Archive for July, 2011

Accessibility in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion

Last week Apple released Mac OS X 10.7, a.k.a. OS X Lion. There are many news and changes in this version of Mac OS X, some of them pretty fundamentally changing how you use your Mac. For an in-depth review of Lion I recommend John Siracusa’s Mac OS X 10.7 Lion: the Ars Technica review.

I’ve taken a look at some of the changes that affect accessibility, and there are quite a few nice improvements. The Mac OS X Accessibility page as always has an overview of the built in assistive technologies. There’s also an overview of what’s new on the page listing Lion’s new features. Here are some highlights.

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Copyright © Roger Johansson

Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

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 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers  in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers  in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Mention Jamaican music to someone who isn’t a fan and you can bet that a fairly predictable image pops into the head of your listener. Chances are this image looks something like the cover of Bim Sherman’s Exploitation:

Sherman-exploitation21 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Same old Rastafarian colors… Some guy with dreads… A title that refers broadly to political oppression or positive thinking without much in the way of self-critical awareness or irony.

For many people, this vision  —  of roots reggae and its deified lead singer —  is the only face that Jamaican music has to offer. (To be honest, the Jamaican music industry, in its eagerness to capitalize on the popularity of this face, hasn’t done much to contradict it.)

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find a dozen genres lurking beneath the tie-died surface of roots reggae. On the album covers belonging to these genres, moreover, you’ll find a dozen different — and sometimes contradictory — visual images of what it has meant to be Jamaican, besides the template of the righteous Rastafarian popularized by Bob Marley. Although the reggae of the 1970s popularized a message of political rebellion, you only have to go back a few years earlier to find album covers that unconsciously reflect the values of neocolonialism — Jamaica as cultural treasure chest waiting to be looted by foreign interests.

Equally complex is the relationship to pop culture: while many covers evidence a conscious Afro-centric opposition to Western society, many others adopt, mimic or are swallowed up by the conventions of American music and movies. You can see every chapter of Jamaica’s modern social history — the burden of colonialism, the optimism surrounding political independence, the social and economic problems that greeted self-rule — reflected in the typographic, illustrative and photographic choices made by its album cover artists over the last fifty years.

In The Beginning

For a country its size, Jamaica has a uniquely prolific music business. In 2000, the industry was estimated to account for 10% of the nation’s GDP (PDF). The footprints of this legacy go as far back as the 1940s, when radios and record players were used to blast American R&B out of storefronts as a means of attracting business. By the 1950s, the phenomenon of the sound system emerged: massive mobile speaker set-ups — run by flamboyant characters with names such as Tom the Great Sebastian — that channeled the music for huge outdoor dances that, in retrospect, look like the distant antecedents of rave culture. With such a uniquely mobilized musical audience in place, it was only a matter of time before the island began to produce its own genres of popular music.

Prince Buster in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
Legendary producer Prince Buster outside his store on Orange Street in the ska days.

Cultural Plunder In the Ska and Rocksteady Years


The first indigenous Jamaican pop music was ska, a fusion of American R&B, mento (a local genre of folk music resembling calypso) and other influences. In the late 1950s, local musicians and producers such as Coxsone Dodd, Prince Buster and Duke Reid began experimenting with inverting the typical R&B shuffle beat to move the stress to the after-beat. The result was a new concoction that early listeners sometimes referred to as “upside-down R&B.� In the words of session musician Ernie Ranglin: “Instead of the Chinnk-ka… Chinnk-ka… Chinnk-ka style, we ended up with Ka-chinnk… Ka-chinnk… Ka-chinnk.� Often played by large ensembles with full horn arrangements to stress the after-beat, ska music has an infectious upbeat energy that mirrored Jamaicans’ anticipation of political independence from Great Britain, which would officially arrive in 1962.

Listen: Girl, Why Don’t You Answer Your Name, Prince Buster

Who was the first international face of Jamaican music? Before Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff or Desmond Dekker, there was Byron Lee, the country’s original musical export:

Byron-lee-reggay-fever in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

This cover actually dates from 1973, but it typifies one way in which Jamaican music had tried to package itself since the beginning of the ska period: music with a light-skinned face (Lee was Chinese-Jamaican), playing for a light-skinned audience. Bright childlike lettering with no sharp edges. A cultural souvenir: exotic dance music with no complicating social narrative.

The attempt to market Jamaican music this way emerged at the beginning of the ska period in the 1950s to meet the surging upmarket tourist industry and the interest among American record labels in tapping the island’s music. It peaked at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, with a contrived and unsuccessful effort by the government to plant ska on the world stage and garner attention for the island as a tourist destination. To the great resentment of the musicians involved, the government selected Byron Lee’s Dragonaires as the backing band for this extravaganza — a decision presumably based on the band’s clean-cut presentation and on Lee’s political connections to future Prime Minister Edward Seaga. The affair failed to incite international interest in ska, and the only relic from the experiment is a forgettable album entitled Jamaican Ska, released by the US label Atlantic Records and timed to coincide with the ’64 World’s Fair:

Jamaican-ska in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Although the government would never again throw its hat in the ring with the same vigor, the effort to market Jamaican music to an explicitly foreign market would continue for many years to come. Many album covers would include a map of how to get to the island, instructions on how to dance once you get there, and plenty of goofball novelty typography in between.

Here’s Byron Lee and his Dragonaires again, “The Good Guys� amidst a dark island:

Byron-lee-rocksteady in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

And here’s a rocksteady compilation from the Treasure Island label, complete with copy that seems to have been written by the Jamaica Tourist Board:

Treasure-island-rocksteady in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

The situation becomes even more dubious when a girl is thrown into the bargain, as offered by several albums from the 1960s:

Reggae-girl in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

Treasure-island-ska in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Not that there’s anything unusual about putting a woman on an album cover — just about every genre in existence has tried it at some point. But it’s the racial tightrope that these covers walk — airbrushing their models to conform to Anglo-American standards of prettiness — and the associations made with pirate loot that make for a slightly queasy viewing experience today.

