14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design

I have been a professional graphic designer for more years than I can now remember and have designed more things than I care to name (but will): T-shirts, CD covers, packaging, Ebay listings, websites, flyers, posters, letterheads, signage … the list goes on. But strangely enough, until I decided to put some of my own stories on Amazon through KDP, no book covers.

Through my lurking on the KDP Forums, and checking out the competition in the last 4 month, I’ve seen hundreds of terrible, hideous,  trashy, horrid, nasty, vomit-inducing book covers that break every rule of good design.

Boy these people must really love losing potential readers, I thought to myself at first.

But then more kindly, thought: well they probably don’t know about design.

So rather than being a Mr-Know-It-All, I figure it’s about time I sat down and put some of my thoughts down to help out my fellow writers.

My tips are by no means exhaustive and like any art form, design can be a rather subjective subject. So please respectfully disagree – comments very welcome.

But before we begin, let us talk about what design should be, this is easily summed up in one word: functional. So what functions should a Kindle book cover fulfil?

  • In the traditional sense, it should stand-out on the book store’s shelf saying to the potential reader, “Take me down and have a look inside of me.”
  • It should set the mood for the story (the Vintage Murakami Covers a perfect example).
  • Establish a brand (if part of a series).
  • Show that there is a high-level of quality in the writing. If a cover is poor then the potential reader will not have high hopes for the writing.

1. Photos: Set The Mood and Don’t Be Literal

The worlds of the visual arts and the written word collide on a book cover, and this is the first real big problem we run in to. If we are talking about fiction, the reader dreams the world in their head from the words the writer has put down on the page. The moment you put something too literal on the cover you run into the problem of the reader having that image in their head.

It spoils the glorious affect reading gives us.

If you have selected an image that simply tells us what a character or a place looks like you have made a mistake. You might say to yourself – but the photo I have found looks exactly how I see the characters in my head – can I not use it?

Well, I’m sorry, no you can’t, that’s rude – you’re taking away the reader’s imagination from them.

Literal pictures should be avoided at all costs. So, you want to use a photo, but don’t want to be literal – what can you do? It’s simple use an image to set the mood. Make it abstract. Take a step sideways – as a writer you should already have these skills in your toolbox – the simile and the metaphor. Use these to come up with a good metaphoric or abstracted idea for your cover.

The above example is a Noir Pulp thriller I’ve made up called Kidnap! Avoid the obvious: if we have a victim on the cover, we’re seeing what she looks like before we’ve even discussed her in the book, we’ve given the game away; likewise, if we have a Private Detective on there, we’re saying, he looks exactly like that (it’s lazy, it’s as bad as Dan Brown saying the hero in The Da Vinci Code looks a bit like Indian Jones – before anyone tells me out there that yes he did say that in the novel – I know).

So in this instance I have abstracted the concept of the hard drinking PI – and thought something ominous and dark that fits – right, whisky moodily lit. That image took all of 5 minutes to find on iStock. It works, it’s simple strong and gives a flavour of the story.

Here are some more examples, I quickly knocked up, of imaginary covers that set the mood. Each gives a feeling for what the book will be like rather than telling you out-right.

2. Photos: Avoid Stocky Stock

I don’t know how I can explain this well to none-designers. But there are some images out there which just have the feeling of stock images. The top right example above might be one, something that everyone would think is cool and is used over and over again – because it’s so obvious.

As well as the written cliché, there is the visual cliché.

As a good example there’s a famous case of a stock image that has been used for so many different album covers it’s untrue – yes it’s a nice image – but when you find certain images you know they’re going to be re-used. I think we should leave the explanation of this particular no-no to another designer I admire – he’s very eloquent on the subject of avoiding stock clichés.

3. Photos: Pay For What Works

If you don’t have permission to use a photo or you don’t know who owns it, then chances are you can’t use it. Would you want someone stealing your writing? You need to show the same respect to your fellow artists; the photographers. Having said that, there are free places out there to get photos but you will end up getting what you pay for: poor images.

Fear not, there are some very cheap effective solutions – my favourite for commercial work is probably iStock because they have excellent quality control and a vast archive of images. Their pricing is also reasonable, you’re looking at $2-$10 or something of that order, depending on what size of image you want from them. Their “terms of use” allowed you to use any images on you cover upto selling 499,999 copies.

