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The Photoshop Elements toolbar overview

The marquee tools

The marquee tools are used for a wide variety of things in photoshop. The tools come in 4 flavors, rectangular, elliptical, single row, and single column. There is also the crop tool which we will touch on in a few. The marquee’s are used generally for selecting areas of the image, or to draw shapes of the respective types.

Options

Shift constrains aspect ratio if no other selection is active. Shift adds to the selection if another selection is active. Using the ctrl keys, will allow you to make cutouts of the shapes you create, and using the ALT keys in combination with the marquee, you can create shapes using the background color as a fill.

Alternates

Rectangular: sets marquee shape to rectangular.
Elliptical: sets marquee shape to elliptical.

Single Row: only a single row of pixels are selected.

Single Column: only a single column of pixels are selected.

The move tool

Allows you to move the selection ( layer, floating object, etc ).

Shift constrains moving to vertical, horizontal and 45 degrees only. Option clones the selection before moving.

The arrow keys move in single pixel increments.

Shift-arrows move in 10 pixel increments.

The lasso tools

The lasso is used as a freeform selection tool.

Shift adds to the selection if another selection is active.
Option turns the lasso into a point-to-point polygon selector.

Option subtracts from the selection if another selection is active.

Shift-option selects the intersect of two selections.

Hitting delete while drawing removes the last created point if you’re in polygon mode.

The magic wand tool

The magic wand selects all colors similar to the pixel clicked, provided it is part of a continuous region.

Shift adds to the selection if another selection is active.
Option subtracts to the selection if another selection is active.

Shift-option selects the intersect of two selections.


A tolerance level can be set that determines what the wand calls a “similar” color. This value can range from 0-255.

The crop tool

The crop tool cuts out the selection and puts it in a new canvas. You can toggle a fixed target size for the crop tool. Say you wanted to make a sequence of scanned photos of the same size. You can set the target size and the crop selection will be constrained to those proportions, and once you crop, the image will automatically be resized to the target size.

The slice tools

The slice tool is used to divide images into rectangular sections which are saved into separate files. Slices are in general because they allow Web pages to load more quickly, and so that the individual slices can have different optimization settings, or be used as links. A small portion of a large image will load quickly when divided up, and can be viewed while the rest of the image slices are being downloaded to complete the picture. This gives the user the impression that they don’t have to wait too long for the entire page to download.

Once you have divided up your image into slices, you can select slices using the select slice tool, and specify properties of that slice..such as which URL the web browser will go to when that particular slice is clicked on.

 

The airbrush tool – Photoshop Brush Tool

The airbrush is a paint tool with gradual saturation, and works much like a real airbrush would.

Shift-dragging constrains airbrushing to vertical and horizontal only.
Shift-clicking “connects-the-dots” between successive clicks.

Option temporarily activates the eyedropper.

You can set the fade-out of the airbrush tool (works like you expect, like a linear gradient on a path) to either transparency or to the background. You can also set the pressure of the brush or how quickly it saturates (similar to the paint/water ratio in a real airbrush).

The Paintbrush tool

The Paintbrush tool is a painting tool that applies the current foreground color with a soft anti-aliased brush stroke.

You can use the Paintbrush dialog box to modify the operation of the Paintbrush tool. The paintbrush tool has a host of different brush types, sizes, and also has an option for “wet edges” which causes the paintbrush to create a translucent line with darker edges. See my examples of paintbrush ‘brush’ types below.


Various paintbrush types.

The Pencil tool

The Pencil tool is a painting and image-editing tool that applies the foreground color to a single pixel in your images or paints a one-pixel wide stroke. See my examples below. There are similar brush types to that of the paintbrush, however you can not get that “wet” look like that of the paintbrush tool. However it is an excellent tool for doing pixel by pixel work on an image.


Various pencil types.

Clone and Pattern stamp tools

With the clone stamp tool (formerly known as the rubber stamp tool), you can duplicate ( clone ) a portion of an image and paint that duplicate area onto any other part of the image. The size of the area copied depends on the brush size you select from the brushes menu on the tool’s options bar. How the copy merges with the new area is determined by the choices you make on the options bar.