In later years, the most absurd culprit in this category was Trojan’s Tighten Up series, a set of compilations aimed at a white British audience, whose covers often evidenced all the subtlety and cultural sensitivity of early James Bond movies:

Tighten-up in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

None of this commentary is meant to reflect negatively on the music within. Regardless of the cover art, the songs of the ska and rocksteady eras burst with self-assurance and innovation. The point is that these genres reflect an industry that had forged its own musical consciousness but whose marketing and visual identities lagged behind. Even the majority of albums from this period that did not parrot colonial values still took their lead from American R&B covers. (See Chris Morrow’s Stir It Up: Reggae Album Cover Art, pages 17 to 19, for more rocksteady cover art drawn overtly from American R&B and soul albums.)

Egalitarianism In The Rocksteady Years


In the summer of 1966, the tempo of the music being produced in Kingston suddenly slowed, and music historians have been debating the causes ever since. One explanation is a heat wave that left audiences dying for a mellower beat to sway to. Another is a rising tide of violence at dances: suddenly, you didn’t want to be stepping on the toe of the person behind you. The most compelling explanation is the appearance of the first electric bass on the island — imported, in the irony of ironies, by none other than Byron Lee. While Lee’s interest in the instrument was purely practical — an electric bass was easier to tote around than an upright — the dynamics of the instrument helped shift Jamaican music towards a slower, heavier groove, featuring a smaller cast of musicians and more closely resembling the instrumentation of American soul music coming out of Stax and Motown.

Listen: Ba Ba Boom, The Jamaicans

Rocksteady is the genre that took its cue most explicitly from the US soul music of Stax and Motown, and the resemblance led to some distinction in the cover art. Instead of the larger ensembles that played ska music, rocksteady tended to involve a smaller number of musicians, which allowed more room for vocal harmonizing. This in turn created an interesting democratization of the band dynamic: rather than a clearly-defined lead singer with subordinates handling backup, the rocksteady structure often featured a trio on equal footing, each sharing lead duties — and consequently, all enjoying an equal chance at stardom. Covers from this period frequently show three vocalists standing shoulder to shoulder, with no apparent hierarchy:

Maytals in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Paragons-3 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The rocksteady years, while producing some sublime original music, also yielded innumerable remakes of American songs, and many of the covers of the time show expressive ways of communicating this:

Alton-ellis in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The heavy-handed “ROCK� lettering here serves as kind of “buyer beware� label to a Jamaican audience more partial to smooth soul sounds (represented here in script).

Social Consciousness And Self-Indulgence In The Reggae Era

Reggae and Rastafari

In 1968, the first reggae rhythms began to appear as musicians sped the tempo back up again, and increasingly sophisticated organ parts created more room for rhythmic syncopation from the bass and guitars. But the reggae era diverged sharply from rocksteady not just in music but by ushering a new era of political consciousness into Jamaican music. Whereas ska and rocksteady were essentially dance genres created in Kingston, reggae signaled a shift to a rural consciousness, which had always been the stronghold of political dissent in Jamaica and within the Rastafari movement in particular.

The term “Rastafariâ€� signals a belief in the messianic status of Haile Selassie (born Ras Tafari), the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. Shut out of mainstream Jamaican middle-class society until the 1970s — and thus shut out of ska and rocksteady — Rastafari finally bubbled up into the mainstream musical and social consciousness when the political and economic woes of Jamaica grew too great to ignore. Frequently derided as a kind of screwball mysticism, Rastafari is best understood as Jamaica’s native vehicle for black social consciousness, a political movement every bit as much as a religious one.

Listen: Police and Thieves, Junior Murvin

As reggae was coalescing as a style in Jamaica, Motown artists Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were locked in a public struggle with label boss Berry Gordy to buck the company’s rigid hit-factory structure and to make records with greater artistic freedom and social commentary. Although there was no such open insurrection in Jamaica, the shift to reggae signalled an analogous move towards an industry dominated by artists rather than producers. The results mirrored those up in Motown: the songs became longer, the structures more experimental, the lyrics heavier in theme. At its best, reggae was a radicalized version of pop music, with a heavy-hitting political and social relevance unlike anything seen before. At its worst, it showed bouts of self-indulgence that make you yearn for the disciplining hand of the ousted producers who ran the show during the rocksteady years.

The best photographic covers from this period serve as photo-journalism, taking you right into the rural realities of the third world:

Spear in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

Carolina in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

Meanwhile, the best illustrated covers from this period — especially those associated with Lee Perry’s seminal Black Ark studio — take on themes of suffering and political oppression in a style as creative and incisive as the music itself:

Max-romeo in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Junior-murvin in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The status of reggae singer as righteous judge passing verdict on society’s injustices inevitably led to a drift to self-indulgence, as well as a monotonous and humorless repetition of certain themes:

Jah-woosh in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

Dub-station in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Reggae’s drift from relevance to self-indulgence is especially evident in the album covers of its greatest star, Bob Marley. First, consider Burnin’ (1973), Marley’s last album with the Wailers.

Burnin in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The band is still an ensemble here, with Marley surrounded by his bandmates. While your reaction to this cover might depend on how you feel about wood grain, there’s no denying its immediacy. This feels not like a band of self-satisfied superstars, but rather like a band hungry for insurrection.

