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Fortitude and optimism

Pantone’s colors of the year

Pantone’s colours of the year 2021 are 17-5104 Ultimate Gray reflecting how many days of 2020 and 13-0647 “Illuminating”, a bright yellow for brighter days ahead.

Each year the high court of colour, The Pantone Color Institute, announces a colour that defines the incoming year. The colour is chosen based on trend-forecasting research but is also heavily influenced by what is taking place around the world. This year, for the second time two colours have been chosen as the Pantone Color of the Year: “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating”.

This union of colour “expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic. A color combination that gives us resilience and hope.” - Pantone Color Institute

At Katanya we draw inspiration from the colour of the year. Everyone has a little Zoom fatigue. But we are resilient and uplift each other. The yellow reminds us to remain positive and that brighter days are ahead. These colours convey a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting and it resonates. 2020 felt like a neverending year, but we made it and we await for the transition to a ‘new’ normal.

These two colours are visible in many places and we have already played with them in some of our design projects, but are they also representing a duality in our lives? Even if one worked from home before 2020, haven’t the lines blurred further? Our homes have become workplaces and for some also schools. We’re interacting differently. We have longed for simple things - like a glass of wine or coffee at our local cafe or wine bar. We appreciate teachers and doctors and nurses and so many essential works even more. We’re locking down and we’re reopening. How much more will 2021 bring? Yet with the darkness and the grey, there have also been moments of joy, we have re-learnt to appreciate each other and simple things, and with vaccinations being rolled out we look to this year with hope.

Tools for designers

Pantone has a special section with tools for designers, which is really useful to learn more about applying the Color of the Year 2021 across various industries, determine color values across color systems, explore palettes and color harmonies, and more.

a collection of items that have the colour

Source: Pantone

The coupling of friendly Illuminating yellow with quietly assuring Ultimate Gray infuses a message of vitality into a firm foundation of reliability, wisdom and experience for packaging and multimedia design.

How is Pantone’s colour of the year chosen?

Pantone normally hosts top secret colour meetings twice a year in a colourless room so that nothing influences their choice. Did that happen in 2020? We’re not sure yet. A congregation of designers and creatives from all over the world pitch and debate which colours suit the current world climate -- perhaps on colour-calibrated screens with neutral backgrounds in Zoom.

Once sealed away, colours are rigorously analysed against everything that is appearing across the world. The committee combs all surrounding environments and ventures into multiple industries to identify colour trends. This can include the entertainment industry, modern art, fashion, technology, design, travel, environment and socio-economic conditions. The team then takes photos of what they see, what is being used ubiquitously and starts finding patterns, themes and trends. Eventually, a colour is chosen which represents the zeitgeist.

A brief history of Pantone’s colour of the year 2000-2021

Beginning in 2000, Pantone’s colour of the year has become the ultimate source of truth for designers and creatives alike. Take a look below at all the previous winners:


Ultimate Gray + Illuminating


Classic Blue


Living Coral


Ultra Violet




Serenity + Rose Quartz




Radiant Orchid




Tangerine Tango








Blue Iris


Chili Pepper


Sand Dollar


Blue Turquoise




Aqua Sky


True Red


Fuchsia Rose



Find out more about your favourite Pantone colour

An obvious choice?

Pantone’s 2020 pick of classic blue was meant to represent a “return to classics because everything had been chaotic in the world”. Are we stronger and more hopeful in 2021?

picture of tea cups, lemons and tea bags

Source: Pantone

Will the yellow represent brighter days and hope? Can we make lemonade?

Pantone's Color Institute has been selecting the colour of the year for over 20 years. They have generally been ‘bang on’ year after year, picking colours that have defined and influenced the spaces we live and work, the clothes we wear and products we use. The Pantone Colour of the Year is not to be overlooked. We are certain that we will see a lot more Ultimate Gray and Illuminating yellow in 2021.

What colours will next year bring? We think bright colours (think pink and pale blues) will be challengers as we look to return to growth. Not just economic, but personal. And to the reemergence of the arts and travel. But we also think some darker oranges, tans and perhaps even a bordeaux may make it into the mix. With geometric shapes, data visualisations and vector illustrations also being in vogue this year -- we look forward to the outside world and the online world all starting to have more pops of colour in 2021.

The Katanya team are design and technology enthusiasts who have translated designs from some of the world’s best agencies — from Huge to SapientNitro and Interbrand to Wolff Olins — into digital visual identities and brought them into life online. If a design refresh or roll-out or migration to a new design is on the cards for 2021 we’d love to hear from you.


  1. https://time.com/5919001/pantone-color-of-the-year-2021/
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/09/style/pantone-color-2021-ultimate-gray-illuminating.html
  3. https://www.pantone.com/color-of-the-year-2021
  4. https://www.dezeen.com/2020/12/10/pantone-colour-year-2021-ultimate-gray-illuminating/
  5. https://www.vogue.com/article/pantone-color-of-the-year-2021-fashion
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