If you’re selling more – you’ve really designed yourself a good cover and written yourself a good book.

iStock

Alternatives: Shutterstock   Dreamstime

Free Site:   Stock.Exchange

Feeling flush:   Getty Images   Corbis

4. Photos: Don’t Create Composites

Unless you are master with Photoshop (or it’s free equivalent GIMP), then I would steer well clear of this technique. Photos are lit from different angles, have different colour saturations and styles.

Let me tell you what lots of images put together on a single cover will look like: like you have cut pictures from different magazines and glued them onto a piece of paper – and unless the theme of your book is Scrapbooking, it will look amateurish and denigrate the quality of the masterpiece you have written.

Is your novel a jumble of styles? Does it skip around in tense? Have you just thrown words down randomly? No, I thought not. So don’t do it on the cover because otherwise that’s the message you’re sending out.

Another thing you need to consider is the more complex your image is the harder it will be make out on the thumbnail.

One great image is more powerful than 5 different competing ones that you think encapsulates your book.

5. Avoid Home-made Drawings

There are very few people that are as talented at drawing as they are at writing but there is a temptation to want to write, act-in, direct and compose the music for your own film; and say to yourself – I can paint an amazing cover, sitting down with some water colours then scan your creation and use that. Or worse get your friend who is just “brilliant at drawing” to draw a picture of the main character or a scene.

This too is a no-no.

You might think it gives it a personal feel. But that’s just what it will feel like, some sort of craft-circle vibe. People are judgemental; they won’t even bother looking at your writing if they feel the cover is poorly drawn by an amateur.

So what if you do want a drawing rather than an photo, it’s not a problem, those stock sites I listed above have illustrations as well – all quality controlled. Pay a few dollars and get something professional that fits.

Here are some examples I quickly knocked up using stock drawings:

6. Layout: Colours

Here’s were we run into big problems. It’s very hard for me to teach you how to use colour well. It’s something that you feel, it’s something that you need to experiment with with over and over again to get colours to gel well together.

I’ve been designing for more than 20 years and I still only just feel I’m getting to grips with it.

My advice here would be to use a some software that allows you to change the colour on-the-fly as you’re designing your cover. I personally use Xara Xtreme Pro Version 4 – which is a vector application from years and years ago – to design. It’s just what I’m used to.

But the simplified advice I would give is this:

  • If you use something bold have something that contrasts.
  • Don’t use more than 3 colours.
  • Avoid primary colours you find on MS Paint (full blue, full red, full green).
  • Mix your own colours yourself – shades of strong colours.
  • Find out what colours work  by testing testing and testing again. Try different combinations next to each other to see what works.
  • Google ‘Beautiful Colour Palettes‘ ‘Colours That Work Well Together‘ or something similar.

I’ve been working on my own covers for my short stories and they’re from all around the world, so I have a starting point for my palettes because I am using a colour for the flags of each country. But then I want something bold and attractive that stands out. They might look simple but I can spend anything up to a hour fine tuning the colour on one cover, so it really looks good and works for me.

7. Layout: Don’t Be Afraid of Space

Like colour, when it comes to designing layout, it’s a lot of trial and error until something just looks right to you – looks balanced. But one of the main problems that I’ve seen a lot with covers I’ve come across is that people think because it’s going to be a thumbnail it must fill the whole of the canvas.

With design what happens is, the eye is naturally drawn around what it is seeing; all the elements compete for priority. The best way for a design to work is to give the elements lots of space to breath.

It’s no different to writing – if you put in too many complicated words or adjectives in the same sentence, or too many elements into a metaphor or simile it becomes confusing. Good writing is balanced by space. So is design.

On the design below, the right design is the final design design, but a designer worried about using all the space might do something similar to the left or middle. I’ll let you make up you mind which has the most style and sets the best mood for a short story.

8. Type: Use Commercial Fonts

There is a temptation to use a font that “looks cool” downloaded from somewhere like Da Font, like a nice horror style font for your vampire book. As well as fitting into the “no-no” of being too literal, the greater consideration is the quality of the tools you’re using: free home-made fonts are usually designed very badly themselves – not weighted properly, illegible at small sizes (think about the thumbnail), not kerned or spaced properly. I would avoid them at all costs.

