Introduction: Constructing a 3D Settlers of Catan Board

The aim of this instructable is to help you through the process of making your own unique 3D tile set to play Settlers of Catan on. I previously wrote this up on my blog as Make your own 3D Settlers of Catan. You can visit my site for more details and larger versions of the images.

Materials you will need:
Clay or other modeling compound (I prefer polymer clay, it stays hard until you bake it)
Sculpting tools (dental tools are nice for real small details)
2 small strips of thin wood (1/4"x2x4 poplar was what I used)
rolling pin
rubber or latex gloves
plastic cups
pastic spoons
silicone compound (I used Smooth-On's Oomoo 25)
plastic compound (I used Smooth-On's Smooth-Cast 300)
Mold Release (I used Mann's Ease Release 200)
4" pvc pipe joint
hobby knife
sandpaper (progressively finer grits recommended)
Spray paints( automobile primer, different colors for the base parts, clear matte coating)
Airbrush (strongly recommended)
enamel paints (I used Testor's from a hobby shop) and brush cleaner
small paintbrushes
cotton swabs, tissue paper, and paper towels are nice for cleanup work

Step 1: Sculpting Original Hexes

Roll your clay out with a rolling pin or other sufficiently round item. Use a guide on each side of the clay to make sure it has an even thickness. I used 1/4"x2"x4 poplar strips my wife uses to roll out sugar cookies.You can get them for a couple of dollars at any home improvement store.

When you have enough rolled out (each flat hex took me a little more than one package of FIMO), use a cardboard hex from the game to get the shape right. I cut down with a straight knife then baked the flat hexes. This made sure that anything I add to the hex doesn’t mess up the shape of the base. Be careful and try not to leave fingerprints on the pieces like I often did, they will show up on your casted pieces!

The more time you spend on this step, the better your set will look. I am definitely not a sculptor, and even pieces that don’t look that great sculpted can look real nice after you’ve painted them.

The great part about this is if you dont’ like it, add more clay and try again. If you get something you really like, bake it hard. You can still sculpt and sand the pieces after baking, but it’s tougher to get what you want. Every little bit of texture will transfer to your casted pieces, so the more work you put in to smooth or rough areas, the more rewarded you will be.

Be warned that undercuts may complicate your molds and cause more wear and tear than they’re worth. The materials I used were fairly forgiving, but I have two molds that started coming apart after about 20 castings.

Step 2: Additional Supplies

I strongly recomment some rubber gloves, a big stack of plastic cups, and some plastic spoons. The silicone is real greasy and difficult to wash off of things like your fingers. try not to get it all over everything. Use the plastic cups to mix your silicone. The cool thing is they clean up easy—wait for the silicone to cure then just peel it out of the cup and (if you mixed things up good), you can reuse the cup.

The two important things to remember here are: one, make sure you measure as accurately as possible each of the silicone liquids. Too much of either one and you’ll have stuff seeping out of your molds. Two, make sure you mix the two liquids completely. It’s got a long enough pot life, so spend the extra minute or two mixing the silicone.

Take a couple of plastic cups, put one inside the other and pour 1/4 cup of water in the top cup. mark the side of the bottom cup at the level of the water. Repeat for 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, and 1 cup. You must have large cups to mix 1 cup of each liquid. Plus, the silicone gets harder to stir properly with plastic utensils when you have that much liquid. Remove the cup with the water in it, put a new cup in and measure parts A and B (in different cups). You can reuse the “measuring cup” until the project is done. Sorry about the dim picture, this one was hard to get with a flash. Look closely towards the bottom of the cup.

Step 3: Pouring the Mold

When you’ve got your originals done, you’re ready to make the molds. I purchased a gallon kit of Smooth-On’s Oomoo 25 silicone rubber from FarWest Materials out of Walla Walla WA, who happens to be my nearest Smooth-On distributor.

The great thing about this stuff is it’s simple to work with in a 1:1 by volume mixture. The silicone is pretty fluid, but you should still be careful about bubbles. Pour your silicone mix into a 4″ PVC pipe joiner with the original face up at the bottom. My pipe joiners weren’t smooth at the bottom, so I sealed up the edges with clay to keep the liquid silicone from leaking out. Some people make their own mold boxes for this step, but the PVC worked great for me.

