Ultimate Guide to Watercolor Painting: How To Paint with Watercolors, and What You Need To Start

Watercolors are one of the most popular painting mediums on the market today. Watercolor paintings can be very detailed, and they have a beautiful, ethereal quality that cannot be found in other types of art. Watercolor is also an affordable way to start out with painting because you do not need any special equipment or supplies to get started! This article will help you understand everything there is to know about watercolors so that you can create your own stunning masterpieces quickly and easily- from how to paint with them to what things you need before starting.

What is watercolor painting?

Watercolors are a type of paint that creates bright, vibrant colors by mixing water with pigment. Watercolor paintings have been around since the mid-1600s and were popularized in America during the 19th century. Watercolor paints come in tubes or pans, which you can mix together to create different hues. A typical set includes three primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and four secondary colors: orange, green, violet, and brown.

The resulting shades will be brighter than if you used other types of paints such as oil because water is transparent. You don’t need any special equipment to start painting- just paper!

Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting is an artistic process that begins by laying down water-soluble pigments on paper; the more water you use, the less intense your colors will be and vice versa.

Some artists like using different types of drawing pencils first as guidelines but I find this method messy and time-consuming so my preferred approach would be just starting off right away without any additional things.

What are watercolors made of?

Watercolor paints are made up of pigment suspended in liquid water, which you have to mix with clear or running water before applying it to paper. Watercolors are easier to wash away if necessary because adding color straight from the tube can make for streaky paint strokes and is difficult to remove without smudging.

Watercolor paint, one of the simplest forms of painting, consists primarily of four ingredients: pigment to give it color; a binder such as gum arabic in order for this pigment to stay suspended and not settle at the bottom.

Additives like glycerin can change how viscous your paint is becoming when wet or dry; honey may contribute moisture to make an easier application process while some pigments require additives that will prolong their life span on canvas before drying out.

The final ingredient is evaporating water which serves two purposes – thinning your paints so they are more easily applied onto something else without causing streaks while simultaneously dissolving any particles from settling down into whatever you’ve painted them over top with!

What are the advantages of painting with watercolors?

The main advantage of watercolors is the ability to work with a transparent and translucent medium. Watercolor paint does not layer in any significant way, so it’s very easy for one color to be seen over the top of another – just as you would see colors blend on your palette!

Painting with opaque paints can make blending challenging because every time we add new paint, that mixture will take on the properties of opacity and cover up what was there previously. Watercolors allow us to freely mix colors without worrying about how much coverage they’ll provide once we’re done applying them!

Watercolors also have some other advantages when compared against oils:

  • They dry more quickly (oils require days or weeks)
  • Cheaper than most oil paints since they don’t need too many pigments
  • They also easy to blend
  • Non-toxic and no fumes
  • Easy to clean

What you need to start with watercolors

You’ll need:

  • Watercolor paint (any brand is fine for beginners) and a water container or bowl to mix them in
  • Brushes: round brushes are preferable because they can produce small detail, but you could use an angled brush if necessary. Flats don’t work well with watercolors as the pigment dries too quickly on those bristles. You might want some larger sizes of round brushes, ranging from very large ones that cover lots of space to tiny ones that let us get into tight spots 🙂
  • Surface: it can be special watercolor paper or any type of watercolor canvas. Watercolor paint does not work well with coated, glossy papers.
  • Palette: you might want to buy one or use an old plate as your palette for mixing colors
  • Paper towels
  • An easel is helpful too! If you don’t have one at home, try asking an artist friend about borrowing theirs, or find a way to lean your canvas up against something that won’t move.

Tips for choosing the right paint

Let’s find out what paint you need to choose for watercolor painting. Watercolors come in tubes, pans and some brands are even available with little compartments that hold great color combinations!

Mixing colors

The type of paint you choose will depend on what your plans are for it; do you want to cover a large area quickly or work more delicately? Do you like the idea of using premixed colors from a set palette or would prefer mixing them yourself?

Watercolors come in different types: tube, pan or pre-mixed colors from a set palette (this is my favorite). Watercolors work better on damped papers like newsprint than dry ones like bristol board so if you have an old newspaper lying around use it! If not then try to find some cheap watercolor paper at your local art store! The paint will blend more easily when using this type of surface because they absorb the moisture easier too.