Hold down the Alt key while clicking to specify the area of the image you wish to transfer or copy. Then release the Alt key, move the pointer to where you want to apply that data and click, or click and drag. Cross-hairs will appear to show you where you are copying from. When you start painting, the cross-hairs will be at the spot where you Alt clicked. Depending on whether you chose ‘Aligned’ in the options bar, the cross-hairs will parallel your strokes, or return to that original spot after each release of the mouse button. This process can get tricky at times, but a little practice you will be a cloning expert in no time.

You can see from the example to the right what the end result of cloning the word “icehouse” would look like. This process only takes a few seconds.


Here is an example of an image before it was cloned.


And after.

The history brush tools

The history brush works very similar to the stamp cloning tool, however instead of simply being able to copy the current image, the history brush tool will allow you to copy and previous state of the image in the history to the current state. Note however that this tool copies from one layer to the active layer only, not all layers.

The art history brush is similar to the regular history brush, however it allows you to copy to the current active layer in a modified manner, similar to applying a filter effect. The Photoshop manual suggests filling the entire image with white and then painting from the original while experimenting with various settings in the tool’s option palette.

The history brush works very similar to the stamp cloning tool, however instead of simply being able to copy the current image, the history brush tool will allow you to copy and previous state of the image in the history to the current state. Note however that this tool copies from one layer to the active layer only, not all layers.

The art history brush is similar to the regular history brush, however it allows you to copy to the current active layer in a modified manner, similar to applying a filter effect. The Photoshop manual suggests filling the entire image with white and then painting from the original while experimenting with various settings in the tool’s option palette.

The Eraser tools

The eraser tool works the opposite of the paintbrush tool. Instead of laying color down, it erases it.

To use the eraser tool, select it in the toolbox, set your options and choose a brush from the pop-up palette in the options bar, and drag in the image to remove pixels wherever you paint.

If you are applying the eraser to the background layer, or to any layer with Preserve Transparency selected, the erased area will go to the background color. Otherwise it will erase to transparency with the exception of when you are erasing to a history state.

The background eraser erases the color on which you first click, while leaving other colors untouched. This allows you to more easily work around edges that you don’t want to erase. However, results can be somewhat unpredictable, so be prepared to experiment.

The background eraser is used to erase to transparency on the active layer. If you apply this eraser to your background layer, it will be automatically changed to a regular layer. You cannot have transparency on a background layer.

Unlike the other two erasers, the magic eraser acts as by clicking, not dragging. It’s similar to the magic wand tool, except that it removes the pixels found, instead of selecting them.

The magic eraser erases to transparency on the active layer. If you apply it to the background layer, the layer will automatically be changed into a regular layer since the background layer does not permit transparency.

The Gradient and Paint bucket tools

All the gradients offer the same options, and same dialog boxes, so the information here applies to all five gradient tools. The difference in the tools is in how the gradient shades are applied. The gradient tool is grouped with the paint bucket in the toolbar; if it is hidden, click on the paint bucket and choose it from the pop-up menu.

The linear gradient is applied by dragging over the entire length of the area you are applying it to. The other four gradients are applied to the radius of the area, since the gradient will expand outward in all directions from the start point..

The Linear gradient adds shades from where you first click to where you release the mouse button after dragging across the image.

The radial gradient, icon shown second from the left, above, applies shades in a circular pattern, radiating outward from the point where you first click. The line you drag is the radius of the circle of colors.

The colors applied by the angle gradient, icon shown center above, look like a cone, or Chinese hat, with the point at the top being the spot where you first click. Shades are applied in a counterclockwise spiral.

The reflected gradient, icon second from the right, looks like the linear gradient but with a mirror image gradient radiating in the opposite direction from the linear one where you have dragged with the pointer.

diamond gradient looks like a starburst, or lens flare with distinct, shaded flare lines radiating from the point where you first click.

The gradient you have chosen, or created in the gradient edit dialog box [see second section below] is applied from the color shown on the left side of the gradient bar on the options palette, to the right. If you wish it applied in the other direction, check the Reverse box in the palette.

All gradients will cover the entire layer with their colors. The area you drag over will show the gradient variations and the rest will have the end color without gradient. If you want the gradient applied only to a particular area, select it first, and apply the gradient within the selection by dragging across it.

All gradients are applied with a transparency mask. You can turn it off by deselecting Transparency in the options palette, or edit it in the gradient editor [see second section below].

