What Is the Pantone Color of the Year and Why Is It Important?

Written by:
Orana Velarde

Dec 12, 2019
Illustration showcasing Pantones 2021 Colors of the Year.

Every year on the first days of December, The Pantone Color Institute announces the new Color of the Year. It has been said to be the best part of the year for anyone who works with color.

We’re excited, how about you?


Introducing: Ultimate Gray 17-5104 and Illuminating 13-0647

In celebration of the new colors, let’s look at how the Pantone Color System and the Pantone Color Institute have been the kings of influence in all aspects of color design and color trends over the years.

The Pantone Color Matching System

The Pantone Color System is the most important color matching system in the world. The system originated in 1963 to solve the problem of complicated color matching in the printing industry.

Soon after, Pantone became the easiest and simplest way to classify, communicate and match colors with the use of a color catalog in a fan format.

Every color, in every tone and tint, was given a number to classify it. Pantone literally wrote the book on color matching. For over 40 years, Pantone has been the go-to color matching system for not only the design industry but also paint, textile and plastic manufacturers.

The Pantone Color Institute

The Pantone Color Institute offers designers, marketers, creators and brands a chance to work together and build a strong and powerful color presence. As the leading color matching system, their knowledge of color is unparalleled. They are the experts in how color affects not only design but also consumerism.

The Color of the Year

In 2000, the Pantone Color Institute created the Pantone Color of the Year as a trendsetting concept for branding, marketing and creative society as a whole. The introduction of the Pantone Color of the Year confirmed The Pantone Color Institute as the front-runner for all things color related.

It is not surprising then that The Pantone Color of the Year is awaited with much excitement and anticipation every December.

color swatches pantone color of the year


How Does the Color of the Year Influence Marketing Trends?

The Pantone Color Institute studies color trends throughout the year in order to decide on the next Pantone Color of the Year. They take into consideration all aspects of society: fashion, marketing, social media and even politics. The hue chosen as Color of the Year has become increasingly influential in the vast world of design and brand marketing.

The first Color of the Year was selected back in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the color trend forecasting took on a life of its own. Nowadays, when a new color is announced, Pantone offers color lovers an array of inspirational products and color combination palettes designed especially with the corresponding color in mind.

Hundreds of brands take on the task of designing products with the Color of the Year. This reinforces the importance of how the Pantone color trend forecast is important and influential.

In the last few years, the announcement of the new Color of the Year has had plenty of media coverage. Bloggers have written articles about how to use the color; homemade producers have created products to sell; graphic designers have created social media templates ... and that just skims the surface.


How Can You Incorporate the Color of the Year Into Your Business?

The extensive color trending research done by the Pantone Color Institute saves you countless hours of marketing research for your own business. When the new color is announced in December, you or your designers should look into how it can be incorporated into your business.

The Pantone Color of the Year is a color trend forecast for the consumer, which means that it’s intended to be used for consumer products and designs created for clients. Some creative brands renew their look every year according to the new color but most businesses cannot handle that much change.

The Color of the Year is meant to be used for marketing and product creation, not necessarily a rebranding. This means that you can create ads with the new color, just don’t change your logo or brand colors.

When posting your Ultimate Gray and Illuminating inspired visual marketing designs on social media, don’t forget to use the dedicated hashtag #COY2021 and get extra (and unexpected) exposure.

Some Creative Ideas

  • Clothing companies can design some garments in Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.
  • Makeup companies can create aUltimate Gray and Illuminating collection.
  • Cake and dessert businesses can create some Ultimate Gray and Illuminating delicacies.
  • Graphic designers that sell ready-to-use designs can create some Ultimate Gray and Illuminating templates or social media graphics.
  • Ultimate Gray and Illuminating can be incorporated into homemade products and decorative prints.
  • Interior designers can suggestUltimate Gray and Illuminating decorative pieces to their clients.
  • Merchandising companies can offer Ultimate Gray and Illuminating products.

Use Pantone Color Tools

Since 2013, Pantone offers extra color and design tools which match the announcement of the Color of the Year. Graphic designers, fashion designers, makeup designers, interior decorators and product manufacturers have access to all sorts of Pantone Color System tools available for creating new and trending products and graphics with the Color of the Year.

Any kind of product can be manufactured with the Color of the Year. For example, Pantone has a line of products that renews every year with the new color: mugs, keychains, and specialized color chips. Pantone also has a special plastic color matching system for plastic product manufacturing.

Graphic designers can incorporate the hue into color schemes for branding, publications or packaging. Fashion designers can create clothing and accessories that either showcase the color or use it as an accent. Fabric designers can incorporate the color into textured fabrics or patterns for curtains, pillows and throw blankets. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to using the Color of the Year in consumer products.

