in 22 years that Pantone selected two colors—the first being when "Rose Quartz" and "Serenity," a pink and a blue shade, respectively," were selected as 2016's colors of the year.

Yellow and gray are distinct colors that can stand alone, but they're also meant to complement one another for 2021. This is the first time gray has been chosen as Pantone's color of the year, and it's only the second time for yellow. These two hues were also just added to the Pantone color wheel in 2020.

The "Ultimate Gray" is known as "a dependable gray," Eiseman said. And while the selection is supposed to represent wisdom, some might view it as gloomy, which is why the Pantone team paired it with "Illuminating." The yellow hue is a representation of sunshine or a smiley face, and Eiseman adds that "the color combination presses us forward."

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