Types of watercolors

In the world of watercolors, there are many options. There is paint in a metal tube that has a consistency similar to toothpaste; this type works best with thicker and more viscous paints like acrylics or oils. Paint can also come as dry cakes within plastic pans- which need plenty of liquid to make it easier for painting purposes.

They’re made up off pigment mixed into a gel medium so they last longer than their counterparts on paper without flaking away at first glance! The most popular option by far seems to be those who offer an array of colors in liquids- these work well when you have no idea what color might complement your design but want something bold & striking nonetheless!”


The main reason to use tubes is the convenience. You can make them as light or dark as you want by adding water to the tube and paint with the same brush in multiple colors without having to mix it on your palette first.

Most professional artists use tubes because you have more control over the lightness or darkness of your colors, resulting in more accurate colors.

The only downside is that you have to use up tubes faster than pan watercolors because they are exposed to air and become dryer quicker.

Tubes also come with more vivid colors which is great for beginners who don’t want to spend time mixing their own hues. Watercolor paints can be made from natural substances like flowers, leaves, plants, berries, etc., but it’s much easier and cheaper just to buy them premixed at an art store! The most popular brands include Winsor & Newton (W&N), M. Graham Watercolor Paints, and of course Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor.


On the contrary pans have different advantages over tubes. They last longer because they are sealed in a cake pan, and the paint is never exposed to air so it doesn’t dry out as fast. Pans also offer several colors inside of one container which can be convenient when you want to mix your own hues, or if you don’t have any other watercolor paints on hand!

One problem with pans though is that not all brands come in ready-to-use cakes as W&N Watercolors do; some only sell their dry pigments for mixing yourself into little containers (these will need more stirring). The most popular brand is Rembrandt Watercolor Metal Tin Set.

Rembrandt’s Watercolor Paint Set is well-known and loved the world over. It comes in various palettes perfect for both experienced or new artists, making them a must-have set for any artist who wants to try pans.

Liquid watercolors

Liquid watercolors are an ultra-concentrated liquid that comes in 8oz bottles. To make them have rich color and not intense, I usually dilute it with water at the ratio of 1:1.

Dr. Ph. Martin's Watercolor Dr. Ph. Martin's Watercolor
  • Set of 12, 0. 5 oz plastic bottles
  • Made in the USA
  • Brilliant, lightfast, transparent liquid watercolor for use on paper or canvas
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In this category, we recommend to try Dr. Ph. Martin’s Liquid Watercolors. Dr. Ph. Martin’s, an American-based manufacturer of professional quality watercolor paints, just expanded their portfolio to include a liquid watercolor set and each dropper includes a mixing palette for an easy color adjustment!

These 12 separate bottles offer the same brilliance as traditional paint tubes in colors that range from light, pastel hues to deep vibrant shades – all with the same permanence while prepping your work surfaces for your next masterpiece! The small size of these bottles and little spills is ideal when working one-on-one with children too who have less control over their spilling power than adults do!

Watercolor pencils

The best watercolor pencils are made with a high pigment concentration for rich color and an intense water-soluble texture. The pencil’s smooth, hard lead is perfect for creating detailed drawings or adding details to your artwork.

Unlike traditional colored pencils, water-soluble paints show brighter colors with the perfect amount of detail when they’re put on paper. With just a bit of water added onto your illustration, you can enhance some beautiful shades that come out effortlessly from these colorful pens! Whether it’s painting or drawing, adding in this new tool will make whatever project much more dynamic and exciting for any artist who is willing to try them out!


Gouache is an opaque water-based paint. It’s sometimes called gouache de l’aquarelle because it’s similar to watercolor paints in terms of its translucency and the way it goes on paper, but unlike them it is opaque and it dries to a matte finish. Watercolor paints dry to a glossy or semi-gloss sheen, while gouache can be left in its matte state if not varnished.

Read how to choose the right gouache in our review article: 5 Best Gouache Paints in 2024

Some artists like using gouache because of the way that it behaves – for example, just one thin layer takes care of any white areas on an illustration without them disappearing as soon as you put color over top. It’s also great for painting with detail and realism due to the opacity level! Artists also appreciate how versatile this paint is when mixed with other colors: they work well together and compliment each other beautifully.