Marley’s next album, Catch A Fire, was picked up by Island Records, which made a conscious attempt to promote the artist as a rock star might be promoted, right down to the ostentatious album cover that would have been at home in a gatefold double album by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The first 2,000 copies of Catch A Fire had a design featuring a giant zippo lighter that is flipped open to reveal the record inside:

Zippo in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

In This Is Reggae Music (page 413), Lloyd Bradley writes approvingly of this development: “Up until Catch A Fire, if reggae album artwork didn’t look like publicity material put out by the Jamaican Tourist Board, then it featured somebody’s girlfriend looking nervous, near naked and not very sexy at all.� In retrospect, though, the conscious bloat of Catch A Fire seems more a part of the problem than the solution.

When biographers discuss how Marley was able to achieve superstardom where his peers failed, they often credit the ease with which he learned to play the part of rock god. By the time of Uprising — the last album released in his lifetime — the transformation was complete. The cover helped to cement his messianic status and set the template for the Bim Shermans of the world:

Uprising-e1309904208291 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Dub And The Super Ape


In an industry where sales were built around promoting a hit song on a 7-inch single, producers grappled for decades with the question of what to do with the leftover b-side. In Jamaica, where every penny counted, producers would sometimes save money by creating an instrumental version of the a-side. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, a sound engineer and former radio repairman named Osbourne Ruddock began to experiment with deconstructing and rebuilding these instrumental tracks. Dropping certain elements in and out of the mix, bringing a snatch of vocal track back for ghostly effect, applying echo and reverb from effects boxes of his own devising — anything was fair game. A bystander describes the crowd’s reaction when Osbourne — better known as King Tubby — played his concoction at a dance one of the first times: “The crowd did a quick double take and then went wild, pushing down the fence until it was flattened, and then rushed in, knocking the speaker boxes flyingâ€� (from Reggae: The Rough Guide, page 197).

King Tubby and fellow innovators — most notably, Lee “Scratchâ€� Perry — continued pushing the envelope during the decade, creating their own musical idiom in the process and pioneering the role of producer-as-artist that would later find expression in disco, house and other forms of remix-oriented music.

Listen: Roots of Dub, King Tubby

Dub is consciously spooky music, full of cavernous spaces, unexpected collisions and ghostly half-suggested vocal lines. Lloyd Bradley (in This Is Reggae, pages 309–310) describes the “disconcerting� listening experience as “a reach back to Africa�: “The crushing bass ’n’ drum remixes keep us on our toes with such seemingly arbitrary SFX as explosions, crashes, windows breaking and big dogs barking, while through the judiciously employed echo some frighteningly large spaces open up quite suddenly. Such offerings, vividly evoking the smokey intensity of Rasta drumming, were almost allegoric, designed to inspire a notion of simmering, meditative righteousness and to strike dread, both literally and figuratively, into the heart of Babylon. Just as obeah used to scare the crap out of white folks down on the plantation…�

For all its technological forwardness, there is a deliberate African primitivism to dub, a talismanic spookiness. And yet this primitivism is also a bit of a put-on, like a Halloween costume or a fish that blows out its cheeks to appear more gruesome. Many dub album covers from the mid-’70s — especially those belonging to Lee “Scratchâ€� Perry — capture this quality perfectly with their aesthetic of tongue-in-cheek savagery:

Super Ape in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Distended Marvel Comics-style lettering… A savage ape, emblematic of Africa… And yet the arrows and diagrammatic comic-book text tell us there’s an ironic self-awareness behind the whole thing.

Coxone in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Here, Coxsone Dodd — who had already been on the scene for about 20 years as a respected producer — wants you to believe that he was recently transformed into a woodcut monster.

The interest in Africa is also made plain on many Black Ark covers from this period, such as Lee Perry’s Chapter 1:

Chapter-1 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

See also the exquisite Heart of the Congos (not a dub album, but a classic Perry production from the mid-’70s nevertheless):

Congos in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Pop Culture, Movies and Dancehall

For all of the cultural defiance in some of the reggae album covers of the 1970s, Jamaican music has always been clearly influenced by American popular culture. Part of this stems from the Jamaicans’ love of a good joke, a willingness to subvert almost anything to playful effect. Secondly, Jamaicans love their movies. Thirdly, on an island where so many records are made, parody is in constant supply:

Harder-they-come in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The Harder They Come caused a sensation when the major motion picture opened in Kingston. Thousands of people without tickets tried to storm the gates of the cinema. The exquisite illustration and typography owe a debt to both Hollywood Westerns and blaxploitation.

Other times, Jamaicans’ obsession with movies comes across in ways that are overtly silly and farcical:

Good-bad2 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Perry-kung-fu in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Raiders-dub2 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

The island’s musicians have shown a willingness to cover just about anything (including Christmas), a tendency that is often perceived as showing a lack of integrity. It would be more apt to view it as part of the famed Jamaican resourcefulness, the habit of mining every last bit of available source material:

Tribute-beatles in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

These covers keep a safe satirical distance from the 500-pound gorilla that is US and UK pop culture. But during the dancehall phase of the 1980s, Jamaican sensibilities seem to get swallowed up by the aesthetic of materialism and arrogance in US hip-hop culture:

Yellowman-walking in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Lars Hasvoll Bakke)

Yellowman-nobody-move in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Credit Yellowman for at least maintaining a grotesque sense of humor in his postures (and, in some cases, a weirdly meticulous sense of photographic composition: check out how his belt aligns perfectly with the receding edge of the sidewalk in the cover above). As the ’70s rolled along, the appropriation of rap culture became depressingly void of self-awareness:

Supercat-boops in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Lars Hasvoll Bakke)

The ’80s: Things Unravel

With its lack of lyrical themes, dub music freed up cover artists to illustrate topical subjects and get the albums out onto the street in two to three weeks. London-based designer Tony McDermott, in particular, popularized a fun, irreverent approach to dub cover art in his work for musicians such as Scientist and Mad Professor:

Scientist-invaders in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Scientist2 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

By the mid-’80s, however, the comic-book style degenerated into an excuse to put out bad artwork quickly. These covers often accompanied albums that were themselves hastily assembled or poorly mastered reissue material. After King Tubby was mysteriously murdered outside his recording studio in 1989, for example, his backlog was looted and rushed out the door. This one in particular treats Tubby with all the dignity normally reserved for Burger King’s mascot:

Tubby-king-2 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

The ’80s in general were a difficult time for the industry. Reeling from the death of Bob Marley and destabilized by the collapse of punk, reggae staggered into the new decade, struggling to find a new identity. The album covers reflect the hard times, as the genre contributed some of the worst covers you’ll ever see from this period. See Crestock’s “42 Reggae Album Cover Designs� for some particularly gruesome examples.