If you have problems with banding in your gradients (colors separating into stripes of different shades instead of making a smooth transition), try applying a small amount of noise with the Add Noise filter. Choose Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

The paint bucket is now grouped with the gradient tool in the toolbar (it used to be by itself). To find it, if it’s hidden, click on the gradient tool icon and choose the paint bucket from the pop-up menu.

The paint bucket will recolor pixels, of any color you click on, to be the current foreground color. The foreground color is selected by clicking on the foreground color square in the toolbox to access the Color Picker, by clicking on any color with the eyedropper tool, by clicking on the foreground color square in the Color palette, or by clicking on a swatch in the Swatches palette.

If you want to fill a limited area, make a selection before using the paint bucket tool. Only pixels within that selection will be recolored.

If you want to completely fill a selection or layer you may prefer using the Edit > Fill dialog which gives more options. You can also use shortcuts of Alt-Backspace to fill a selection with the foreground color, Alt-Shift-Backspace to fill only areas containing pixels (leaving transparent areas untouched), Ctrl-Backspace to fill with the background color, and Ctrl-Shift-Backspace to fill only areas containing pixels with the background color.

The Blur, smudge and sharpen tools

The blur and sharpen tools are referred to as the “focus” tools since they work to harden, or soften edges within an image. The smudge tool is for special effects, or just having fun.

I often use the blur tool to smooth over uneven transition areas after retouching, or to reduce unwanted spots in areas that don’t offer a good sampling location for the clone stamp.

To use the blur tool, select it in the toolbar, set desired values and settings in its options palette [see below], choose a brush from the pop-up palette in the options bar, and then drag in the image over the area you wish to soften. Be aware that blurring occurs even when the cursor is not moving, as long as the mouse button is held down. The speed of the effect is determined by the Pressure setting in the tool’s options bar.

If you choose Edit > Fade immediately after using this tool, you can change the opacity of the strokes you have just applied.

A shortcut for changing brush sizes while using any of these tools is to press the left bracket [ to decrease brush size, and the right bracket ] to choose a larger brush..

When editing an image with any tool that uses brushes, you can right click on the image and the brushes pop-up palette will appear right next to your cursor.

The sharpen tool works by increasing contrast at distinct edges. Be aware that this will cause you to lose detail at the top and bottom of the brightness scale (very light, and very dark areas) when sharpening. The Luminosity setting in the blend mode menu can be useful to avoid color shifts or halos when sharpening.

To use the sharpen tool, select it in the toolbar, set desired values and settings in its options bar [see below], choose a brush from the options bar pop-up palette, and then drag in the image over the area you wish to sharpen. Be aware that sharpening occurs even when the cursor is not moving, as long as the mouse button is held down. The speed of the effect is determined by the setting in the Pressure box at the top of the options palette.

The smudge tool is supposed to simulate finger painting. Color is displaced, or ‘smudged’ from the place where the pointer is clicked. It is moved in the direction the cursor is dragged. How far the initial color is moved depends on the setting in the Pressure box in the tool’s options bar.

The Dodge, burn and sponge tools

The dodge tool will lighten the pixels dragged over according to the percentage chosen in the tool’s options bar. You can choose to lighten highlights, midtones, or shadows. Each must be worked on separately; the tool does not work on all three at once.

To use the dodge tool, select it in the toolbox, choose your settings in the options bar, pick a brush from the pop-up palette, and drag in the image to lighten the chosen tones. This tool has an effect on click, but does not do any additional work until it’s moved. However, repeated stroking over the same area does have a cumulative effect.

The burn tool will darken the pixels dragged over according to the percentage chosen in the tool’s options bar. You can choose to darken highlights, midtones, or shadows. Each must be worked on separately; the tool does not work on all three at once.

To use the burn tool, select it in the toolbox, set your options, and choose a brush from the pop-up palette in the options bar, and drag in the image to darken the chosen tones. This tool has an effect on click, but does not do any additional work until it’s moved. However, repeated stroking over the same area does have a cumulative effect.

The sponge tool will increase or decrease the color saturation of areas you drag over. How rapidly the effect occurs is determined by the setting in the Pressure box in the tool’s options bar.

To use the sponge tool, select it in the toolbox, choose your settings, and pick a brush in the options bar, and drag in the image. This tool has an effect on click, but does not do any additional work until it’s moved. However, repeated stroking over the same area does have a cumulative effect.