Our main recommendation

Our main recommendation for beginners is to start with Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor Paint.

The Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor Paint is a richly pigmented paint that is concentrated and finely ground. You will love the natural look you can create without any granulation as well as how they last for decades when stored properly. The range of earth tones and bold colors let you mix your own moods or add some creative flair to your work with this professional-grade watercolor paint from Daniel Smith.

Best Choice
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Daniel Smith Extrafine Watercolor
Best Watercolor Paint
The paints are of exceptional quality and are fun to work with. They blend beautifully and dry smooth without granulation. Most of the pigments are vegan and contain only high-quality ingredients.
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It comes in a variety of sets with a different number of colors, so you can choose how big the set is and which type. The compartments are very convenient for watercolor painting because it’s easy to get the right color without mixing them yourself!

Daniel Smith is the best watercolor paint at the moment. You can purchase these paints individually in 15ml tubes or buy them as sets of different colors.

What painting surface should I use?

The options are endless when it comes to the surface of your watercolor painting. There is a choice between paper and canvas, which can be exciting no matter what type of style you’re picturing in your head!

Watercolor paper

The paper is typically a blank slate and you have the freedom to do whatever you want with it. Watercolor artists often use this medium because they can shape their paintings as they please. It’s also good for beginners because there isn’t any preparation needed before painting, just something like an old rag or towel that will be used to wipe off excess water from your brush in between strokes!

Watercolor paper comes in both cold press and hot press. Cold press is more textured, but if you’re going to be displaying your work for a public audience then the texture can create an interesting effect when viewed up close.

In contrast, hot-press paper can be an option for those who want to achieve the most authentic paper-like finish, but it’s less textured so your strokes will be smoother. The hot-pressed paper has a texture that can appear more textured than regular papers when examined closely, this is due to its tightly woven fibers which create an effect that can look like brushstrokes when they are pushed together closer together during printing.

Best Choice
Arches Watercolor Paper Block, 300 lb
Arches Watercolor Paper Block, 300 lb
Best quality and efficiency
This Arches product is a true workhorse. Its characteristics make it a great option for both beginner and advanced-level painting. It is also remarkably tough and durable for not being hand-made.
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Watercolor artists should note how stretched out your painting will be before you decide what type of support material you want for your work since it may change how some colors perform over time if not properly taken into consideration beforehand.


Some people enjoy using canvas instead of paper even if it is more expensive since the paint doesn’t soak into the fabric as easily and soaks up less pigment on its own surface. This gives much better control over color mixtures when applying them onto canvas which makes them suitable for more experienced painters who are looking towards mastering detailed compositions. But some other people find a canvas to be too rigid and prefer paper because it’s easier on the fingers.

Watercolor Brushes for Beginners

There are many factors to consider when shopping for watercolor brushes. It is important to know that there are many different types of watercolor brushes and each one has its own advantages. Watercolor brush shapes include flat, round, angular, or fan-shaped brushes with synthetic bristles or natural hair for various effects.

The difference between the top brush manufacturers is actually quite insignificant. So when it comes to choosing different brands, my suggestion would just go into an art store and get any of their brushes that are easiest for you to find all at a good price which I think will be the most value for money in this situation.


The most popular types of watercolor brushes are round, flat, and wash.

  • Round is great for producing thin lines to thick as well as any shape imaginable- no matter how detailed your imagination might be!
  • Flat brush can paint a large area in one go with ease while that same size would require many rounds with the round type.
  • Wash works best when you want even coverage on an entire surface. It makes it much easier than trying to blend colors by hand or other methods.

Hair types

Broad brushes come with a variety of hair types. The type of brush will determine the performance; there are three categories, animal or natural bristles (from animals), synthetic hairs (man-made materials), and mixed bristles composed from both man-made and natural fibers. Within this category, each kind has its own characteristics to consider when purchasing your next flat paintbrush:

  1. Animal Hair Brushes
  2. Synthetic Hair Brushes
  3. Mixed Bristles Brushes ­
Synthetic hairbrushes are a good option for beginners with an affordable budget. If you’re willing to spend more, natural brushes also exist and can offer different benefits that synthetic options just don’t have.