Punany in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Hat tip: Chris Morrow)

Enter Blood And Fire

Just when it looked like every idea had been exhausted, every theme mined and every cliche deployed, we’re reminded that the genre can always be visually reinvented with a little fresh thinking. The English label Blood and Fire formed in 1993 with the intention of reissuing Jamaican music to the same standards as jazz and blues, thereby “saving it from the world’s bargain bins and half-price tags,� in the words of founder Steve Barrow. Blood and Fire specializes in dub reissues, and its innovative covers have created a new visual vocabulary for the genre:

Dub-crazy in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Gone are the attempts to personify Tubby as a cartoon character. Also gone, for that matter, are beaches, coconuts, women in bikinis, giant spliffs and every other tired staple of the genre.

Dub-crazy-2 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

In their place are tightly rendered scenes of scrap metal, raw surfaces and found objects: a commentary on the resourcefulness and grit of the producers who made dub music and the interior nocturnal spaces where they worked. Tubby and Lee Perry literally built their own studios, after all, as well as many of the devices and effects boxes therein. One of the great qualities of the Jamaican industry has always been its DIY ethic, which enables the music to stream from its makers to its audience with a minimum of calculation or interference from outside interests. Here is singer Max Romeo talking about the way things were done at Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio in the 1970s:

We were just messin’ around with lyrics and the melody. Scratch say: “Sounds good.â€� He come out and decide to record it right away. It was out on the street in a couple of days. That’s the vibe we had at Black Ark — you didn’t have to say tomorrow or next week. You sound good, you go right now. It was fun days.

– From the liner notes to the Arkology box set (emphasis added).

Max Romeo’s memory of a spontaneous musical culture, an environment devoid of record label executives and MTV influence, is what informs Blood and Fire’s album covers. Although Blood and Fire is unfortunately now effectively defunct, the torch has been passed to other labels, such as Pressure Sounds, which has continued to explore ways to creatively package Jamaican reissues:

Roy-wilson3 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

Royals1 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers


The modern history of Jamaica is a story that resonates in any number of former European colonies. But of all these countries, Jamaica is the only one whose music industry is so prolific that we can see the whole trajectory written on its album covers. Efforts to keep reggae popular on the world stage have led to a narrow conformist definition of the genre’s visual brand — an ironic fate for a music that is supposed to be about diversity and rebellion. The impressions left behind on Jamaica’s album covers, however, point to a wider and more fragmented social history, one that lacks the conformity of a marketing campaign and that contains the multitude of contradictions in the postcolonial experience.

One for the Road

Quick quiz for design nerds. Why does this posthumous compilation of The Skatalites’ deceased saxophonist include lettering from the Arts and Crafts period?

Tommy1 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers

3336659608 90a79fc302 in Design Legacy: A Social History Of Jamaican Album Covers
(Image: R~P~M)

Answer: Tommy McCook … Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Hey, whatever works.

Other Resources

You may be interested in the following articles and related resources:


© Dan Mayer for Smashing Magazine, 2011.

Skyline Photography At Its Best


Architecture tends to be an abundant source of inspiration, with so many classic and modern styles blending throughout cities all over the world. One such iconic source that many turn their photographic eye to, is city skylines. The looming structures carving out a recognizable silhouette as they climb high against the colors of the day or night sky.

Today we have collected an inspirational showcase focusing on these skylines and some of the breathtaking photos they have lent their architectural compositions to. We hope that you will find some inspiration in the photos below that you can carry with you into whatever project you have at hand. Enjoy!

The Lines

San Francisco Skyline by Curtis Fry

Send me a Postcard HDR by ISIK5

Skyline Frankfurt by Moritz Sirowatka

sydney harbour bridge by glasseye1

Skyline at night by Jo@net

Tokyo 491 ftemp by shiodome

Skyline by Rupert Ganzer

Miami Skyline by isacg

Skyline de Londres by Isaac Bordas

Chi by jonniedee

Skyline FFM by Rupert Ganzer

Kuala Lumpur by MSH-Photography

Skyline Evening View of San Fran by Etsy Ketsy

Sunset over the City by ex-sitacoes

Skyline by Gorka Labarga

Tokyo 1439 ftemp by shiodome

Skyline by Guido Heitkoetter

Good Morning, London. by geckokid

Skyline by Ricelife

The Moscow Saga by inObrAS

Skyline Richmond Virginia by rvaphotodude

Lights in the fog by RitterRunkel

Skyline by Loozrboy

Through the Roof by gilad

ffm skyline by Rupert Ganzer

city glow by almiller

Skyline Rotterdam (HDR) by Wilco Schippers

Hong Kong Symphony of Lights by angelreich

San Diego Skyline by Jamie Lantzy

Dubai Jumeirah by angelreich

Skyline de San Gimignano by Guillén Pérez

New York State of Mind by dmack

Singapore Skyline by Jo@net

montreal skyline (2) by llahbocaj

Happy New Year by AstralWind

Edinburgh skyline by rovingI

Moscow 2 by andrewhitc

Singapore Skyline by Jerine Lay

Glasgow-skyline by baaker2009

Skyline – Hong Kong, China by Jim Trodel

Miami Skyline by Mr.Thomas

Skyline near the Tokyo Tower by credit_00

Vancouver Night Skyline by Andrew Budreski

Skyline from Pemberton Place_0192 by James Emery

Untitled by Toni Verd

Portland, Oregon Skyline by travelportland

Louisville Skyline in HDR by Kara B

Prague by lesogard

Benidorm skyline by Ross Hawkes

At the lights by petemc


Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Advertisement in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools
 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools  in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools  in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Adobe Illustrator is one very useful program for creating vector artwork. The tools and features available in Illustrator make it easy to create digital illustrations, whether from scratch or by tracing a photograph.