Always go for something classical, clean and easy to read. It makes all the difference. You might think the two first options, in this speedily put together example below, look cool! But if you can’t read the title straight away they’re not functional – as design they don’t work: design should always be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

But I don’t want to pay for fonts – I hear you cry. No problem, there are some commercial fonts that foundries will give away for free – modern, clean, well designed. And Free. The Posts on Smashing are fantastic – some really excellent stuff there:

My Fonts   40 Fonts   Other Smashing Posts   Squirrel Fonts

9. Type: Don’t Be Afraid of Typesetting Only

“Do I have to have a picture on your cover?” This is a questions none of your have probably thought of asking. That would just be boring wouldn’t it. What no picture?! Think again. If something is typeset nicely it can just be effective as good design. And can be powerful and arresting.

For book covers, a little voice in my head says, “CL this is the best option because it says – this book is about words.” How more conceptually correct can you get? It all comes down to selecting the right colours, using the right fonts, and spacing them nicely (my top tip is learn about kerning).

The examples below are typeset covers I found on the Book Cover Archive that I liked:

10. Type: Using 3D Effects & Drop Shadows

If you look on the above examples, you’ll see that none of them have 3D Effects, Drop Shadows or any other special effects on them to make them look “cool”. There’s a very good reason for this, you might think 3D Effects and Drop Shadows make your text stand out – but this isn’t the case, it actually makes the design more complex – harder for the eye to understand.

If you want your text to jump off the page then pick the right colours and a nice clear font. If you are using gimmicks to try and make your design sing because it’s not standing out then it’s more likely a problem with your colours or font. Go back to the drawing board and pick new ones. Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.

11. Type: Size & Placement

There are no hard and fast rules about where you should put your text and what should be given more prominence. But I would say this, to make a memorable or engaging cover – your name, the name of the author doesn’t have to be in massive letters on the front covers, as I see a lot.

You might say – yes, but I want people to remember my name.

People will remember your name from becoming famous for your writing, not for your name itself. In a way, the bigger the name, if you’re not well established, the more egotistical and desperate to be famous, it makes your look. It might work for James Patterson or Dan Brown or Ben Elton when they’re all vying for attention in an airport book store.

Likewise, is the novel title that important? Not necessarily so. It’s all about what you want to say with your cover. And I would take it back to that simple mantra – the most important thing is to set the mood – so someone gets a feeling for the writing and entices them to ‘Look Inside’ or click ‘Buy’. Does your name massive on the cover do this if you’re not famous? I think not.

12. Take Inspiration From The Past

Like all good artists – whether they are graphics designer, painter, musicians or writers – we will steal a little inspiration from elsewhere. We are affected by other people’s work we enjoy. To this end there’s nothing wrong with finding a style you like and coming up with something similar.

The only thing you need to make sure of is that you’re not just lifting their images and taking their design wholesale. So people confuse the two covers and your run into copyright issues.

The links below are a great starting points to see some of the best cover out there. The really “amazing site” has links at the bottom of the page to yet more great sites with covers on them.

Google Search   86 Beautiful Covers   Book Cover Archive (Amazing Site)

13. Remember: Keep It Simple

As a finally point here, I would say this, the strongest point I can make is this – good design is simple, or based on a simple concept – it’s more relevant than on Amazon because you have small images in the thumbnails, lots of products vying for attention and lots of messy, badly designed covers – so keep it simple and clean and your cover will shine like a diamond in the junk yard of mess. But only if you follow the points covered above.

And if all else fails … 14. Get a Professional In

You can have all the tools at your disposal: good fonts, the time to mess about with colours and spacing, bought the perfect mood-setting image but still come up short on your design and it might not look right.

This is because you’re not a designer.

You’re a writer. You’ve perfected your own craft – maybe over years and years.

It’s no different with graphic designers – they’ve worked long and hard to get to the point where they’re at: collected ideas in their head, always thinking visually; paid thousands for fonts over the years; developed a perfect eye for what looks right.

There are plenty of good designers out there. Picking the right one could be difficult. But I would proffer this as a piece of advice: If you are going to shell out for a nice cover for your little baby make sure they ask you the right questions.