Check out the amazing array of products available this year with Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. Pantone and their collaborators also sell products with the Color of the Year. Look below for the Pantone Partners and their campaigns.


4 Pantone Partners Using Ultimate Gray and Illuminating

Cariuma – From Brazil for The World

Cariuma, a Brazilian brand of canvas sneakers, is one of the new Pantone partners this year. Their team has released a limited edition design of their OCA Low Sneaker in the Pantone Colors of the year. 

Wear a pair of the same color or mix and match with two pairs!

Lokai – Finding Balance in Life

When it comes to finding the perfect brand to embody the 2021 Pantone colors of the year, Lokai is the perfect fit. Their signature Lokai bracelet is all about balance,with one bead full of Himalayan ice water and another filled with mud from the dead sea. 

This year they’ve partnered up with Pantone to create the Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Lokai bracelet. A subtle yet powerful nod to the message of the year’s colors. Two contrasting colors that sum up balance and inclusivity all into one.

A bracelet in the Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year.

VDL Cosmetics – Vivid Desires Come to Life

Korean makeup company VDL Cosmetics partnered up with Pantone this year to create an Ultimate Gray and Illuminating collection. The set includes makeup items with packaging in the colors of the year and an eyeshadow set with the colors as the main attraction.

A makeup product line in the Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year.

Adobe Stock – A Curated Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Visual Collection

Once again, Adobe Stock and Pantone have partnered up to curate a selection of images in the Pantone Color of the Year. Photos, illustrations, backgrounds and templates all in Ultimate Grey and Illuminating, are ready for everyone to start designing anything they want.

Create your own graphics and apply custom color schemes.

  • Simply copy and paste the hex codes
  • Use these colors in your presentations, printables, social graphics or any other visual content
  • Apply professionally selected color schemes with one click

Sign up. It's free.


How to Use Pantone Colors on the Web

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) is and has always been a system for printed materials. The Pantone color on print compared to the same color on a screen will never be exactly the same, but it will be very close. This is why Pantone offers a few different systems for using Pantone colors on the web.

One of the greatest reasons for this is so that a brand can maintain its color schemes from print to web. These systems were also created because Pantone knows that some designs stay on the computer and never make it to print, like websites and social media.

Pantone also wants to make it easy for web designers and marketers to use the Pantone Color of the Year.

The Pantone Color System offers a collection of tools for designers and marketers that makes it easy to transfer color inspirations from swatches to computers and onto print. Pantone also offers systems for fashion and product design.

For a faster solution, you can also easily use the Pantone Color Finder.

Insert any PMS number in the search box and it will show you the corresponding RGB and HEX codes to use on the web. A visual content editor like Visme will accept the HEX number. Advanced editors like Photoshop will take the RGB value.

If you are unsure about the color number, you can pick a color in the color picker on the left and the website will then show you all the Pantone swatches that are similar in tonality. You can then pick your exact hue and it will show the RGB and HEX codes.

These are the color codes for this year’s colors, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.

Hex codes for the Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year.


Pantone Colors of the Year: 2000 to 2021

Before looking at all the previous colors of the year, let’s take a look at the brand new Colors of the Year, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.


2021: Ultimate Gray 17-5104 and Illuminating 13-0647

The Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year, Illuminating and Ultimate Gray.

This is the second time in 21 years that the Pantone institute has chosen two colors instead of one. As we finish one of the strangest years in recent history, The Pantone Color of The Year simply had to follow suit and be just as unexpected.

The combination of solid and dependable Ultimate Gray and vibrant Illuminating yellow is a celebration of the human spirit. People are looking for some kind of stability and assuredness while also striving for hope.

A quote about the Pantone 2021 Colors of the Year.


2020: Classic Blue 19-4052

Create your own graphics with the new Pantone Color of the Year.Try It for Free

Before looking at all the previous colors of the year, let’s take a look at the brand new Color of the Year, Classic Blue. 

As we enter a whole new decade, Classic Blue arrives to impart a sense of dependability and reassurance. This deep blue is classic, elegant and timeless. The sensation that this color gives the viewer is a bit of a surprise since it’s a color we are used to having around us.

According to The Pantone Institute, that exactly was the main idea. To have a color that stands out while also being familiar. It gives everyone the feeling of a good foundation of faith and peace.



From 2019 to 2007

As every Color of the Year comes along, the influence over design and society as a whole grows in strides. With the spread of online marketing and social media, the Pantone Color of the Year gains more and more recognition. Pantone is no stranger to trends and they have been incorporating all kinds of creative solutions with every color that is announced.

This wasn’t so in the earlier years. In fact, the first Color of the Year that was announced with a press release was the 2007 Chilli Pepper. After that, every color has come along with more and more background and recognition. Let’s take a look at all the colors between 2018 to 2007.