If you get the gallon kit of Oomoo 25, make sure you pick up some cheap plastic measuring cups, preferably with a looped handle, as the gallon kit of Oomoo 25 comes as two buckets. This is not something that pours easily. Your arms will get tired if you try to make too many molds at one time, you really have to put some elbow grease into mixing the silicone (the plastic is much easier!).

Pour the silicone into your mold. I found pouring into the lowest part of the mold and letting the level of silicone rise up and over the original works great. If you have some undercuts, you can brush the silicone on around the trouble areas and then fill slowly. I never bothered with this, as my undercuts weren’t very big. Make sure you pour enough silicone to completely cover your original, then give it another 1/2″ at least on top. A little more won’t kill you, and your mold will last longer. I found that a little post-molding cleanup is also necessary. Cut away any unwanted silicone with a small sharp hobby knife. You can continue to alter your model by carving the silicone, but that’s pretty crazy and I don’t suggest it.

Step 4: Cure the Mold

I found the silicone takes a couple of hours (around four) to firm up, but it was also easier removing them if I let them sit overnight. It’s a little tough to get the mold out, but work slowly around the back by pushing your hand through the PVC pipe until it starts coming out.

Smooth-On recommends heating the silicone to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for four or five hours to evaporate leftovers from the silicone mixture. I did this for all my molds, so I don’t know what happens if you don’t. Make sure you keep everything around room temperature and that you use up all the containers that you open because they have a limited shelf life after you start opening and closing them.

I tied some string to each of my measuring cups and left them in the A and B buckets, with the string sticking out, held down by the lid so the cup didn't sink to the bottom of the bucket next time I needed it.

Get some silicone mold release. I’ve read that talcum powder works, too, but I stuck to the manufacturer-recommended release. I used Mann’s Ease-Release 200, one can goes a long way. Spray your molds every 3 or 4 pieces to preserve the life of the molds and ensure the easy removal of the casted pieces. It’s best to let the release agent dry, but in all honesty most of the time I just sprayed and casted again. It leaves a sheen on the casted part, but it didn’t appear to hurt anything. Especially after I painted the pieces.

Smooth-On’s website also suggests spraying primer into the mold after the release agent dried. When you pour your plastic, it supposedly comes out bonded with the primer. I did not test this, although I am still thinking about doing it in the future. The problem is you have to wait for the release to dry, then the paint to dry, before you can cast parts—not good if you’re making a lot of small pieces.

Step 5: Casting the Hexes

I like the one gallon kit of Smooth-Cast 300, the gallon kits come as one gallon of part A and one gallon of part B, to make two gallons of plastic. This goes for the silicone as well. The nice thing about these is that they’re easy to pour. I found that pouring part A into part B (the yellow bottle into the blue bottle) made less bubbles, as part B is a little more viscous than part A. Make sure you shake both parts up good before you use them. This goes for the silicone as well.

There are many brands of silicones and plastics, and each manufacturer is guaranteed to have many different types, so the choice is totally up to you. They should offer sample kits (Smooth-On did), they're a great way to try out a material before you commit to it.

Smooth-Cast 300 has a three minute pot life, which means you’d better move fast. There are other plastics that have longer pot lives (and equally longer demold times) if you’re worried about your time. You definitely have to work quick.

When you mix parts A and B, you will introduce bubbles to the mixture. But try not to anyway. Pour your plastic into the mold the same way you poured your silicone. If you have places where bubbles form (typically around undercuts), direct the stream of pouring plastic right above that spot, and it may force the air bubble out. When this is not enough, use a blunted toothpick to push the bubble until it comes away from the mold and rises to the top. Try to pop the larger bubbles that may form—the smoother the surface the easier your job will be later.

Did I mention you want to do this on a level surface? How about casting plastic in a well-ventilated area? These are both important. The plastic fumes aren’t very fun to breathe in. The plastic solution also heats up as it cures, and is fun to watch. Parts A and B are both pretty clear (A has a slightly yellowish tint), and when mixed, they remain clear, but as the start to cure, they turn a bright white color.