What a good designer should be asking:

  • What feeling are you trying to get across in the book (name three emotions you’d describe your books as)?
  • Is there an item or concept that is thematic in the piece?
  • What sort of colours do you see the book as?
  • Are their any great covers from books you have seen that you like?
  • If you book was a famous film what would it be?
  • Etc.

A good designer will always confidently ask the right questions before starting work because otherwise they’re wasting their time and yours.

Is it worth paying $100 or $500 for good cover design?

Well that’s all down to you. If you think your book is good enough and it would double your sales because it’s eye-catching and makes your look professional – you have to ask yourself if you’re going to sell more than a hundred or a thousand copies of your book – if not, it’s just vanity to pay someone to design a cover.

But on the other hand, if you are selling lots of books with a bad cover, then chances are the right cover will allow lost potential readers, who have been put off before, to judge a book by it’s cover and make a purchase because they see quality from the get go.

My offering …

To give you an idea of how I work for a full commission, here are the steps outlined in detail below. But there are two other cheaper options: my Commission Rapidé service if you know the images you want or select one of my pre-made covers from GoOnWrite.com. And if you have any questions about the process simply email me at humblenations@gmail.com.

1. BOOK IN THE WORK

You send me a deposit of 50% for the price of the amount of cover options you want me to design. I can take payment through PayPal.

2. I ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

I send through a list of questions asking what you need specifically – you might have a loose or very specific brief. The questions are a great prompt for your ideas.

3. EMAIL ME THE ANSWERS

You can give me as little or as much info as you want. I happy working to something specific as well working from a ‘blank canvas’ – so don’t worry.

4. I DESIGN AND SEND THE DRAFTS

I will sit down and design your options. Which takes me about 7-10 days depending on how busy I am with other people’s covers. If longer I will tell you.

5. PICK YOUR DESIGN

Take a look at the designs I’ve sent and pick the one that you think works best and then we’ll take it from there.

6. UNLIMITED REVISIONS

I will continue to make any changes to the cover until you are 100% happy with the outcome, at no extra charge.

7. FINAL SEND PAYMENT

Once we are there. Simply send me the remaining balance of 50%.

8. I EMAIL THE FINAL FILES

Your book cover design will be emailed to you at 1,562 pixels wide by 2,500 pixels high, which is the perfect size for Kindle.

Prices …

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Leave a comment

66 Comments

  1. Excellent article, love the covers. You have inspired me to re-think mine.

    Reply
  2. Great post. I’m going to take another look at my book covers now. :)

    Reply
    • Thanks for you kind words.

      Reply
      • No problem and thanks for the quick email. I thought the post was very helpful and even sat down to start editing one of the covers for a short story of mine. Love the way it’s starting to look. If you saw it you’d probably see I was inspired by your own humble nations book covers. I hope that’s okay.

  3. Stephen P. Scott

     /  April 12, 2012

    I taught graphic design for 12 years. When it was time to design covers for my novels, I called the best designer I know and she agreed to trade her work for a credit line, including her web address, on the copyright page.
    Your advice is excellent.

    Reply
    • I never went to any classes. I’m the original autodidact; my design chops come from just having a love of it and cracking away at learning because I enjoyed it and then made a career out of it. Which is why I use Xara Xtreme – and not Adobe PotatoShop or Adobe Illust-Zzzzzz-”has it loaded yet?”-”how many menus?”-”wake me up when it’s ready”-rator-Zzzzzz. You should have seen my designs when I first started. I shudder to think. So, to have someone say that my advice is not just good but excellent cheers me up immensely. Good luck with you book. Wouldn’t mind seeing the cover – nosey nosey nosey.

      Reply
  4. Reblogged this on a Portia Adams adventure and commented:
    These are some great tips for cover designs!

    Reply
  5. Great article, makes me glad all over again I went for a professional cover…

    Reply
  6. Ric

     /  May 4, 2012

    Thank You. I HATE photoshopped book covers, that look like a stock photo collage. I have to say though, not trying to be mean, I think your covers are highly uninteresting. And if I were looking at your books I would think they were home made and adjusted from stock stuff.