But this is not all Illustrator can do. Businesses can create impressive graphs using Illustrator’s Graph tools. Marketers can use the impressive Type tool and other type features to design single-page ads. Designers create logos and other marketing graphics that need to be scalable in Illustrator. In short, Illustrator is a comprehensive vector program that is difficult to master.

The aim of this article is to provide one more resource for those of you yearning to learn more about Illustrator. We’ll look at one of the less-mentioned features: the Warp tools, also known as the ‘Liquify tools’.

For you Photoshop gurus, these are similar to Photoshop’s Liquify tool, except that the Liquify effects seen in Photoshop are broken down in Illustrator into seven different tools: Warp, Twirl, Pucker, Bloat, Scallop, Crystallize and Wrinkle. These seven tools are all a part of Illustrator’s Liquify package.

At first glance, some of these tools may look the same, but each has a special effect. And we’ll explore the various effects by creating an ornamental illustration involving branches, vines and flowers. You’ll be able to save and add each of the design elements to your collection of Illustrator symbols as well.

So, open up Illustrator, and get ready to dive into a learning experience that is sure to improve your logos, illustrations, posters and more.

Accessing The Tools

In versions CS to CS4, the Liquify tools are located in the toolbar directly below the Rotate tool and above the Live Paint Bucket tool. In Illustrator CS5, the Warp tools are in the same location but now underneath the new Width tool.

Simply click and hold the Width tool to view a pop-out menu of the seven Liquify tools. Then release your mouse over the tool you want to use. Or simply use the keyboard shortcut Shift + R to access the basic Warp tool.

01 Accessing-the-Warp-Tools2 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

To keep the Warp tools handy, click on the “Tearoff� arrow to the right of the pop-out box. This will detach the tools from the toolbar so that you can access them much more easily while working.

02 Tear-Out-of-Warp-Tools1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Basic Use

Before diving into a design project, you will need to know some of the usability features of the Liquify tools. For instance, all of the tools can be used to warp an object inward or outward, as shown in the image below (created using the Bloat tool). When creating an inward warp, you need to start with the crosshairs outside of the path. The opposite goes for an outward warp: keep the crosshairs inside of the path.

03 Placement-of-Crosshairs in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

When using the tools, simply click once to reshape the image, as done with the Bloat tool above (this feature does not work with the basic Warp tool). Or drag the tool across the image for a more dramatic effect, as in the following example, done with the Twirl tool:

04 Dragging-Cursor-Across-Image in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

For better results along paths, make sure that the crosshair icon in the center of your brush is on the path that you want to reshape when clicking on the object. This will ensure that the brush selects the actual path, rather than having more of a pushing effect against the path.

05 Placing-Crosshairs-on-a-Path in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

To open the “Options� box and change the settings for a Warp tool at any time, simply double-click the tool’s icon:

02 WarpToolOptions1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

All of the tools have the same basic brush dimension options, which include width, height, angle and intensity. Basically, the width and height options change the shape of the brush; although, a quicker way to adjust the brush’s shape is to hold down Option/Alt while dragging the mouse across the screen. (And hold down Shift + Option/Alt to keep the dimensions of the brush proportional.)

The angle option adjusts the angle of the brush. For instance, if your brush is an oval shape, it would be angled to the left at 120° and to the right at -120°.

The intensity option, of course, adjusts how much of a change each stroke makes. If you want more control, select a lower number. If you want a dramatic change, select a higher number. If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet device, the “Pressure Pen� option lets you control the intensity with the pressure of your pen on the tablet.

The lower half of the “Options� box contains adjustments specific to the reshaping brush you have selected. Many of the tools include “Detail� and “Simplify,� but the Twirl, Pucker, Crystallize and Wrinkle tools include several other options as well, covered in more detail later. Keep in mind that the best way to learn each Warp tool is to play around with the options yourself.

Using Warp, Twirl And Wrinkle To Create Vines

The Warp, Twirl and Wrinkle tools do an amazing job of creating wood grain and branch or vine shapes. The easiest way to do this is to create a brown rectangle and then fill it with lines. You can either use the Line Segment tool to create and duplicate line patterns in a slightly darker brown than the rectangle background, or follow the easy tutorial on creating a wood grain texture from VecTips.

01 Brown-Rectangle-with-Lines1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Double-click on the Warp tool and change the width to 50 points, the height to 50 points and the intensity to 30%. This is the basic and most well-known of the Liquify tools, but maybe only because it is first in the menu. With this tool, you have to move the mouse to make changes; simply clicking in one spot does not reshape an object.

To get a glimpse of how this particular tool works, drag the Warp tool across the top of the rectangle, while ever so slightly shaking it up and down. The Warp tools tend to distort if used too much, so if you do not like the effect created, hit Ctrl + Z to erase moves and try again. Keep sweeping the Warp tool across the rectangle in small sections until you have created lines that look like wood grain:

03 WarpToolCreatingWoodGrain in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Tip: If you followed the technique of creating individual lines, go to ObjectPathJoin before moving on to the next step.