After the plastic has had time to cure (about 10 minutes for Smooth-Cast 300), gently bend the mold and ease the piece out. Marvel at your power of duplication. By being careful and spraying mold release every few parts, your molds will outlast your project and you won’t have to make replacements. I’ve casted sixty parts from a single mold with no problems. The more undercuts you have, the more wear-and-tear you’ll see. I have one mold (my second forest hex) that started breaking because of the undercuts after about twenty pieces.

Repeat these steps to make as many parts as you need. Make a couple extras. Make a set for yourself. Make them for Christmas gifts (that’s what I did). The important thing to remember is to have fun, because this can get real tedious real fast. If you’re making a lot of parts, make sure you have a nice big area to put them. I had a big stack of drywall in my garage where I put them. I made enough hexes to almost completely cover a 4′x8′ sheet of drywall.

Step 6: Cleanup and Painting

Get yourself some sandpaper and a palm sander, because you’ll be here for a while. I tried to hand-sand the parts, but gave up due to my arms nearly falling off with the strain. I sanded each edge and bottom with progressively finer sandpaper, starting around 60 grit and ending at 440. Make sure you have a respirator/filter on, you don’t want to breathe in plastic dust. Spread all the pieces out and spray them down with automobile primer (recommended by Smooth-On). Make sure you get all sides. You can skip this step if you spray-primed the molds.

Spray on a base color. I chose to use normal spray paint for this part, and it worked pretty well. I used a different base color for each different type of terrain to make it more easy to identify when playing Settlers of Catan. Since I created two different sculptures for each terrain type, this reduces confusion. I tried to keep them close to the color of the original Catan resources, red for hills, gray for mountains, yellow for fields, etc. When the paint dries, you’re ready for the real work to begin.

I used enamel paints from Testor’s, they have a decent selection of color and were the only enamel paints my local craft shop had anyway. This next part is real important: beg for, borrow, or steal an airbrush—I promise you won’t regret it. An airbrush not only turns an art-challenged person like me into a pro, it also uses less paint doing so! Also get some newspaper to put down, some paper towels, cotton swabs, and a few different-sized brushes. Don’t forget plenty of brush cleaner.

Fire up your airbrush and pick a color. Don’t be afraid to experiment! I was really overwhelmed at the beginning and didn’t know where to start, so let me make a recommendation: grab a nice brown and spray it around the middle of your mountains. Move on to any other parts that may need brown to cut down on the number of color-switches you do with the airbrush. I hate cleaning those things. Switch to a foresty-green color and spray the base of the mountains, then add white to the top. That’s all I did here, and it looks pretty nifty. Add a final two coats of clear matte coating and you’ll be ready to play!

Step 7: Finished Pieces

This isn't really a step, but I thought I'd add a few pictures of some finished pieces. You can see all my results on my blog's original Make Your Own 3D Settlers of Catan page.

Comments

author
Garfield- made it!(author)2011-04-16

Great instructable, would love to try it..

Quick question: how much of the oomoo did you end up using? I'm assuming you used all the smooth cast? how many pieces did you end up casting?

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CementTruck made it!(author)2011-03-21

Has anyone ever heard of Monopoly U-Build? I stumbled upon a set at a store recently and was amazed at the simplicity of the interlocking pieces. They have 1 hex, 2 hex and 3 hex pieces. But the 1 hex is the one that interests me the most. The hidden interlocking tabs could be adapted to the catan board pieces to make it more "solid" during game play.

u-build_monopoly.jpg
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thepelton made it!(author)2010-09-08

I asked someone on another instructable comment section, and they said the width was 79 mm from flat side to flat side, and that is what I made them. I found out I was right on the money later.

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thepelton made it!(author)2010-08-24

I have a commission to make "Settlers of Catan" pieces using my Epilog laser. What is the precise diameter, flat side to flat side, of a Catan hex? I will be happy with either Metric or American Inch. Thank you very much. I will post pictures of my creations when done. 8>)

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Tarni made it!(author)2010-05-27

Ok this is absolutely amazing! I love your set!  My soon to be 12 year old son loves this game and I am thinking now, of making him a set for his birthday.  I do have one question, as I am not familliar with the workings of most of the items in your instructable (but I learn fast) Where did you get the moulds you used for the silicone pieces? did you make them or purchase them?
Thanks
Nicole

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MrAdventure made it!(author)2009-03-19

This is awesome! Earlier I was looking at the official version and it can't be found for less than $300!