The size I would recommend for a brush is a six or an eight because they don’t hold as much water. But if you like to use natural hair brushes, then go with the larger sizes so that it can contain more moisture and gets better coverage on your paper. The type of sketchbook also affects what kind of brush I’ll be using because some brands are made specifically for certain types of papers.

Our recommendations

Sable Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes Sable Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes
  • Sable Hair with Birch Short Handle
  • Come in ideal sizes: #0, #2, #4, #6, #8, #10, #12, #14, #16.
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Sable Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes are a great investment for any watercolor artist and can be used with other mediums as well.

Set includes the ideal amounts of sizes: #0, #2, #4, #6, #8, #10, #12, #14, #16 so that there is a perfect size for every situation. There are also shapes like a fan or long dagger close up to larger sizes with rounded flat synthetic filaments. All these detail brushes taper nicely into the two styles so that you can create artistic details with specific colors as easily as standing back on a large-scale watercolor painting.

Sables are perfect for leaves and other objects that need a little more control. They pick up the right amount of paint, but they’re firm enough to make sure your strokes have an extra oomph behind them.

How to paint with watercolors

The best way to learn how to paint with watercolors is by experimenting. Watercolor painting can be intimidating, but the process of mixing colors and seeing them change before your eyes on paper makes it magical. There are a few simple pointers that will help you get started though!

  • Try not to mix more than three colors at once or else they will blend together into the mud and lose their vibrancy.
  • Don’t be afraid of using lots of water – we all have different preferences when it comes to wetting our brush tip along the length of its hairs while painting, and this changes according to what kind of surface you’re working on (smooth vs rougher).
  • Learning basic techniques can make a big difference in your paintings too!

If these tips haven’t helped enough for now then look up works by famous watercolorists like Edward Hopper so that we can see them as masters instead of just admirers from afar.

Painting techniques

Learning new techniques can make you a better watercolor artist. And it may inspire your creativity as well since some of these skills will bring back memories from elementary school art classes!

Some techniques involve using your fingers or stumps of charcoal rather than brushes – experimenting doesn’t have to be expensive! It’s always important to mix up what you do so every painting has some variety.

Wet on dry

The most common technique is to paint with the brush in a vertical motion, which is also known as ‘wet on dry.’ This will produce shades and colors that are more vibrant than if you use them horizontally. Watercolorists often wet their paper at different points so they can control where the water dries.

You can create some really neat effects by applying wet paint to dry paper or a section of already painted surface. The idea is that the wetter parts will only cover up those areas where your brush has taken it as you go, and this allows for more control over how much paint there is on an area with crisply defined edges rather than just blobs all around like most people end up doing when they think about painting something in their own style.

Wet on wet

When wet paint is applied to a wet surface, it creates an unpredictable and fluid effect. The little control artists have with this technique adds even more spontaneity than when dry-on-dry techniques are used. First, put some clean water on the paper. Then add drops of watercolor paints in different areas until you get a design that looks good.

This is a great idea if you’re planning to apply water-based mediums to your work and want a lot of texture. Watercolor paints have more pigment than acrylic paint, so their wet on wet technique will produce different effects

If the colors don’t mix well in one area, it’s not recommended that you add any more color for fear of ruining the other parts. Instead just use another brush or paper towel to blot out those areas until they are dry again then start adding new drops of paint! This can be done over and over until you get exactly what you were looking for. There would need to be some blending at some point though because there won’t always be “crisp defined edges” like we talked

Dry brushing

One way to create a textured watercolor painting is by using the texture of your paper and little paint. To start, you need just a tiny amount of watery paint on your brush (much less than when working with regular colors). Next blot any excess off the brush onto scrap or old white-colored paper towel so that it won’t dry out before coming in contact with the wet surface. Then take small strokes which should leave behind only barely visible lines where they touch as if drawn up from below like an aerial view would show while still done at ground level.

And this sort of technique is opposite to what we normally do for our paintings but can also be used effectively – especially when looking to make something look more realistic without having too much effort.

This is a great technique to use for clouds or grass if you do it in an upward motion.