Now for the fun part: creating a vine to save as a symbol. Double-click on the Twirl tool to see its settings. In addition to the settings for the regular Warp tool, you will notice a “Twirl Rate� option. This affect how fast or slow, as well as which direction, the tool turns in a circular motion. A negative number will twirl the tool clockwise; a positive number will turn it counter-clockwise.

04 TwirlToolOptions in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Use the settings in the image above, and then click on each corner of the rectangle. Make sure the crosshairs stay on the outside of the rectangle. The Twirl Rate is set to make the tool turn counterclockwise; but rather than opening up “Options� every time you need to change the direction, use the hot key: Option/Alt. Make sure, though, to click first and then hit the hot key, or else Illustrator will think that you are trying to change the brush size rather than the direction of the twirl.

05 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

The best part of the Twirl tool is its ability to produce many unique shapes. If you want, you could go crazy twirling the tool across the entire page. Create something like the graphic below by changing the intensity to 50% and the twirl rate to 50. Then start in the upper-left corner of the wood, and drag the tool up and down the graphic; then swipe it once briefly horizontally across the center. Results will vary depending on your motions.

06 Abstract-with-Twirl-Tool in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Or you could be more controlled with your movements using Twirl and create vine-like branches, like the ones below. To get a similar look, use the same settings that you used to create the four twirled corners of the wood piece; only make the brush smaller by holding Shift + Option/Alt and clicking and dragging your mouse across the screen. Change the size to create different-sized branches. Now click along the edges wherever you think a small branch should be. Remember to hit Option/Alt after clicking the mouse to change the direction of the twirl.

07 Beginning-twirls in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Vines are not perfectly circular, though, so add some character to each one by clicking it with the Twirl tool, again changing the brush size as needed.

08 Add-Character in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

The Warp tool is excellent for molding shapes, which is exactly what this ornamental branch needs at this stage of the process. Double-click on the Warp tool, and change the width and height to 50 points and the intensity to 50%. Then, start pushing the brush against any sharp or straight edges. You can also pull out some of the edges or pull on a few twirled vines.

09 ShapewithWarpTool in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

You may want to play around with the Warp tool to see just how far you can stretch graphics. Change the intensity to 100%, and start stretching and pulling on branches. You may get something like the following:

10 WarpHighIntensity in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Now double-click on the Wrinkle tool. You’ll notice that this tool comes with extra settings. The “Horizontal� and “Vertical� settings control the direction of the wrinkles. When working on a complex image with multiple anchor points, you may want to select “Brush Affects In/Out Tangent Handles,� rather than “Brush Affects Anchor Points,� to limit the effects of the tool. To add a slight texture to the smooth parts of the ornamental wood design, use the following settings:

11 Wrinkleoptions1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

The longer you hold the Wrinkle tool, the more it will wrinkle the image. You can create something like the following texture by dragging the tool across the smoother sections of the graphic, making sure the crosshairs of the cursor are close to the edges to be wrinkled.

12 Wrinkletoolonbranches in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

You may notice that the Wrinkle tool works almost like sound waves and creates some really interesting effects. Change the intensity to 100%, and drag the tool across the entire design. Now your branches will look almost mossy, or at least tangled with vines.

13 Mossy in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Using Pucker, Scallop And Warp To Create Flowers

Here’s one easy way to create flowers. Start by creating an oval shape and filling it with a gradient. Then double-click on the Pucker tool, and change the intensity to 50%. Make the size slightly larger than the width of your oval but not as high. Then click and hold over the center of the oval until the sides come together in the middle.

If the brush is higher than the oval, then the entire shape will disappear because the Pucker tool draws points on a path together. Just as when you draw fabric together, however, the Pucker tool does not delete points of a path but simply gathers them together, shrinking the total area:

14 Puckered-oval in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Now right-click on the puckered oval, go to TransformRotate, enter 90°, and hit “Copy.� Place this rotated copy over the first petal. With this petal selected, go to TransformRotate again, enter 45°, and hit “Copy.� Select this last petal, go to TransformRotate, and create a 90° copy. Now select the entire flower, right-click, and select “Group.� Right-click again, and select TransformScale. Set “Uniform Scale� to 50%, and hit “Copy.� Place this copy over the center of the larger flower, and “Group� the entire image again.

15 Rotateandscaled-flower in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Select the Warp tool, and using an intensity of 30% and an appropriate size, sweep it across the petals to create a wilted look. If the center of the flower looks loose, then use the Scallop tool at an intensity of 30% or less and click once on the center. Make sure the size is no larger than the center petals. Create a few variations:

16 Flowers in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

You may want to play around with the Pucker and Scallop tools to see the different effects they create. As mentioned, Pucker draws points together, and it will do so even when you are dragging the brush across an image. Below, the brush was dragged outward on five different sections of the flower, using an intensity of 100%.

17 Pucker-on-flower1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

The Scallop tool can create quite a variety of designs with its multiple settings. Keep in mind, though, that the higher the number for “Complexity� and “Detail,� the more the effect will just look like thick black strokes. The first flower below was created using a complexity of 5, detail of 10 and intensity of 30%. The second flower has a complexity and detail of 2 and an intensity of 30%; the scallops are much more noticeable. Increase the intensity to 100% and drag the brush counter-clockwise on the flower to create an image like the third flower below.

17 Flowers-with-setting-changes2 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Using Bloat And Crystallize To Create Mossy Vines

The Bloat tool is similar to Warp in that it can be used to shape objects, except that it “bloats� outward or inward, almost as if someone put a magnifying glass up to the object and captured the resulting image.