Take a look at our experiments with "Cooperative Cataan"

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homechicken made it!(author)2009-03-19

Thanks! I played M.U.L.E. hundreds of time on my Commodore64 back in the 80s, what a great idea!

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merijnvw made it!(author)2009-03-13

this is cool!

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homechicken made it!(author)2009-03-14

Thank you! It was a lot of work, but every time we get out a set and play it was worth it!!

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Draxis made it!(author)2009-02-01

Sweet! Catan rules!!!

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webrender made it!(author)2008-12-05

hey there! I am also building my own Catan set (although slightly differently, I am making each of the tiles out of clay by hand, as opposed to recasts; and I am using multiple colors of clay, rather than painting the tiles after), and I programmed a quick-and-dirty Catan tile sorter for PC or iPhone, which has been successful with all of my Catan-playing friends:

http://www.webrender.net/catan

Right now, it only sorts the main tiles, but I'll be coding in support for seafarers, as well as number tokens, when i get the chance.

Set in progress: http://www.webrender.net/photos/catan5.jpg

Great guide, thanks for the tips!

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ninjabob7 made it!(author)2008-06-13

Umm... how do you shuffle them when you set up the board?? And where do you put the number tokens? But it still looks awesome...

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homechicken made it!(author)2008-06-13

For a good shuffle, I recommend using the tiles that come with your set. I don't know how they say to do it in the 10th Anniversary Collector's Edition that Mayfair Games sells. The number tokens (mostly) fit on top of the tiles in one place or another. One of my hill-style tiles doesn't have a flat enough top. If I did it again, I'd make the tile a little different. It works, though. Thanks for stopping by!

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barrem01 made it!(author)2008-04-15

Way Cool. Not all Model Railroading techniques can be used on a game board, but this one can: For more realistic water, cover your painted ocean hexes with a thin layer of clear silicon sealant. Use a toothpick to tease ocean swells and whitecaps out of it. The silicone will retain surprisingly small details, and a "wet" look.

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homechicken made it!(author)2008-04-21

Cool, thanks for the tip!

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nadaklan made it!(author)2008-02-08

This is awesome. What do you do about the number pieces however when you play the game to figure out the amount of resources you get each roll from the dice? There doesn't seem anywhere to place them.

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homechicken made it!(author)2008-02-08

Most of the tiles do have a spot to put the cardboard numbers, but they end up covering up some of the sculpted tile. If I had to do it all over again, I would either build a slot into each tile to maybe stand the number up in, or make sure there was a flat, center spot for it. We've played many times, and it hasn't been much of a problem. One of the red brick tiles is the worst one to put numbers on, they alway seem to slide off. I would recommend careful consideration of where to place the resource numbers if you're going to construct your own set. There are probably lots of better ideas than mine, too. Please share them here if you think of any!

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Luvdawgs made it!(author)2007-12-24

Does anyone know where instructions on painting these tiles might be found?

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Pocket+Universe made it!(author)2007-11-28

Fantastic project, I really like your pieces. Just one question, I can't see any room to put the numbers on the land tiles (the ones you roll), how did you solve that? Also, how much time do you reckon you spent on this project? I've got a feeling that it's quite a few.

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-12-02

I put in well over 200 hours, over the period of several months from start to finish. But also be aware that I made 6 huge sets, hundreds of pieces overall. That's a lot of sanding and painting.

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Pocket+Universe made it!(author)2007-12-03

OMG, that's just madness... What's even more strange is the fact that I'm still inclined to give it a try :-) Anyway, fantastic project and a very good instructible.

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flio191 made it!(author)2007-12-02

oooh wait, you could put pips on little flags, that would be so cool.

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flio191 made it!(author)2007-12-02

holy cow, this is like catan gone warhammers or something. just wondering, where do you put the pips?

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Half-Handed+Cloud made it!(author)2007-12-01

Wow man, this is fantastic! First project I'm doing when I finish school.