The Path, and Direct select tools

Both these tools are used for working with paths.

The path component selection tool will select any path component, including one which is part of several other components. Select by clicking anywhere inside the path component you want.

The direct selection tool will select a single path segment. Click on an anchor point, or drag a marquee around the segment you want, to select it. The direct selection tool can be used for moving, and reshaping segments in a path.

The Text tool

When you select the type tool in the toolbox, your cursor will change to an I-beam pointer. A small line across the I beam marks the location of the type’s baseline. For vertical type, it marks the center axis that the type will be created along.

The type tool’s options bar will appear as soon as you select the tool. You can set the type’s options before you click in the image to add type.

Click in the image to add point type. Paragraph type is entered by clicking and dragging a bounding box, and then adding text inside it. While you are adding or editing type, the options bar will change to be in edit mode. Type may be edited by drag-selecting and applying new options. If you move the cursor a little ways away from the type you’ve added, the pointer becomes the move tool, and type can be repositioned.

If you are happy with the type you’ve added or changed, accept it by either clicking the large check mark on the right end of the options bar, by pressing the Enter key on the numeric keypad, or by pressing Ctrl-Enter on the regular keyboard. If you don’t like your changes, and don’t want to accept them, click the big X on the options bar or press the Esc key.

Each time you use the type tool, a new layer is created with that text on it. Any of the layer styles, or other layer options can be applied to type layers.

Point type enters the text in a line from the point where you first click. Line breaks may be created by pressing Enter, but otherwise, the type does not wrap. If you have difficulty positioning point type exactly where you want it, apply it (click the big check box) and then move it with the move tool. To do this, be sure you’ve selected the type layer which has the type you want to move, then choose the move tool in the toolbar. Drag, or press the arrow keys to move the text layer in one pixel increments.

Paragraph type is entered in a bounding box. Text will wrap to stay within the box. If you add more type than will fit within the box, it will be indicated by an overflow icon, and the overflow type will not show in the image. Resizing the text box by dragging a corner will allow the overflow text to show. Pressing Enter creates a new paragraph, not a line break, in paragraph text.

The bounding box can be rotated, skewed, and resized. If you don’t want to see the bounding box outline, choose View > Show > Text Bounds. Selecting that option in that menu toggles it on and off.

The type mask tool creates a selection outline in the shape of the letters typed. You can do anything with that outline that you can do with any other selection. Unlike the regular type tools, this one does not appear on its own layer. The type is added to the current, active layer. It is preferable to use this tool on an image layer, and not any type layer that you may have added previously.

You can do anything with a type layer that you can do with a regular layer such as duplicating it, changing the stacking order, applying layer effects and styles, and changing layer opacity. However, some of the Photoshop features will not work on a type layer. For example, if you want to apply filters to your type, you will need to first turn the type layer into a regular layer. After you’ve done this, the type becomes part of the image and cannot be edited as type any more. To turn a type layer into a regular layer, select the layer in the Layers palette, and then choose Layer > Rasterize > Type.

Tip – The default setting for type is to use fractional character widths. This is best in most cases. However, when using type sizes smaller than 20 points for online uses such as web sites, fractional character widths can make your type look terrible. The spacing will be inconsistent with some of the letters running into each other, and others too far apart. Turn off fractional widths by going to the Character palette, and clicking on the little arrow in the upper right corner to access the palette menu. Click on Fractional Widths to toggle it off. Turning this setting off will affect all text on the currently selected layer.

The Pen tools

The pen, and its related group of tools are used for creating, and editing ‘paths.’ These are outlines which can be used to make selections, or which can be stroked or filled with color. Paths are made from mathematical formulas, called Beziér Curves, which do not print, and which contain no pixels. They are like a blueprint; from them you can make a building, but the blueprint itself is not a part of that structure.

I found it very difficult to learn how to draw paths, and I would recommend that beginners leave this tool until they have mastered all the others. If you wrestle with it long enough, you’ll get the hang of it, but it takes a while. For instructions on how to use the pen tool, see the Photoshop manual, their online Help section, or any number of available books. The key to learning how to use it is simply practice. The concepts aren’t too hard, but getting your hand, and eye to do it is murder.

