The year 2020 has probably left you feeling somewhat blue—Pantone’s Classic Blue, the 2020 Color of the Year, to be exact. Good news! Strength and positivity are in the swatch cards for 2021, according to the Pantone Color Institute, which announced PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating as the joint Color of the Year 2021.

“Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, the union of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is one of strength and positivity,” Pantone states. “A message of happiness supported by fortitude, the combination is aspirational and gives us hope. We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter.”

This is the first time an achromatic shade (gray) has been selected and only the second time two colors have shared the honors. In 2016, the pale pink of Rose Quartz (also known as “Millennial Pink”) and the blue of Serenity were selected as a gradient. This time the colors aren’t a gradient, but they are presented as a unified pair, intentionally signifying the solidarity as well as the strength and hopefulness needed in the coming year. “It was critical to have two independent colors that could come together. Not only to subliminally convey the message that we can’t do this alone—that we all need each other—but because it is the combination of the qualities of these colors that tells the story,” Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute, explained. 

For brands looking to take a cue from the Color of the Year 2021, Pantone says they don’t need to be used in equal proportions and either color can dominate across apparel, beauty, home furnishings, product design, or packaging to convey a “message of sunshine and strength.” In other words, either color can work well as a base with the other playing the supporting role as an accent or highlight. 

The combination of gray and yellow has already shown up in fashion runway shows for the spring 2021 collections, and marketers have been quick to promote merchandise in this year’s colors. Redbubble offers aprons, mugs, sheets, and comforters featuring the combination. You can purchase Nike gray-and-yellow running shoes, while Architectural Digest has already discussed the duo’s harmonious application as an interior accent (yellow) and exterior finish (gray).

While 2020’s Classic Blue was already omnipresent in digital and print marketing—echoing as it does the color of hyperlinks and Facebook’s logo—gray and yellow have been more prevalent in textile and interior design until now. That doesn’t mean that digital and print marketers can’t get in on the color trend action.

According to Pantone, “Pairing Illuminating, the color with the highest visibility and reflectivity with resilient Ultimate Gray produces a visually noticeable message no matter where it appears” and will infuse “vitality into a firm foundation of reliability” for packaging and multimedia design. As always, swatches, formula guides, and other tools for designers are available at pantone.com.