Check out past year’s Pantone color reports here: 2020 Classic Blue, 2019 Living Coral and 2018 Ultra Violet.

The Pantone Color Institute has selected two colors for 2021:  Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Yellow. “The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute in the press release.

“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

These thoughts are reflective of the events of the pandemic year, and offer a sentiment of how we move forward as well.

Greyellowhite #2, by Bob Hambly, part of his Greyellowhite series from Colourstudies.com

To get a perspective on the character of these two colors, we spoke with Bob Hambly, an artist, writer and founding partner of the Toronto-based design firm Hambly & Woolley. Hambly is the author of the site Colour Studies, where he looks at colors’ origins, history and meanings, and how they are used to create, communicate or influence. “Grey, for me, signals stability and tradition. It’s quietly going about its business in a confident way. I see yellow representing the future – carefree and unbridled,” he said. 

“Perhaps, a good solid mixture of these traits are what we need for 2021. Embrace the new, while respecting the past.”

Ceramic wares by KG Ceramics, paired and styled with the 2021 Pantone colors in mind.

The color choices are established by color experts at the Pantone Institute through a careful analysis of new color influences in the entertainment industry and films in production, art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design, popular travel destinations, as well as new technologies, materials, textures, and effects that impact color, relevant social media platforms, new lifestyles, playstyles, and socio-economic conditions.

The selection for 2020, Classic Blue, was eerily prescient, anticipating that we would need a sense of comfort and stability entering the uncertainty of a new decade. Little did we all know that that emotional perspective would be exactly what we might need in such a jarring year.

This year’s selection may seem dated to many of us in the craft world. Perhaps we’ve already seen this combination of gray and yellow a few years ago in fabric design or other craft media. More recently, we have seen warmer and earthier tones trending in our social media feeds. But Pantone’s Color of the Year is more of a forecast, rather than a report: a window onto where we might go, not where we are. What we can take away from this combination is its ethos, not just the colors themselves at face value.

A sample of 3rd Story Workshop’s Banner Year quilt pattern against a yellow background.

So what can you do with these color selections? Chances are you already have products that are either yellow or grey. Take product or social media photos using a simple background that is the other color. Alissa Kloet of Keephouse Studio started hand screen printing fat quarter bundles to offer quilters in 2020. She’s taking extra inventory and selling them as individual fat quarters or smaller bundles to appeal to this color combination.

Make a statement about what these colors mean to you as you move forward this year. Gray and yellow in combination invites a reflection of the past and a vision for what’s ahead. What elements are you taking from your past and building for the future?  What are you hopeful for in your life, your business, and for the world? 

Linoleum block inked with bright yellow by SRM Prints.

Take the combination of what might be relatively mundane to you – simple or industrial equipment usually in neutrals, for example – and accentuate it with Illuminating Yellow. Sarah Reed McNamara of SRM Prints is a printmaker based in Illinois. She recently posted a gray linoleum block inked with bright yellow and saw higher-than-usual engagement. “I think it’s a mix of Pantone 2021 being so striking, paired with a simple and pleasing mid-century inspired block print. Often less is more with design when you use high contrast colors.” She also thinks that showing her hand – the maker’s hand – in the image helps people see the handmade and human connection.

Folk Angel Fraktur punch needle pattern by Midnight Creative, featuring a colour palette that includes gray and yellow

Katie Stackhouse of Midnight Creative is a Certified Oxford Punch Needle Instructor and sells punch needle project kits. Her latest pattern, Folk Angel Fraktur, uses gray and yellow in combination with red-coral, neutral dark blue, and subtle teal accents. Highlighting color combinations that include the Pantone colors can give it a wider appeal.

The idea of using a neutral color with a pop of bright color is enduring. The contrast of quiet and loud, background and foreground – this is a principle that can be carried out in so many ways in craft, photography, design, and even writing. “[Gray and yellow] make for an odd couple and that’s why I like seeing them together,” says Hambly. “As the old adage says: opposites attract.”

“I’ve always loved the color grey – earthy, rich, low key and sophisticated. Yellow, in many ways, is the opposite – happy, brash and unforgiving. They make for an odd couple and that’s why I like seeing them together. Like the old adage says: opposites attract.” – Bob Hambly

Ultimate Gray and Illuminating Yellow – “a marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.” How will you use these colors to communicate your products and ideas this year?

Andrea Tsang Jackson

Andrea Tsang Jackson


Andrea is an artist, designer and quilter based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Quilting has become the medium through which she can explore her interests in material, geometry, and place. Her background in architecture has allowed her to understand the design process from a variety of approaches. As an educator, she wants to inspire others to reach their own creative potential and to see themselves as designers of their own lives. Although her favourite colours to wear and design with are neutral, she loves to play with colour in her 3rd Story Workshop. You can find her at www.3rdstoryworkshop.com.

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