The freeform pen is supposed to allow you to draw as you would with a pencil, without any of the difficulties inherent in using the other pen tools. It really doesn’t work very well, but here it is. To use this pen, select it in the toolbox, set its options [see below], and drag in the image. If you want to continue an existing line, you need to position the pointer over the end point of the previous line, and then drag. To end an open path, release the mouse button. To close a path, drag over the starting point, until a small circle appears next to the cursor. Release. It sounds easy, but it doesn’t work that way. Try it.

The magnetic pen, which used to be listed in the toolbar as a separate tool, is now simply an option on the freeform pen’s options bar. It is a tracing tool, which snaps to distinct edges, as you drag along the outline of an existing object.

The Line and shape tools

The shape tools create a preset range of geometric paths. Paths are outlines which can be used to make selections, or which can be stroked or filled with color. Paths are made from mathematical formulas, called Beziér Curves, which do not print, and which contain no pixels. Paths in the image can be accessed for editing from the Paths palette. The pen tool is also used for drawing paths.

Objects, and lines created with the shapes, and pen tools are called “vector objects” and are edited differently from painted objects, or shapes in an image which are created from pixels. For example, all, or part of a vector object can be selected simply by clicking on it with one of the special selection tools found at #8 in the toolbar diagram at left.

Vector objects are also resolution independent. This means they can be scaled as much as you like with no loss of quality. Since the object exists as a mathematical formula, scaling does not involve the adding or subtracting pixels which would result in image degradation.

To use a shape tool, select it in the toolbar, set its options in the options bar (see below), and then click and drag in the image.

A full description of vector object editing is beyond the scope of these pages. The pen tool is difficult to learn. The shape tools provide an easy way to take advantage of vector object qualities without having to struggle with the underlying concepts.

The line tool is used in the image to draw (perfectly) straight lines.

Note that line width is not chosen by selecting a brush size, but is set according to the Weight value entered in the line tool’s options bar.

To limit the a line to multiples of 45°, hold down the Shift key while dragging.

The color of the line drawn will be the currently selected foreground color. This is set by clicking on the foreground color square in the toolbar, or in the Colors palette.

The notes tools

With the notes tool, you can add text notes to your images that look like Post-Its. Clicking on an image with the notes tool will create a note into which you can type whatever you want. A larger text box can be made by clicking and dragging. Text options are available on the tool’s options bar. Once the note has been written, you can collapse it by clicking on the small icon in the top right corner of the note. A notes icon will appear on the image at the spot where it was created. By double clicking the icon, other users can read your note.

In addition to text notes, you can add audio notes to an image if you have a microphone attached to your computer. An audio note icon will then appear on the image, and the message can be played by double-clicking the icon.

Note icons can be hidden by choosing View > Show > Notes and deselecting it. All notes on an image can be removed by clicking Clear All in the options bar when the notes tool is selected.

The Eyedropper, measure tools

Since these pages are intended for beginners, I’m going to stick with the color picking features of the eyedropper and only briefly describe the data collecting uses.

To change the foreground color, click with the eyedropper on the desired color anywhere in the current image, or in any other open image, active or not. To change the background color, Alt-click, with the eyedropper, on the desired color in any open window.

Foreground and background colors can also be picked by using the Color palette. Many more selections, and options are available there.

The color sampler is used for picking up RGB, or CMYK values. These can be used for comparisons when making image adjustments. The data acquired is displayed in the Info palette. Up to four samples can be viewed at once.

The eyedropper tool can be temporarily accessed when using any painting tool by pressing the Alt key.

The keyboard shortcut key for the eyedropper is the letter I. Holding down the Shift while pressing the shortcut key toggles you between the eyedropper, the color sampler, and the measure tool. In addition, once the eyedropper is selected, pressing the Shift key will switch you to the color sampler.

The measure tool gives precise measurements between any two points in an image. To use it, select it in the toolbox, click at the first point, and drag to the second point. A non-printing line will be drawn in the image, and the measurements, and coordinates of that line will be shown in the Info palette.

You can also create a protractor from an existing line by Alt dragging from one end of that line. The angle measured will be shown in the Info palette.

To edit an existing measurement line, click the measure tool in the toolbox and drag one end of a line to resize. Move the line be dragging on any part other than an end. To remove a line from the image, drag it off the image.

