A Look Back at Every Pantone Color of the Year Ever

updated Dec 5, 2019
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It’s crazy to think that Pantone has been forecasting “The Color of the Year” (COTY) for almost 20 years now. There are only so many shades in the rainbow, but I have to give it up to them for finding the nuances in hues to come up with something new year after year and link it to the zeitgeist. The world first started paying attention to the COTY selection somewhere between Honeysuckle and Tangerine Tango back in the earlier part of this decade. PANTONE didn’t really send out press releases or get lots of coverage for the colors until more recently.

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But now the COTY really does drive trends and has spawned other color of the year franchises from paint companies to cosmetics and beyond. In anticipation of this year’s big reveal, we thought it would be fun to look back at the COTYs of the past to see where PANTONE has been and where it could go in 2019. And so we begin back in the year 2000…

2000: Cerulean

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In its inaugural year, Pantone kicked the COTY selection off with Cerulean, which they actually called the “color of the millennium.” They felt consumers would be seeking inner peace and fulfillment in a time of uncertainty, while also reflecting on the past and looking toward the future. Thus, they chose this calming blue shade that’s reminiscent of the sky.

2001: Fuchsia Rose

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This sultry saturated pink might have been chosen for the sheer fact that it’s pretty much the opposite of 2000’s Cerulean. Things were a little more simplistic in Pantone land 20 years ago, it seems.

2002: True Red

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There’s not much out there on this color except that it might have been a reaction to the September 11th attacks. True red is exactly what it sounds like—red like a fire engine or a heart—a color that stands for compassion and love.

2003: Aqua Sky

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This quiet, contemplative blue was chosen by Pantone for its serene quality. Side note: This is going to be a trend with Pantone and their blues, which tend to pop up every few years.

2004: Tiger Lily

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Taking its color cue from the flower that shares its name, Tiger Lily was bright and had a touch of exoticism to it. Orange was apparently having a moment again, and Pantone wanted to tap into that cool factor this year.

2005: Blue Turquoise

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Pantone was really inspired by the colors of nature in the early days of the COTY franchise and chose Blue Turquoise because it was the color of the sea. Naturally, they felt the color would be calm and cool.

2006: Sand Dollar

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Was Pantone the first to predict the mortgage crisis of 2008? Well, they apparently chose this sandy tan neutral in 2006 as a reaction to the economy. Very interesting.

2007: Chili Pepper

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Pantone named this spicy red the COTY for its powerful expressiveness. Red is a color that demands attention, and at the time, Pantone felt people were all about making personal statements and going big and bold.

2008: Blue Iris

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The first of Pantone’s blueish-purple COTYs, Blue Iris was picked for its stable and calming blue undertones. The tinge of purple added a hint of excitement, according to Pantone. And this shade was meant to provide reassurance in our increasingly complex world.

2009: Mimosa

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Considering the economic climate, Pantone felt a dose of happy optimism was needed at this time and went with Mimosa, an ebullient, cheery yellow for 2009. It radiates the warmth Pantone believed people were craving.

2010: Turquoise

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Turquoise was all about escape—think tropical waters and the stress-free feeling of a vacation. Things hadn’t totally rebounded from 2008, and Pantone wanted to give people the distraction they so desperately needed. The shade derives its chill vibes from the blue undertones and its invigorating, recharging properties from the hints of green.

2011: Honeysuckle

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A pretty reddish pink, Honeysuckle was selected for its optimistic quality. Pantone wanted something that would lift people’s moods and provide confidence and enthusiasm. You can’t say pink isn’t a happy, joyful color, right?

2012: Tangerine Tango

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Pantone thought the world needed a little waking up. So they singled out this spicy reddish orange. Think of this one as a color of the sunset—vibrant and full of energy.

2013: Emerald Green

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This year was a total mellowing out of 2012. Instead of a vibrating warm tone, Pantone selected Emerald, a vivid but happy green. The thought was this deep jewel tone would enhance our sense of well-being and promote balance.

2014: Radiant Orchid

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This fuchsia pinkish-purple was chosen by Pantone for its warmth, joy, and ability to spark creativity.

2015: Marsala

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Like a fine wine, Marsala was chosen for its rich, full-bodied quality. Pantone saw the shade as sophisticated and earthy, touting its versatility as a color for living room upholstery, textiles, and rugs.

2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity

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For the first time ever, Pantone actually picked two shades, one was a warm gentle pink, Rose Quartz, that undoubtedly had something to do with the Millennial Pink craze. And that was paired with cool-toned Serenity, a soft tranquil blue. These colors were chosen to speak to people craving comforting shades, and is also representative of the increasing blur along gender lines.

2017: Greenery

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Greenery was a straight up reaction to the fast-paced technological bubble we all live in. Pantone felt people were looking to get away from their gadgets and connect instead with nature, and this zesty yellow green was a manifestation of that longing.

2018: Ultra Violet

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This second blue-based purple was chosen for its mysterious, dramatic, and imaginative qualities. Pantone said it was representative of the expansiveness of the universe, which sort of makes sense, since all things space and mystical are trending at the moment.

2019: Living Coral

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Things warmed back up for 2019, as Pantone picked Living Coral, a close cousin of 2012’s Tangerine Tango. This time around, Pantone’s orange-based hue was a little bit lighter and sweeter, making even easier to use as a decorative accent in rooms.

2020: Classic Blue

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To start the new decade off, Pantone went back to basics with Classic Blue. This color is the definition of chill but is also, well, deep—both literally and figuratively. Pantone sees the color as meditative and thought-provoking, just like the sky at dusk.