    Reply
    • That’s fine Ric … as I said at the top of the article – it’s a highly subjective thing. You don’t have to agree with me or like my design. If we all liked the same thing life would become boring. But obviously my design was divisive enough for you to leave a comment on here, and that I thank you for.

      Reply
  7. Thanks for an interesting, thought provoking tutorial. There’s some good stuff here, learned through experience- the teacher most harsh.

    Reply
  8. Reetta Raitanen

     /  May 27, 2012

    Thank you for the great visual examples and extra links. I loved the inspirational cover sites you linked to.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind words. Spent a few days working on that so I’m really happy when people find it valuable.

      Reply
  9. helmut

     /  July 4, 2012

    im soon goona be working as a book cover artist i hope ii get the job tho ^_^

    Reply
  10. Great advice, great passion, I will have to rethink my cover choices and perhaps contact you.

    Reply
  11. Thank you for great cover design advice, especially with ample examples. Love your work. Just wish you did covers for print books as well.

    Reply
  12. Neil Trigger

     /  August 30, 2012

    Great article. A lot of our covers (http://www.ghostlypublishing.co.uk/illustrations) are photographic composites and require quite a lot of work, but they are for printed books. At smaller sizes, I think your designs are great, and convey the message brilliantly.

    This article has given me cause to re-look at one cover in particular. I’d be interested how you’d feel about having two totally different images – one for kindle and one for the print book?

    Reply
    • Putting a link to your own cover design service in my comments – naughty naughty – but you know what I’m gonna get this slide because there’s plenty enough work for all designers. Also you design in a different style – totally. Peoples, check out this guy’s work.

      Reply
      • Kasmit

         /  August 31, 2012

        That happens a lot. People like to take advantage. I don’t understand how some folks think linking their website indiscriminately and without prior request is “totally okay.” Never fear though, humblenations, for your designs are leagues better (I checked their site). I have bookmarked your page and intend to spread this link amongst my other writer friends. Thank you so very much for your extraordinarily helpful advice. I wish you the best of success.

      • I offered to remove it, Kasmit. It was only to illustrate the difference, but thanks anyway for checking the site out – even if you thought it wasn’t to your liking.

  13. Elaine Safer

     /  August 31, 2012

    Terrific article. Would be good subject for a meeting of the Published Writers of Rossmoor.
    Very helpful. Thank you.

    Reply
  14. David

     /  September 1, 2012

    I found this very useful; however – as accuracy is paramount – I think you would appear more professional if you corrected your own spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.

    Reply
    • You’re right … too damn busy with designing book covers for people now. When I get a free few minutes I’ll go over it. Sometimes when you write something you need to give it a month or so before you can spot the mistakes and rather than just do that and wait a month before putting it up – I just threw it out there! Other people have pointing this out to me too.

      Reply
  15. Hi, Thanks for the great article so much to learn. I would like to know the exact size of an kindle book cover, they said 800 pixels wide by 1066 pixels or 600×800, help please which one should I follow, kind of confusing.

    Thanks in advanced

    Reply
  16. Great post. I’ll be bookmarking this to inspire me for my own covers. And how sexy are the thumbnails on the archive?!

    Reply
  17. Since reading this my whole concept of the cover I’ve been trying to create has changed. I was near the end of the article when suddenly a picture popped into my mind. It is simple, has power and says just about everything that goes along with the title. I am now anxious to get to work on it. Thanks!

    Reply
  18. So kind of you to share this ‘Book Cover 101′ information. Sound design advice for any author moving into the Kindle age.

    Reply
  19. Nice share. Good advise and info for indie authors. Thanks. I’ve bookmarked you for future reference. T

    Reply
  20. Eamon

     /  November 20, 2012

    Brilliant info for would be authors. All I need to do now is finish the book and hopefully get back to you re cover

    Reply
  21. Of all the years I have spent studying the publishing industry, following writers, bloggers, editors, agents, and the like, your excellent article is one of the best and most informative I have read yet.

    Thankyou for sharing with us and providing great links to resources to improve our chances of reaching more readers.

    I followed a tweet link from Nathan Bransford over to here and read every word, and before I was half-way through, I quick-linked it to my browser for future reference. I have a website where my current novel is featured on the homepage. The cover design was my idea, purchased image usage from a painter/graphic designer, and upon her advice, I improved the back of the cover as well.