I like to use kosher or table salt for painting, but you can experiment with different types of salts if desired. We’re going to be laying down a wash of color that will likely darken up in some areas while still remaining fairly light overall so the colors stand out against it and around its edges as well.

The more salt you have on your brush, the denser and darker that area will be. If it’s too dark for what you want to do next or if you change your mind about where you wanted a particular wash of color (which happens often!) then just use water to dilute it out!

Salt is an excellent painting material because of how simple and effective it can be with minimal effort. It’s very easy to control the intensity in most cases − you only need a few grains at once! And there are plenty of other ways to use salt as well. Watercolorists usually rely heavily on their paper towels when using this technique, but I like adding some fun textures by rubbing my hands against each other before dipping them.

Blending with paper tissues

To create a more creative and engaging piece, experiment with different techniques for blending colors to achieve the desired effect. For example, you can use cotton balls or little pieces of Kleenex if you are looking for softer edges; however, I am laying down some thick wet paint onto my paper which will have stronger lines where two colors meet each other. You could also try using an angled brush such as this one in order to get thinner blends that look like watercolor washes on your work surface instead of just painting straight from left to right across it (which would be called a flat wash).

Again though – there is no right way! Just play around until something works and make sure not take everything so seriously because really what do is express yourself in the best way you can.

Plastic wrap

I’m going to take a thin piece of plastic wrap, and I’ll lay it gently over the wet paint. Now this one you really have no control at all − but that’s good! It means letting go and seeing what happens with my materials; you never know where things will lead. We’re just leaving the saran wrap on top of the paint for now so when it dries, if we look closely enough in some areas apart from others because then they will dry differently – which can be cool sometimes- or whatever feels right for your project at hand!

I’ve had other people try wax resist as well by warming up some beeswax (or using crayons) until liquidy before painting them onto paper.

White crayon

Follow the steps to create your own masterpiece! You will need white crayon and a piece of paper. First, you apply clear wax with your brush or fingers on any area that is not going to be part of the design. Next, sketch out what you want in pencil first before coloring it in. Then use some water-soluble paints for added colors and finally let everything dry completely so nothing smears onto other parts when touched later on.

I’m using white crayon in my paint-over to create a pattern of stripes. I have no idea what this will look like when it dries, but that’s the fun part! Watercolors are so unpredictable and beautiful – which is one thing I love about them. And they’re not nearly as scary or difficult to work with as you might think at first glance either (which is another reason why watercolor painting appeals to me). Crumpled up tissue paper for texture − sounds crazy, right? But it yields very interesting results! The more layers of varied textures we add on top each other the more complex your art becomes.

Famous watercolorists

Famous watercolor artists are a great source of inspiration for aspiring painters. The first watercolorist to really make an impression on me was William Turner. His work is so beautiful and full of life, you can almost feel the wind in your hair as he paints it! If I could paint like that, my paintings would be amazing – just think about all those color combinations! The next artist who captured my attention was Vincent van Gogh. He came up with some amazingly creative ways to use shapes and colors together which created vivid pictures for his viewers’ eyes. These artists are true masters at their craft; they have a certain talent we will always admire. Also some notable persons:

Wassily Kandinsky: Kandinsky was not only an artist but also the founder of abstract art, meaning his paintings often have no discernible subject matter other than what’s in his head. These are typically large works done with gestural brushstrokes and bold colors that feel like they’re moving across the canvas.

One of my favorite pieces is Watering Can (1921) which has a feeling to it as if we’re right there next to this woman watering her plants on some sort of summer day – all while watching our own imagination wander off into dreamland? It’s so beautiful!

Ben Wicks: This British Impressionist painter specializes in landscapes and cityscapes. What makes his work so unique is that it’s not just painted with brushstrokes, but also the way he captures light and texture in each painting. It can be hard to tell what time of day it is from one scene to the next – as if we’re caught in this perpetual moment between dusk and dawn where everything feels like it’s breathing and alive (and I’m suddenly living vicariously through Wicks’ paintings).

One of my favorite pieces by him is Water Lilies on a Pond which shows these beautiful water lilies floating atop the surface of a pond surrounded by trees all bathed in that late afternoon sun? I could stare at this for hours!