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-12-02

Thanks! Be sure to check out the other pictures from sets others have made, it might give you some great ideas for your own personal set. You can find links to some of them from my website (see the first page of this Instructable.

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foobear made it!(author)2007-11-23

I loved this project. Here are photos of my pieces.

my 3d catan on flickr

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foobear made it!(author)2007-11-23

Here's the whole set I made. Couldn't get the bricks to look right. Some pieces are still waiting to be painted, but most of it is here. The last 20% of these projects is the hardest. :)

C:\photos\catan\mycatan4.jpg
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homechicken made it!(author)2007-11-26

Nice job! I love the little ships you made!

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Grey_Wolfe made it!(author)2007-11-25

This is an awesome instructible. I've never played Settlers, but thought it would be cool for building battle maps for table-top RPGs. BTW, J.L., I checked out your gallery. Your peives look awesome. Nice work.

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Grey_Wolfe made it!(author)2007-11-25

er, pieces. lol

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foobear made it!(author)2007-11-25

hee hee thank you!

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IamTheCreator made it!(author)2007-11-23

When I read this, I didn't quite know what Settlers Of Catan was, so I googled it and came up to wikipedia, and just reading about the game makes me want to buy it! I might ask ma dad to buy it for us so I can make some pieces using this guide. Also, I might make a flash version and submit it to newgrounds...

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captain+Jack made it!(author)2007-11-15

ok, this is friggin awesome. Very creative!

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Lord+Of+Mystra made it!(author)2007-09-15

This is awesome! My next (un)school project!

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James+%28pseudo-geek%29 made it!(author)2007-05-06

oh my word, this is the best game of all time. I havent even thought about it in like 2 years. I gotta go buy one again.

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bmohr made it!(author)2007-04-21

Very nice instructable. I'm not familiar with this game but just the instructions for molding plastic could be used for lots of things.

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Instant_Pudding made it!(author)2007-03-17

Wow, top shelf, man! Your pieces look amazing. I tried to make a settlers board about a year ago and let's just say it didn't turn out so well...

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t3hr4v3n made it!(author)2007-01-23

Very Nice, I had a friend who did the same thing with some hexagonal porcelain tiles and some sculpey, but his didn't turn out quite this good. Very nice!

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-01-04

Thanks! I wasn't the first one to do this, but the other sites out there gave me enough courage to try it myself. I thought I'd pass what I learned on to more people. Make magazine also had a great article about mold-making by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. It's a lot of work, but everyone I gave them to for Christmas was amazed!

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photozz made it!(author)2007-01-12

I was thinking about doing a wax cast - plaster cast version.. Once my shop is set back up I very well may try it.

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-01-12

Please post an Instructable if you do, I'd love to see how it goes!

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PeterTheUnGreat made it!(author)2007-01-05

This is a realy nice idea - I love this game. Prehaps when moulding the hexes you could mould a recess in the centre of each one to accept the number tile. Pete

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-01-05

I made sure each piece has some area where a number can be placed on it without interfering with the game or sliding off, but if anyone has a better idea of how to get numbers on without covering this up as much, I'd love to hear it.

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photozz made it!(author)2007-01-12

What about fabricating small wire holders that can be placed in the middle and hold the number like a flag? Maybe something like an alligator clip on a stiff piece of wire?

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foobear made it!(author)2007-01-07

Why does it need primer? Can't you just paint directly on the white plastic?

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homechicken made it!(author)2007-01-10

In reading the data sheet that came with the SmoothCast 300, they recommended it. It may work just fine without primer, but I didn't try it.

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jess made it!(author)2007-01-07

This is fantastic! I saw the official Catan version of this and was appalled by how much it cost; this may not be an ultimately cheap version, but it sure is awesome. Even better, I think, than the "real" one. BTW, if you want to avoid fingerprints on FIMO clay, use tight-fitting surgeons latex gloves while you're working with it.

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PeterTheUnGreat made it!(author)2007-01-05

P.S. I realy like the piece of sea with the sunken dinghy! Pete

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foobear made it!(author)2007-01-04

oh sweet!! finally an instructable about molding plastic! and a good subject too!

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