Units of measurement are set in the Preferences. Find them at Edit > Preferences > Units & Rulers.

The keyboard shortcut for this tool is the letter I. To cycle through the eyedropper tools, and the measure tool, hold down the Shift key while pressing the shortcut letter.

The hand tool

The hand tool moves the image around like a scroll bar, or paging up or down, but it works in any direction.

To use the hand tool, select it in the toolbar, and then drag the image in the direction you want it moved. You can also temporarily access the hand tool, while using other tools, by pressing the spacebar.

This tool’s keyboard shortcut key is the letter H.

Double clicking the hand tool icon in the toolbox will cause the active image’s magnification to change to fit in the window.

The zoom tool

Clicking in the image when the zoom tool has been selected in the toolbox will increase the magnification of the image by a preset amount. The increase will be centered on the spot clicked. Repeated clicking will continue to increase the magnification. If you reach the maximum amount available, the center of the zoom tool’s cursor will appear empty.

To reduce magnification, hold down the Alt key and click in the image. Again, decreases will be in preset increments. Repeated clicking will reduce the image farther.

Note – if your Alt key does not appear to be working in Photoshop, you may have another program running in the background that has taken over that key. GuruNet (Atomica) and FlySwat are two such applications. Uninstall them, or reassign the hot key in those programs to regain use of the Alt key in Photoshop.

To temporarily access the zoom tool while using other tools, press Ctrl-spacebar to zoom in (increase magnification), or Alt-Spacebar to zoom out.

You can drag a selection rectangle with the zoom tool, and that part of the image will be magnified to fill the screen. This is my preferred way of zooming.

Double-clicking the zoom tool icon in the toolbox will cause image magnification to go to 100 %.

Other ways to change image magnification include using the Navigator palette, or typing an exact amount in the box at the extreme left corner of the status bar, and then pressing Enter. Double clicking the Hand tool’s icon in the toolbox will cause the image to resize to fill its window.

The keyboard shortcut for this tool is the letter Z.

The color picker

Simply either double-clicking on either the forground color or the background color will bring up a menu in which you can manually select the color or enter a 6-digit hex code for the color you wish to use.

The mode edit tools

With this tool, you can convert a selection into a mask which can be edited with any of the painting tools. Edges can be distorted, and filters, or effects applied. You can then convert the mask back into a selection.

To apply a quick mask, first make a rough selection with the lasso, or any other selection tool. Then click the quick mask button, which is the icon shown at right, above. A reddish semitransparent mask will cover all areas outside the selection boundary. Note that you don’t have to make an initial selection before clicking the quick mask button. However, doing so will cut down on the area that you will need to paint in black.

You can edit the mask by painting with any of the painting tools. Use black to add to the mask (the reddish area), and white to subtract from it. Use the switch color button, which is #28 in the toolbar diagram at left, or press X on your keyboard, to jump from black to white. Painting with gray, or any other color creates a semitransparent area sometimes used for feathering, or anti-aliasing.

Once you have the mask just the way you want it, click the standard mode button, shown at left above, to convert the mask back to a selection. If you want to save the selection for possible reuse, or just to be on the safe side, choose Selection > Save Selection. This will create an alpha channel which can be loaded as a selection any time you need it. Channels are saved, and can be accessed and edited in the Channels palette.

Note that areas which are more than 50 % transparent will not be included in the ‘marching ants’ selection outline, but they will be effective in any application that the selection is used for.

The keyboard shortcut for the quick mask is the letter Q.

Screen modes

These two features, screen modes, and Jump To, are not related, but didn’t really require full pages of their own, so here they are. An odd couple.

First, the screen mode buttons. Standard screen mode is what you’re all familiar with. The image is contained within a resizeable window which sits on the Photoshop background.

When you click the center icon, for full screen mode with menu, the image window covers 100 % of the screen. The image itself is not magnified, but the gray active window background is. It’s the same background you see if you drag a window larger than your image, only in this case, it covers the entire screen.

The third option, found by clicking the right most icon, gives you full screen with no menu and the area surrounding your image becomes black.


The Jump To icon at the very bottom of the toolbox, and at the far right above, is used to jump to ImageReady. The image which is active in Photoshop when you click the icon will be opened in ImageReady and can be edited there. You can jump back to Photoshop by clicking the same icon in ImageReady.

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