Francois Millet: One thing you’ll notice about pretty of this French artist that he was painted the outdoors. Millet was a landscape painter, best known for his paintings of rural life in the French provinces.

FAQs about watercolor painting

How to start watercolor painting?

It doesn’t require much in terms of supplies: watercolors, paper/canvas/board surface, brushes for mixing colors with water, palette knife (for scraping off extra pigment), palette cups (small containers used to mix different pigments), eraser stick or kneaded rubber eraser for removing mistakes from wet surfaces

The most important thing about starting any type of art project is buying quality materials that will last long enough to be worth the investment cost? Investing in good paints like Winsor and Newton, good watercolor paper and some high-quality brushes will help you create a finished project that looks great.

If you’re new to watercolor painting, it’s important to know how to mix colors and prepare your palette. Watercolors are made by combining pigments with binders such as gum arabic or egg yolk which then dries into an opaque film of color. The paint is applied in thin layers on top of each other using either brushstrokes, sponging or stippling techniques for texture.

What should I do if the watercolor paint bleeds?

Watercolors are made up of pigments and a vehicle that can be either liquid or solid. The pigment is what gives it its color, while the solvent in which it’s mixed with affects how easy it will mix with other colors on your palette. There are two types of watercolor paints, traditional and modern. Traditional watercolors have more binder than pigment so they don’t bleed as much when wetted by brush strokes you make before them dry – but this also means that once painted over they’re difficult to modify because most washes won’t show things through transparently anymore (unless you use opacity mediums).

How to store watercolor paintings?

To properly store your watercolor paintings, you’ll need to make sure that they’re dry before storing them. Watercolors can take months or years to fully dry out depending on the type of paint and the size of each painting. Whatever storage container you choose should be made from acid-free materials for best preservation too!

Drying Watercolor Paintings – Some people say it’s okay to stack up wet frames in a dark place like an attic as long as there is enough airflow but I find this method doesn’t work very well because condensation often occurs while drying which just makes them smear more and leaves residue behind on other surfaces when stacked against one another (plus mold may grow).

What makes a watercolor painting good?

A watercolor painting is good when it captures the viewer’s attention, and doesn’t bore them. It should have a nice balance of light and dark colors, be painted in layers that make sense with one another (so the detail isn’t all bunched up on top) as well as texture variations to give depth. One way to achieve this is through glazing or adding washes over earlier layers which intensifies these qualities like shading does in other types of paintings−this technique helps soften edges too so don’t worry if they aren’t perfect!

Watercolor paintings are also good because there are no rules when you’re working with such loose media-just keep practicing until your art reflects what you want it to say about things around you.

How long do watercolor paintings last?

The approximate time watercolor paintings last is about 100 years on average. Watercolors are not permanent because they can be removed with water and erase which will destroy the painting, so care should always be taken to store them correctly if you don’t want them to fade over time.

  • Watercolors have delicate qualities that shouldn’t be exposed to too much light as we said before.
  • They’re also very sensitive when wet and while being carried from one place to another, depending on how careful you are of your art!
  • Watercolor paint will smudge or run if left out in a humid environment for extended periods − it’s best stored in cool dry places away from sunlight.

How to protect watercolor paintings from fading?

Watercolors are sensitive to light and should be stored away from direct sunlight. They’ll also fade if left in humid environments for too long, so it’s best kept cool and dry. If you’re going on a trip or vacation, make sure your art supplies stay sealed tightly with the lid closed as much as possible!

The paint can run when wet − never lay an art piece flat or face down because this may smudge the entire surface of what you’ve worked hard on. Water-based paints will gradually become brittle over time which is why paper support is imperative for longevity.

Watercolor painting vs oil painting?

Watercolors have some distinct differences that may seem a bit daunting at first. Watercolor doesn’t have the same raw power when applied as oil painting does, which is why it’s ideal for those who want to create delicate and light paintings instead of bolder ones.

In watercolors, you don’t use an easel or palette − just your paper and paint! This makes them perfect not only for beginners but also for children because they are easy to use without too many complicated steps.

Watercolors can dry quickly (which means less time in between layers), more transparent than oils, and usually require fewer coats before achieving desired saturation levels.

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