Everything You Should Know about Pantone’s Colours of the Year: According to a Colour Expert

It’s been a while since I made my official prediction for Pantone’s 2021 Colour of the Year: a bright yellow, PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating . I was convinced that it was the colour we needed after a dark and difficult year around the world. “We need a light at the end of the tunnel more than ever before,” I said when I was being interviewed on the news  last year, casting my prediction months before the colour was announced by Pantone.

Last December, Pantone, the world authority on colour announced Illuminating as the 2021 colour of the year. But there’s a twist: the colour will be reigning with a second colour, PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray.

Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone’s executive director, said that Illuminating was the original choice, but they revised their choice and added Ultimate Gray because they felt something was missing. It’s clear that we crave the optimism and light that Illuminating brings, but at the same time, we need a stable foundation to start the new year on a strong footing, and that’s where Ultimate Gray comes in.

Being associated with stability and durability, grey is literally unshakable. Still, some may perceive it as depressing, but in the case of both colours, yellow makes sure that melancholy isn’t in the cards. Illuminating and Ultimate Gray complete each other on all fronts and would not have this incredible impact on their own.

Grey is never out of style. It’s the ultimate neutral, meaning it can be paired with pretty much any other colour. Yellow has been growing in popularity for some time, and some say Gen-Z yellow is set to be the new Millennial Pink, becoming the second colour associated with an entire generation. The colour of the sun, yellow naturally uplifts and can even help counter seasonal depression when incorporated into our surroundings. I therefore especially recommend adding it to your environment and wearing it often because we’ve been spending more time at home! 

How to Use and Match the Colours

When it comes to matching colours with Ultimate Gray, the possibilities are endless. Grey is the perfect neutral, and there isn’t a single colour it doesn’t go well with. Yellow, on the other hand, is quite bright, so matching it with other bright colours may seem a bit trickier. But because it’s the colour of the sun, it goes with a wider array of colours than you might think. Mixing it with softer colours, like pastel pink, can create an interesting depth and contrast, while mixing it with sky blue can be reminiscent of a beautiful sunny day, and who doesn’t like to be reminded of that?

I’ve created a few colour palettes that work great as complements to Illuminating and Ultimate Gray, and they’ll give you ideas about how to incorporate this year’s colours into your designs and apparel choices.


Illuminating naturally lightens the mood, and Jolly is an invitation to rediscover pleasure in life’s little things. The playfulness and youth reflected in this palette are great mood boosters. This colour combination will never go unnoticed. 


Rebirth is all about humble new beginnings. Lighter yellows are associated with innocence, and light peaches are often perceived as kind, while the lighter browns add some stability as we shift into this rebirth process. This palette is soothing and delightful. 


Reminiscent of a tropical paradise, Escape is dreamy, cheery, and bright. The sea colours are soothing, while the yellows bring the palette joy and warmth. The darker amber yellow also brings a feeling of nostalgia, which is always soothing in difficult times. When our present is unstable, we look to our past for comfort, and a past vacation at the beach can offer relaxing memories to some. Maybe it can even inspire exciting new plans!


The name of this palette says it all! Grounded aims to bring comfort and reassurance. It highlights the current trend in which the colours of nature help us through  difficult times. Eco-anxiety has been discussed a lot over the last few years, and it continues to be a topic of interest, pushing natural colours into the spotlight.


In Weathered, the contrast between Illuminating and the greys and greyish blues are meant to underscore that even on the darkest of days, the sun still finds its way through the clouds and the bright blue sky promises to eventually come back. The wide range of colours in this palette also symbolizes a wide range of emotions. The presence of yellow makes this palette uplifting and, simultaneously, stable and comforting because of the grey and greyish blues.

Illuminating and Ultimate Gray at S&S Canada

Regarding fashion, expect to see a lot of both colours, as Pantone’s Color of the Year selections have immense commercial impact and create unprecedented demand for the chosen colours. At S&S Canada, many items are offered in these colours, like this adidas sport shirt, which features both of these on-trend colours.

Below, you’ll find a few examples of what you can get at S&S Canada if you want to make sure your customers stay on top of the apparel trends kicking off 2021. These product colours are similar to Pantone’s chosen colours of the year, with design colours that will complement the garments.

About the Author
Marie-Chantal Milette is one of the world’s very few colour experts. She’s a graphic design and advertising graduate of The Creative Circus, a world-class school and industry-leading creative incubator, and she also had the chance to pursue advanced colour training with Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Pantone Colour Institute and world leader in colour psychology and trend prediction. This experience allowed her to make the most of her talent by channeling it into many successful branding operations.

In both 2013 and 2016, she successfully predicted Pantone’s Colour of the Year months before the official announcement was made. She did it again this year, predicting Illuminating would receive the crown.