Before selecting Bloat, draw a long rectangle, and fill it with a brown and green gradient. Double-click on the Bloat tool, and change the intensity to 50%. Click “OK,� and hold Shift + Option/Alt to give the tool about the same circumference as the width of the rectangle. Begin bloating the rectangle into a vine shape. You may want to start at each end first:

19 Firstbloatonrectangle in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Continue shaping the vine with Bloat. Try long strokes across the length of the vine, both above and underneath. To create thinner lines, place the crosshairs of the brush outside of the paths to push against the shape. To make parts of the vine thicker, place the crosshairs on the inside of the image.

20 Shapevine1 in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Further shape the vine with the Bloat tool, adding stubs by using a smaller brush size and dragging sections of the vine outward. You may want to change the intensity to 100% to create more dramatic strokes. Change the size of the brush as needed.

21 Shapeaddsmallvines in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Although quite similar to the Scallop tool, the Crystallize tool is unique in that it creates more of a starburst effect, almost as if groups of crystals were bursting out of the image. You can use this effect to create fur for animal illustrations or to draw fungus (as you will be doing next).

Double-click on the Crystallize tool, and change the intensity to 100%. Click carefully on different areas of the inside of the vine, changing the size of the brush to create different looks. Notice the difference in effect from placing the brush closer or farther away from the edges. Remember to hit Ctrl + Z to erase brush strokes if needed. You can also click a few times on the outside of the vine using a smaller brush size to create more of a spiked effect:

22 Crystallize in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

Now change the intensity to 50%, and click on some of the “crystals� to grow more interesting fungus shapes. Try some clicking and dragging to elongate the crystals.

23 Morefungi in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools


Create different vine shapes, add a few leaves, and then scale, rotate and reflect each piece. Put them all together to create your unique vine illustration, made using the entire Liquify tools collection.

24 Final in Examples And Tips For Using Illustrator’s Warp Tools

In Conclusion

The Liquify tools in Adobe Illustrator are a hidden gem of sorts. Not many tips for them are available online, yet each tool can produce a unique warp effect, and all are exceedingly useful for various projects. Just remember that, as with most other tools, the best way to learn the Warp tools is to use them over and over and over. Play around with the settings for each one to see what amazing designs this incredible set of tools is really capable of. Then share what you have learned, or display your art for the online design community to enjoy!

(al) (il)

© Tara Hornor for Smashing Magazine, 2011.

The Open Source Movement


The open source movement or philosophy is something that I am truly passionate about, and something that can have beneficial effects for all industries related to technology and its use. In this article, I’ll outline information about the philosophy, what it means for the web design industry, how you can benefit as a designer, and how you can contribute.

It’s all about participation – picture by opensourceway

One of my favourite attributes of the world of open source is its relatively innocent and philosophical nature. Too often we can get wrapped up in the dollars and cents of our industry and lose the core passion that brought us to it in the first place. Open source philosophy and resources can be a sweet glimmer of idealism that works to support the overall community through the work and generosity of its members. Not only does the result improve the quality of the web we work with, but it also aids us in each of our commercial projects by lending efficiency, solutions, and ideas that may have been a struggle to work out independently beforehand.

What is the Open Source Movement?

From a high level perspective, open source is a license (or lack of license!) that allows end users to first obtain a product or creation for free, and second to modify it as they see fit without restriction. What this does is increase distribution and improves the product over time. Keep in mind that this is quite a general definition and that open source resources can be licensed in a variety of ways – this to be covered shortly.

Beyond being a simple license designation, there is a growing philosophical and subjective side to the open source movement centering around the concept that all information should be shared with all individuals, everyone freely given opportunities to use the information, and everyone free to contribute. From a high level view, this should theoretically create more benefits over time than a privatized and competitive industry inserting limited resources and seeking financial gain.

Brand vs. Community – picture by opensourceway

A popular and well-known proponent of the open source philosophy is Canonical Ltd., the organization which releases free Linux operating system packages and develops a thriving community of software developers.

For example, imagine a PHP content management system that could go down two paths – the open source route, or the privatized route. Through the open source path, users are free to modify the code to perfectly match it to their projects, and submit any enhancements or improvements that they can offer back to the community to make the next release a better product. Under the privatized route, a team of developers would work on the project perpetually, fuelled by revenue made by selling licenses for distribution. This comes with restrictions on modifications and commercial use.

What’s The Catch?

It’s not all sunshine and smiles however, as there are benefits and detractors for each path. The benefits of open source production have been touched upon, as well as the downside of privatized competitive industry. Conversely, what are the downsides of open source and the upsides of privatization?

In a World of Registered Trademarks – picture by opensourceway

The downside of open source is that it relies on a community to support it and propel it forward. With no community, the product will be dead in the water like a sailboat with no wind. Active participants are the key ingredient to positive open source progress, and without them, the entire system breaks down. The upside of privatization, along the same lines, is that it requires no community but rather pulls from a talent pool and job market to bring the top software developers under one roof, and guarantee their input through salaries paid from the sales profits. Regular releases, diligent support, and some level of quality are all guaranteed under this model.

Overall, open source has more potential for quality, but comes with no guarantees. Privatization comes with certain guarantees but has limited potential as development is not open to the entire world. The last piece of the puzzle is political – socialist idealists generally love the open source concept, while competitive capitalist proponents may be more inclined stand beside privatization and the benefits of competitive industry.

A full description of the philosophy and its practice can be found on and in this Wikipedia article.

What Does It Mean For Our Community?

Whether you’ve heard of or understood the concept of open source before, you’ve most certainly interacted with it inside the web design community. Free web templates, most content management systems, and a ton of the content featured by online web design magazines and resource lists all fall under this category. There are a ton of resources out there dedicated to moving the web design industry forward by providing free products and services as well as total transparency into the process and the source code.

