The Color of the Year for 2020 Has Magical Powers, According To Pantone
December 12, 2019
Each year for the past 20 years, the Pantone company– arbiter of all things color and distributor of expensive swatch books– has released their pick for “Color of The Year” to ever-increasing fanfare and influence. Last year, they used their choice “Living Coral” as an odd way to bring attention to our planet’s dying coral reefs. Reactions were mixed.
Pushing back against the criticisms of irony and tone-deafness, later in the year they partnered with Adobe and The Ocean Agency to double down on the concept by releasing three new tones which brought even more needed attention to the dire situation facing our ocean life.
This year, they’re going for something more positive and hopeful. And magical.
“Classic Blue” is Pantone’s official color of 2020, and according to them has a multitude of magical powers that sound like they could potentially bring peace and harmony to the planet– making me wonder why they didn’t pick it sooner.
In this post, I’ll tell you about Pantone’s famous color matching system, poke holes in some of their colorful hyperbole describing the powers of Classic Blue, dig into color psychology, and show how to use the color of the year for T-shirts.
What is Pantone?
The Pantone company is the creator of a proprietary color space that is used across many different industries and especially relied upon in the various design fields. They are based in New Jersey, have an interesting origin story and are best known for the Pantone Matching System (PMS), which is something we use every day here at RushOrderTees.
It’s essentially a standardized color reproduction system, allowing businesses and customers in different locations to identify and match particular colors to ensure they are looking at and talking about the same thing. This color-matching system is extremely helpful in avoiding color inconsistencies between the various types of print and other media.
The system allows you to request a specific color of your choice by giving us the Pantone number. We use their formula to mix the inks and get a perfect match. There is a small fee per Pantone, but it’s well worth it if your brand identity depends on specific colors. That way your shirt matches your business card matches your truck matches your sign, and so on.
Pantone has become the industry standard of color systems. They’ve become so popular and successful that they have all kinds of products you can buy for your home or office, and they even have a hotel for some reason. Their main product remains their Color Formula Guides, which are sets of swatch cards that open like a fan. We like to call them Fantone books.
We do love their system– and so does everyone else, apparently. Some would even say they have grown a cult following.
Colors most certainly have an effect on us impressionable humans, making our color choices important. And as a company whose success rests on that concept, Pantone is going to take that ball and run with it. And in their latest press release announcing Classic Blue as next year’s color, run with it they did. Maybe too far.
It starts out with: “…a timeless and enduring hue elegant in its simplicity. Suggestive of the sky at dusk…” Ok, so far so good. It continues: “the reassuring qualities of the thought-provoking Classic Blue highlight our desire for a dependable and stable foundation from which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.” with the “constancy and confidence that is expressed” it’s a “solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on.”
Sure, why not. I’ll give you those. But then we exit planet reality.
“Imbued with a deep resonance, Classic Blue provides an anchoring foundation. A boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky, Classic Blue encourages us to look beyond the obvious to expand our thinking; challenging us to think more deeply, increase our perspective and open the flow of communication.”
If this is true, therapists everywhere should be sending their office managers to the paint store for this magical color.
It goes on: “Imprinted in our psyches as a restful color, Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge. Aiding concentration and bringing laser-like clarity, Classic Blue re-centers our thoughts. A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience.”
It sounds a lot like a drug. Looking at the warm gray walls in my office, I suddenly feel deprived of laser-like clarity and scramble to find something blue to look at so I can re-center my thoughts and foster some resilience. I’m having full-on color FOMO. Thanks, Pantone! Now I must paint everything in my life Classic Blue.
Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of this stuff amounts to marketing hyperbole. That being said, and although I am poking some fun at Pantone here, there is something to it.
So just how powerful is the impression of colors on humans? And how much of that impression on us is based on psychology, how much on culture, and how much on personal preference?
Although there have been some interesting studies and plenty of articles about this growing field, and despite the authoritative proclamations made by the marketing folks at Pantone– queue the whoomp whoomp sound– the science is far from conclusive.
As researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier noted: “Given the prevalence of color, one would expect color psychology to be a well-developed area, surprisingly, little theoretical or empirical work has been conducted to date on color’s influence on psychological functioning, and the work that has been done has been driven mostly by practical concerns, not scientific rigor.”
Most colors simply don’t work the same on everyone, and any claims that they have universal powerful effects over us tend to be magical thinking– or marketing copy.
