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Pantone Reveals Its 2021 Colors Of The Year, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating

by Bill McCool on 12/09/2020 | 3 Minute Read

Pantone, those sorcerers that practice the dark arts of professional color language standards, have at long last announced the 2021 Color of the Year.

Er, colors.

That’s right, this year, Pantone selected not one but two colors with PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating, a combination meant to signify a message rooted in optimism and strength. Of course, it’s not the first time Pantone has selected two contrasting tones, and you only need to look back to 2016 when they chose Serenity and Rose Quartz.

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“By pairing together PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating to be our Pantone Color of the Year for 2021, we highlight how two different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of Pantone Color Institute, to Dieline.

That’s a message we could all use as we continue to fruitlessly shovel teaspoons of baking soda onto the dumpster fire that was 2020. 

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“As we move into 2021, life goes on but not as we knew it,” she further explained. “Our values and priorities have shifted, and we are gaining a deeper understanding of how much we need each other; how our connections and relationships with others help imbue us with the fortitude and optimism so essential to our moving forward.”  

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And if you think Pantone just pulls down a swatch book and plays an extended version of Eeeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe, you’d be wrong, as the process entails plenty of thoughtful, considered trend analysis and thorough forecasting they conduct year-round. They look to the entertainment and fashion industry, as well as the art world and the socio-economic conditions of the day. You know, all the zeitgeisty stuff. But it’s also a very emotional choice for the organization because color is so loaded for every individual.

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“The emotional aspect of color is also a large aspect of our decision making as we want to ensure that the colors we select reflect what is taking place in our global culture at a specific moment in time,” Laurie said. “With color and context so intertwined, there really are reasons why a color family or individual color comes into prominence when it does, and for the most part, the popularity of a color is symbolic of the age we live in.” 

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Similar to 2016, the combination of two seemingly disparate colors is meant to convey a theme of groundedness and enthusiasm for the future and what lies ahead, despite the uncertainty before us. “The theme of resilience + positivity is the most salient message for 2021,” Laurie said. “The union of Ultimate Gray and Illuminating is a combination of color that can propel both designers and society forward. The joining together of a vital yellow shade tied to insight, innovation, and intuition, with a mid-tone gray emblematic of respect for wisdom, experience, and intelligence inspires regeneration, pressing us forward toward new ways of thinking and concepts.

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In other words, you’re standing on the cold cement, but the sun is shining down. Perhaps it’s the sun lamp hitting the gray flannel pajamas—sorry, athleisure wear—you’ve been wearing for the past three days. And maybe, just maybe, it’s that Black Lives Matter mural that rises from the street.

Either way, a new year is on the horizon, and we have a pairing of two Pantone colors to go along with it.

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