2019: Living Coral 16-1546

2019-Living-Coral pantone color of the year 2019

Not every Color of the Year resonated with people as much as Living Coral did last year. Coral tones in makeup were everywhere all year long, fashion runways had coral garments throughout the seasons, and interior decor trends used coral wallpapers and fabrics as well. It was a pleasant surprise when only a couple months before the Color of the Year was announced, Apple launched a new phone in the exact same color.

According to Pantone, Living Coral was "an animating and life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone that energizes and enlivens with a softer edge."

Pantone-Color-of-the-Year-influential-to-brand-marketing-trends pantone color of the year 2019 living coral

The warm, mellow and vibrant tonality of Living Coral was chosen to provide comfort in our ever-changing environment. As we were surrounded by digital technology and social media, we need authentic and immersive experiences that let us connect intimately. The light nature of Living Coral encouraged fun and light-hearted activity. It represented the fusion of modern life.

2018: Ultra Violet 18-3838

2017: Ultra Violet 18-3838

The 2018 Color of the Year was Ultra Violet. Representative of “what is to come,” the color Ultra Violet represented the mysticism of the cosmos, the importance of imagination and inventiveness, the power of the unknown and the search for more.


The color Ultra Violet carried a deeper magical meaning because of its name. In scientific terms, the color ultra violet is not commonly visible to the human eye. Ultra violet is the light emitted by the sun. Naming this tonality of deep blue-violet, Ultra Violet, Pantone bestowed a sense of magic to it. Historically, purple is a color related to spirituality and mindfulness. The 2018 Pantone color of the year joined science and mysticism in one marvelous package.


2017: Greenery 15-0343

pantone color of the year 2017 greenery

The Color of the Year 2017 was Greenery. Dubbed as “nature’s neutral,” Greenery was the color of new beginnings and the arrival of spring. The idea behind Greenery is that upon seeing the color, consumers visualize the great outdoors and the call of nature. Greenery reflects the shift into how greenery has made its way into architecture, urban planning, fashion and lifestyle choices.


2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity

pantone color of the year 2016 rose quartz and serenity

2016 was the only year that the Pantone Color of the Year was actually two colors. Rose Quartz and Serenity together represented a search for wellness and peace. The combination of the warm rose tone and the cool blue also challenged usual color perceptions of gender differentiation. The double color represented the growing trend of gender neutrality in the fashion world and how that influenced other aspects of design.

pantone color of the year rose quartz and serenity


2015: Marsala 18-1438

pantone color of the year 2015 marsala
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Marsala, the 2015 Color of the Year, was a sophisticated shade of dark red-brown, reminiscent of wine and earthy tones. A rich, plush tone perfect for elegant home and kitchen furnishings. Marsala matched really well with textured carpets and curtains as either the main attraction of a room or a complement of other elegant earthy colors.


2014: Radiant Orchid 18-3224

pantone color of the year 2014 radiant orchid

In 2014, Radiant Orchid was a color that inspired creativity and originality. It was charming and inspired confidence. Radiant Orchid made strides in fashion and beauty in 2014. From runways to the red carpet, Radiant Orchid was incorporated in designs for both men and women.


2013: Emerald 17-5641

pantone color of the year 2013 emerald

The jeweled color, Emerald, was the Color of the Year in 2013. Elegant, sophisticated and luxurious, this rich green represented renewal, regrowth and rejuvenation. Emerald was perfect for both fashion and home interiors due to its appealing tone. Emerald was also used in a collection called “Sephora + Pantone Universe™ 2013 Color of the Year beauty collection,” which included eyeshadow, nail polish and accessories.


2012: Tangerine Tango 17-1463

pantone color of the year 2012 tangerine tango

Tangerine Tango was the color of moving forward. The 2012 Color of the Year was deep, seductive and reminiscent of a sunset over the ocean. Tangerine Tango was featured in the Pantone Fashion Color Report Spring 2012 fashion show with designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Nanette Lepore.


2011: Honeysuckle 18-2120

pantone color of the year 2011 honeysuckle

The Color of the Year for 2011, Honeysuckle Pink, was a captivating color that inspired fun, confidence and courage for the everyday grind. Honeysuckle was a healthy and uplifting color that has some of the positive qualities of its warm sister color, red. This color is one of the 200 Pantone Wedding Colors from Dessy. In 2011, Visa partnered up with Pantone and created the Honeysuckle Visa card.

pantone color of the year 2011 honeysuckle


2010: Turquoise 15-5519

pantone color of the year 2010 turquoise

Turquoise, the 2010 Color of the Year, was the color of tranquil tropical paradise and powerful, protective talismans. Turquoise was an important color due to how it was accepted positively by both men and women. The color was a perfect match for accessories and combined well with earthy tones.