Colors are infused with meanings that have been cultivated through the histories of different cultures. So they can vary widely between cultures. For example, the color white is used in Western countries to signify purity and innocence, while it represents mourning in many Eastern countries.
Not only are the impressions of color different between cultures, but different between ages, and sexes, and even different in reaction among people of the same culture, age, gender, etc. Colors can have certain meanings to individuals through their own particular life experiences.
So rather than having universal effects, the influence of color is mostly an individual thing.
That being said, one exception is red. Of all the colors, it may have the strongest hold on the human mind and does not seem to be necessarily bound by geographic or cultural boundaries. Studies have shown red to influence a variety of people in similar ways, ranging from increasing sexual attractiveness to improving performance in combat sports.
Now that’s what I call magic powers. Ok, maybe not actual magic. Researchers are starting to understand how the subconscious emotional and behavioral effects of color on our biology come from deep in our evolutionary history. But it still feels like red has magic powers.
The same can’t quite be said for blue– although it is often cited as the most popular color.
“Cross-culturally, the most highly favored color is very saturated blue. That color is favored because it’s associated with things that are almost all good—a deep, clean lake, a clear sky or a beautiful sapphire gemstone,” reports Steve Palmer, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley.
Is it really all good though? All the associations that Pantone makes are positive, but to show you how subjective all this can be: Blue can also represent sadness. That’s why we ask if someone is “feeling blue”.
It’s also considered the most “cool” color. Which is not always a good thing, as many people don’t like the cold. Plus there’s the idea of being a cold person, as opposed to warm. If anyone ever calls you cold-blooded, that’s not a compliment.
“Blue comedy” is known as humor bordering on indelicacy to gross indecency. It might make some people laugh, others will be offended. What if someone hates blue cheese with a passion? Or got hit by a blue car and gets triggered by the color?
If you ever get injured or beat up and bruised, you’re “black and blue”. Which I don’t think is a good thing.
Still, it is widely reported to be most people’s favorite color when asked. So it’s got that going for it.
My point is that most of the popular color psychology information online is way too generalized, and it almost always only refers to hues. When you take a deep dive into the scientific research and look at how it actually applies (let’s say, for branding or marketing purposes) you learn that brightness and saturation have more of an influence than hue.
Bottomline: Each color has a variety of different meanings, and can represent different things to different people and in different contexts. So don’t ascribe too much universal meaning. And definitely don’t expect any magical powers of resilience or focus. Take it all with a grain of salt. Maybe that pink salt.
Classic Blue Ink
If you’d like to use this color ink for your print, the Pantone number they released, 19-4052, is not the number we need. That one references their system used for “fashion, home, and interiors”, so if you wanted to paint your room this color for some reason (magic powers?) you would bring that number to the store.
What we need for our purposes is the PMS number (Pantone Matching System) referring to the method used for mixing custom “spot colors” for printing. The PMS number for Classic Blue is 2154 C. If you don’t want to pay the small fee for a Pantone match, the closest in-house color (free) we have is Royal Blue.
There are Pantone books with a “U” after the numbers or an “M” after the numbers, which refer to the ink being shown on uncoated paper, or matte paper, respectively, while the “C” refers to coated paper. So what’s the difference?
Although the formula is the same, colors will look different on paper that is coated vs uncoated. The reason is that uncoated paper absorbs some of the ink, making it more muted, whereas with coated paper it sits on top, making it more vibrant and saturated.
For screen printing, go with coated paper swatch books for matching colors.
If you’re creating a design on your computer and want to add Classic Blue:
The RGB formula is R=0, G=70, B=128
The CMYK formula is C=100, M=65, Y=0, K=27
For best results, avoid working in CMYK. It’s best to submit your art files in RGB format because our digital printers can more accurately convert to CMYK than Photoshop on your home computer can (plus we have an extra red and extra green ink we utilize).
Classic Blue Shirts
If you’d like a T-shirt color in Classic Blue, the closest thing is going to be royal. Here are three of our most popular tees in royal. The Bella+Canvas Fine Jersey 3001 looks to be the closest color-wise, and it’s a great shirt. Highly recommended.
You can also get sweatshirts, hoodies, caps, tote bags and more to celebrate the year of Classic Blue. Are you ready to create your own Classic Blue inspired design? Jump into our Design Studio and get started now.
Hope you enjoyed this little crash course in Pantone color.
About the Author
A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.