    The one point you mentioned above that stands out the most for me is the first one where it is best to avoid giving a visual of the book. This is so true. My daughter loves reading the classics, but when a movie is made, she says she doesn’t like the way the movie destroys her idea of what the characters and scenery looks like in her head while reading.

    Reply
  22. Reblogged this on Nostrovia! Poetry and commented:
    A very useful post regarding book cover creation

    Reply
  23. Reblogged this on EZ Publishing by Elisabeth Zguta and commented:
    It is very important for self-publishers to have their manuscript properly edited and proof read, and don’t forget the cover! The first impression of your book is important. Tips for good cover design….

    Reply
  24. Thank you for all your valuable information Elisabeth! Just what the doctor ordered. In response to your comment 12/9, I wish that I could afford a professional editor or proof reader. Maybe you have advise for an alternative?

    Reply
  25. James

     /  December 28, 2012

    Lots of good stuff. However, you failed to mention the most important thing: that the cover must clearly signal the genre. All too many readers look for that first and foremost. That’s why there are so many romance covers featuring a bare-chested muscleman. It’s shorthand for “lusty romance novel.” Publishers have known about this genre thing for a long time, hence so many stereotypical covers.

    So originality tends to work against the writer when it comes to covers, unless he or she happens to create (or have created) a real eyecatcher. Even then, the genre hounds will likely sniff on past if genre isn’t clear. Artists, of course, feel differently, and often consider the artistic merits of a cover to be the most important thing.

    An interesting thing: a study showed that people remembered covers with hard to read titles better than those with clear titles. It had to do with the way the brain operates. If it has to puzzle something out, it regards it as important, and retains it better.

    Reply
  26. I found this article helpful, bringing out some nice points to consider when focusing on cover design. However, I personally don’t see a big problem with total face shots on a cover. Yes, this may “force” the reader to see the character a certain way, but I’ve never found this distracting, and I won’t refuse to purchase a book because of covers showing a complete facial image. Maybe I’m a tad lazy, but sometimes I don’t mind being “spoon-fed” some things! And if it all flows together and fits the genre, then fine, go for it.

    Reply
  27. Very thorough and though-provoking post. Thanks for sharing. I like your addition of noting the time and place to design a type-only cover. Sometimes that treatment is very fitting for the book, and, if well-executed, can be much more effective than a photo treatment or illustration. Lastly, regarding price, I find that serious authors are willing to pay around $300 per cover concept for their book cover, which should get you a very quality cover if you end up throwing your hands up and leaving things to the pros.

    Reply
  28. Samantha Charlton

     /  March 6, 2013

    Really enjoyed your article – I sometimes design my own covers so I will keep your tips in mind for my next project!

    Reply
  29. So, I’m considering using istockphoto for my cover image. But have a question. What size do I need to download? Just want to make sure I don’t have too much photo or too little for the kindle needs.

    Thanks and rock on!

    Reply
  30. KT

     /  April 18, 2013

    Excellent…

    Reply
  31. Viv

     /  April 18, 2013

    Thanks so much for this article – it’s told me just about everything I need to know about the cover design for my ebook; you’ve certainly saved me from making some mistakes!

    Reply
  32. I found my way here because I’m considering revising my cover. I generally agree with you, but I can think of one big exception to the rule. Memoirs of a Geisha. I think that cover is stunning, chiefly because of its simplicity, but then I guess there’s always an exception to every rule.

    Reply
  33. This design is wicked! You most certainly know how to keep a
    reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost
    moved to start my own blog (well, almost.
    ..HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

    Reply
  34. MC

     /  July 16, 2013

    Great article, though I’m no-where close to finishing my novel (which is making slow progress rapidly), it’s quite useful advice. I do think, personally that some of the covers are a bit bland and I’m not really a fan of stock photos as it seems a bit impersonal. I would prefer to pay for a good design, that’s just my opinion though!

    Reply
  35. Excellent article. Well written– professional and friendly. Thank you!

    Reply
  36. This design is spectacular! You most certainly know how to keep
    a reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved
    to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job.

    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than
    that, how you presented it. Too cool!

    Reply
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