Ultimate Gray and Illuminating – Pantone Colours of 2021

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating? It sounds like the sunshine warming up a long stretch of tarmac road, a superhero, and his nemesis, or a dark cloud highlighted by the sunshine behind it.

And maybe that’s what Pantone was trying to achieve? After 2020, perhaps they were looking forward to 2021 as the sun beginning to illuminate from the dark clouds that have shadowed us for nearly a year?

ultimate gray and illuminating, the pantone colours of the year 2021.
Ultimate Gray and Illuminating – Pantone
Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. The Pantone colours of the year 2021

For only the second time in Pantone’s Colour of the Year history, they have chosen to go with two shades – Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.

Pantone explained why they chose these colors.

“As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity, and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality.

Pantone Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. Pantone Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. The Pantone colours of the year 2021

As usual, there were plenty of people expressing their feelings towards these two colors and most have looked upon them unfavorably. Comparing them collectively to road markings and Hi-Viz vests, wouldn’t Pantone have been better placed to have chosen one or the other?

Going for a grey shade might have seemed a bit lackluster, but I think it would have made a bold statement saying, yes! Everything is a bit meh! at the moment.

hi-vis vest

Vogue has called the color choices Really Weird and one of my favorite quotes from Design Consultant and TV presenter Michelle Ogundehin is

What I see is a bog-standard grey – described accurately as “practical and rock solid” paired with a pretty unapologetic yellow that recalls Mr Happy (from the Mr Men series)”

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. The Pantone colours of the year 2021 - fashion

The color for 2019 was Classic Blue, did we see it being used more on the high street and in our homes? It is hard to predict because blue has always been such a prominent shade anyway.

I would say I saw more people shift away from this color this year and turn towards green. A wonderful color for nature, nurture, peace, and reassurance. 

Ultimate Gray

Grey (Gray) has been around for what feels like decades now and it doesn’t really show any signs of going away. It is a great neutral to use in the home and I can see why it is still so hugely popular, but hardly ground-breaking.

It is almost non-committal, a mixture of black and white, and for those people who want to keep things monochromatic.

grey feather chandelier light fitting from rockett st george
Feather light, Gloria grey – rockettstgeorge.co.uk
grey two seater sofa from sofa.com with dark grey wall and grey rug
Iggy Pumice sofa – sofa.com
grey berber style rug
Rabisco Berber style rug – La Redoute
grey bed linen
Elina linen duvet cover – La Redoute
grey abstract print of a lady
Dissolve Me poster – juniqe.co.uk
grey ceramic pot
Ceramic plant pot – HM Home


Illuminating is described as a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity; a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. A yellow shade has only been chosen once before by Pantone when they went for Mimosa back in 2009.

When we think of yellow, we automatically think of sunshine and hot summer days, dandelions and daffodils swaying in the springtime breeze. But yellow can also symbolize madness, illness, cowardice and induce anxiety. It can overstimulate the senses and make you feel irritable. 

Although illuminating on itself would be a bit much to use on its own, this bright yellow is perfect for people who don’t want to move away from grey shades but want to add a dash of color to their homes.

yellow fringed chandelier
Three Tier Fringe Chandelier Gold – rockettstgeorge.co.uk
bright yellow paint on the wall with a desk and white chair
English Yellow chalk paint – Annie Sloan
gold upholstered chair with rattan backs and arms
Domkapa Eva Armchair – Sweetpea & Willow
yellow round double switch
Roo Yellow double switch – Swtch
bright yellow velvet 2 seater sofa with brightly coloured gallery wall and monochrome rug
The Rebel 2 seater sofa in Turmeric – Snug sofa
bright yellow foot stool
Matching turmeric footstool – Snug sofa
bright yellow geometric tiles in the bathroom with marble sink and oval mirror
Indigenous Cadiz encaustic tile – Indigenous
yellow knitted throw with tassels
Yellow throw – HM Home
yellow print of the sun with birds
Eternal Sunshine – Juniqe

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating together

I’m not a huge fan of using grey and yellow together. I find that grey is the perfect neutral that shrouds us in calmness whereas yellow shouts “here I am!” and when I am designing a room, I really want it to be one or the other.

I find it a slightly dated color combination that was used heavily in the 70s with geometric prints.  However, I think yellow can be used as a little pop of colour in a room and the grey will help to counterbalance it.

Ultimate gray and illuminating mood board
grey prints with a splash of yellow. bright yellow armchair in the living room
Yellow chair and ultimate gray artwork. Image credit: claudeandleighton.com
grey sofa with bright yellow throw and cushion and abstract art
Harlow Grey sofa – furniturechoice.co.uk
light fittings, grey walls, yellow door and bedroom, berber style rug with rattan chair
Narvas Pendant ceiling with ultimate gray and yellow hues – Iconic lights
yellow throw in the bedroom with grey slate like tiles on the floor
Midlake grey porcelain tiles – Porcelain Superstore
abstract mural style wallpaper in grey and mustard
Grey and mustard watercolour wallpaper – wallsauce.com
grey and yellow geometric rug
Royal Nomadic Rug – Dunelm
Contemporary Ampersand – claudeandleighton.com
jungle and bird theme bedding in grey and yellow
Audubon Duvet Set – Emma J Shipley
grey, white and yellow vase
Bloomsbury Market Dario vase – wayfair.co.uk
grey and yellow geometric cushion
Wade Logan Alaniz Cushion – wayfair.co.uk
two daisy like grey and yellow prints
Green Lili, Modern Floral Print – John Lewis
grey and yellow geometric lamp shade
Grey and Yellow lampshade – ebayuk

I feel Pantone has cheated somewhat by choosing these two colors. Nobody could have ever predicted how 2020 would turn out, so by using grey and yellow shades as their colors of the year, they have hedged their bets.

One could argue that yellow and grey are complete contrasts of one another. Although grey is neutral, it can make you feel sluggish and bring a sense of doom and gloom. Yellow is that cheerful, upbeat shade that can inspire happiness and optimism.

So, either way, they could potentially symbolize 2021 accurately. Let’s hope for all our sakes it is the latter.

pantone colours of the year 2021 - ultimate gray and illuminating

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