2009: Mimosa 14-0848

pantone color of the year 2009 mimosa
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Mimosa, the 2009 Pantone Color of the Year, was named after the mimosa flower and the champagne and orange juice beverage. Mimosa was perceived as a dynamic and energetic color that inspired innovation in a time of economic uncertainty.


2008: Blue Iris 18-3943

pantone color of the year 2008 blue iris

In 2008, Blue Iris was the chosen Color of the Year for its mixed blue and purple qualities that inspired a meditative state. It combined well with deep plums and red browns for interior home decoration.

pantone color of the year 2008 blue iris

pantone color of the year 2008 blue iris


2007: Chili Pepper 19-1557

pantone color of the year 2007 chili pepper

The 2007 Pantone Color of the Year was the first one that was announced with a press release about the inspiration behind it. Chilli Pepper was the color of fiery passion and the spirit of adventure.


What About the Colors Before 2007?

Unfortunately, Pantone didn't issue any official press releases for the Colors of the Year from before 2007. Thanks to the magic of the internet, we know a little bit about how and why each color was chosen. Let’s take a look at the first Colors of the Year and the color collections that were inspired by them.


2006 : Sand Dollar 13-1106

pantone color of the year 2006 sand dollar

In 2006, the Color of the Year took on a neutral tone with Sand Dollar. It was chosen to represent concerns about the economic troubles going on at the time. This neutral color was very popular in fashion and interior decor, reminiscent of the desert and sandy beaches.


2005: Blue Turquoise 15-5217

pantone color of the year 2005 blue turquoise

Following along from the previous year’s inspiration from nature, the 2005 Color of the Year was Blue Turquoise. This is the color of the ocean on a calm, sunny day. Blue Turquoise is different from true turquoise in that it contains less green, making it a cooler tone.

A post shared by Britt Rohr • Swell Press (@swellpress) on


2004: Tigerlily 17-1456

pantone color of the year 2004 tigerlily

The 2004 Color of the Year, Tigerlily, was a strong mix of red and yellow meant to inspire bold creativity. Inspired by the flower of the same name, it was a demonstration of how design is inspired by nature.


2003: Aqua Sky 14-4811

pantone color of the year 2003 aqua sky
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The 2003 Color of the Year was Aqua Sky, a soft and calm tone meant to inspire a new hope and a sense of serenity.


2002: True Red 19-1664

pantone color of the year 2002 true red

In 2002, True Red was chosen as a patriotic remembrance of the events that took place on 9/11. True Red was a strong and powerful hue that represented the fallen and the courageous on that fateful day.


2001: Fuchsia Rose 17-2031

pantone color of the year 2001 fuchsia rose

An intense and passionate color, Fuchsia Rose took a turn in a different direction from the previous year.


2000: Cerulean 15-4020

pantone color of the year 2000 cerulean

Powdery cerulean was chosen to represent the new millennium as the image of tranquility and calm. Pantone released a statement about this Color of the Year because it was the very first one. They chose blue due to how it’s the most accepted color by everyone, regardless of race, gender or nationality. The way in which blue is used in consumer products all over the world and for all audiences was the reason why it was chosen as the first ever Color of the Year.


Your Turn

How will you incorporate Pantone's Color of the Year in your marketing campaigns? Let me know in the comments section below...

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    About the Author

    Orana is a multi-faceted creative. She is a content writer, artist, and designer. She travels the world with her family and is currently in Istanbul. Find out more about her work at oranavelarde.com

    4 responses to “What Is the Pantone Color of the Year and Why Is It Important?”

    1. Bob Bly says:

      No surprise that the author, a graphic artist, would dust off that old and irrelevant chestnut about people remembering 80% of what they see vs. only 20% of what they read. Will she accept my challenge: Send out a mailer. Version A has only color and images, but no words. Version B has only copy, but no graphics. Which do you think will be the winner in terms of response–A or B?

      • orana says:

        Hi Bob, thanks for the comment.
        I don’t think a mail with ONLY color and images without words would be the winner, even with that statistic in the air. This test would be too drastic! Visuals are definitely more memorable but you have to keep in mind that a block of text is also visual! Nevertheless it will either be remembered for being; great copy, average unimportant information, or boring dribble. If its great copy then it has no competition with visuals. On the other hand, a great visual is remembered as a strong visual tidbit, but an infographic with absolutely no copy is pretty much useless. The idea behind the statistic is that copy is set up in a visual way, therefore being more memorable.
        In the meantime…this read has great insight on this topic – https://policyviz.com/2015/10/21/more-statistical-fallacies/

    2. Curt Bizovi says:

      Pantone looks like warmed over puke!

      • Orana says:

        Thanks for the visual Curt!
        Did you see the article about the Pantone color being “dead coral” instead?
        Now that, that looks like puke.

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