To give it some perspective, try adding the phrase “open source� when you’re looking for a piece of software or a web resource using Google. Whenever you see those words on a web site, you can be guaranteed that it’s 100% free with no strings attached, and hopefully has a supporting community that you can tap into for specific questions. This is something I especially value when looking for and using a CMS.

The Open Source Success – picture by opensourceway

Under the open source philosophy, the potential for the web design community is limitless. Working together to share knowledge, resources, and best practices will propel everyone forward. The best part is that following this line of thinking will not detract from our opportunities for web design revenue. Open source resources can usually be used within commercial projects, and there remains a huge amount of potential web clients available. Indeed, continued collaboration should simply enhance the skill and experience of each designer and create a better web from the inside out.

“These changes, among others, are ushering us toward a world where knowledge, power, and productive capability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history”
- Don Tapscott, Wikinomics

Know Your Licenses

Web content isn’t simply divided between open source and commercial – there are a wide variety of licenses that fall on a scale of requirements and restrictions of use. For example, the GNU GPL (General Public License) is a “copyleft” license with details concerning source code, permissions, modifications, and more.

A comprehensive list of common software licenses can be viewed here on the GNU web site.

GPL (General Public License)

The GNU General Public License is probably the most commonly found license in application within the web design industry. Under this license you are free to modify the resource to meet your needs and even redistribute it as long as you make the source files available when doing so. GPL resources can be used in commercial projects under the right to sell copies. Full details and explanations of the terms of the GPL can be found here.

Creative Commons Licenses

Many readers will have heard of the Creative Commons. This group currently has 6 types of licenses that are also commonly used. Each of these allows others to copy and/or modify work, but only if they give credit to the author in whatever form they request. These 6 license differ in other ways, however, such as some allowing commercial redistribution and some not, and some allowing modification and others requiring none. Read all of the details here.

MIT License

The MIT license originated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is also known as the “X11 License”. This type of license allows users to modify, copy, merge, publish, and/or sell the resource provided that they include a copyright notice and the MIT license permission text. Lastly, the license stipulates that there is no warranty or guarantee included with any MIT licensed resources – essentially freeing the authors from any risk of liability through their use.

The Public Domain

Often resources are completely released into the “public domain”, which means that the copyright holder waives all rights to the work and in a sense lets it into the wild with no restrictions or licenses applied. If you find these resources, use them however you’d like.

And More…

There are literally hundreds of software and web resource licenses – and many of those have multiple versions. It’s important to understand the terms of a license agreement and to be careful when using licensed materials. Great resources to read full license text and learn more are Wikipedia, Creative Commons, GNU, and The Open Source Initiative.

When In Doubt…

Contact the author! Licenses need to be taken seriously and the terms followed diligently. If any communication is unclear, or if no license type is listed at all, open licensing can’t be assumed. The best course of action in any scenario of confusion is to contact the author of the work directly and ask for specific permissions of use. Simply taking a resource and using it, or even giving credit to the author directly in its application, may not be acceptable and could even lead to legal repercussions – not to mention affecting your credibility and brand.

In fact, approaching the author of a resource with a request for its use, even uses outside the stipulations of the license, can prove beneficial. Once an author (or copyright holder) produces a resource and licenses it they will always retain the write to waive restrictions or copyrights.

How Can I Benefit From It?

I’ve already mentioned the overall benefits of free and modifiable products and services, but I’ll list some specific examples here to get you started on the right path:

Popular Open Source Projects

Web Editors

Photoshop Alternatives

Office and Web Tools


As you can see, open source alternatives provide the means to do everything you would ever need to accomplish during a web design project – without shelling out thousands of dollars for software licenses! It is the beginning or independent designer’s best friend.

How Can I Contribute?

This article wouldn’t do the open source community justice if it didn’t include an urge for contribution. In this community of ours we need to give as well as take – it’s great that there are so many free resources out there, but when was the last time that you created and distributed one of your own? The entire philosophy and optimism for growth rests on this principle – please give back what you can, where you can, and when you can!

The Fortune Cookie says… – picture by opensourceway

This doesn’t need to entail creating your own daunting software project, or slaving away on a free icon set. Instead, it can simply mean contributing suggestions for improvement to existing systems and communities, creating a simple plugin for a CMS, and the like. Diversity is also an important concept when contributing – take a look at what’s out there and think about what you can contribute that is both unique and useful. Be aware of these opportunities to help move our community forward and strive for an improved web.

For example, the lead developer at Fluid Media runs and maintains a GitHub social coding account to provide source code for projects as well as to contribute bug fixes found in any systems that we use.

  1. Identify a Need

    This can occur in one of two ways. First, you can observe what open source resources are currently available to the web design community and identify an area where there are few or no resources. Second, you may already have resources or even code snippets that have been used or are currently being used as part of commercial web design projects. Did you figure out the most efficient sticky footer yet? Share it!

  2. Package and Prepare

    If you’ve spotted a need or a gap in the existing resources – or something you’ve already created that could aid others in the community, put together the source files and published files, provide a bit of documentation, and presto – you’re ready for release. If you’re selecting a specific licensing path, be sure to stipulate it as clearly as possible to avoid any violations, as well as linking to the full license text and details.

  3. Publish

    There are hundreds of ways to provide the community with your open source work ranging from GitHub for code snippets to DeviantArt for icon sets and graphics. Many authors also host tips, tricks, code, graphics, or project source files on their own web sites. It’s always great to see web designers helping web designers.


The open source philosophy is something that I truly believe in, and open source resources are products and technology that I use often in my projects as I’m sure we all do. The talent is out there, as well as the various avenues to provide solutions – it’s up to us to keep the ball rolling and share our discoveries with the overall community to improve the web as a whole.


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