Athens inventor puts new spin on aging art of print

ATHENS — When it comes to printing, Terry Chouinard thinks the old ways are best.

It would seem he’s not alone.

Nearly 300 people have pledged $35,000 to fund the creation of the “Ink Dial,” a home brew invention by Chouinard, a career letterpress printer.

But as novel as Chouinard’s press is the means by which he obtained funding. He earned the $35,000 in a two-month online campaign.

An online funding platform for projects in creative fields, allows entrepreneurs to find independent sponsors.

Projects on Kickstarter have a limited time to reach their funding goals, and if they fall short they don’t get any of the money pledged.

The timer on Chouinard’s project ended midnight Thursday. Twenty-four hours before time ran out, he had barely half his goal.

“The last $15,000 came in at the last five minutes,” he said.

Pledges from the 299 backers ranged from $1 to $2,500, with gifts promised at various levels of sponsorship. Some are made by Chouinard, and others are made by artists famous in the printing world. The cost of the gifts was built into the $35,000.

“I’m probably going to have three full months standing at the press printing my rewards,” he said.

The Ink Dial addresses what Chouinard said is a common frustration in printing. Jars of colored ink can be expensive, averaging around $75, he said, and owning all the available colors can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, most printers mix colors according to a sort of universal “recipe book.”

Modern approach

The Ink Dial, in its completed form, will be able to dispense exact amounts of ink, making mixed colors consistent.

He said the only way to measure ink accurately is to weigh it on a scale, which still is not as reliable as his invention’s volume measurements.

“Time is saved, money is saved,” he said. “And you’ve used a whole lot less ink.”

He describes the Ink Dial as a unique modern way to approach an old craft, and said some of his inspiration came from other artists, whose work he hangs in the workshop behind his home.

“I like to keep the ghosts nearby,” he said.

Chouinard began his fundraising process by hand-printing cards that asked for Kickstarter pledges and sending them to 15 prolific artists he had developed contacts with over the years.

“I was expecting to maybe have a group of five get on board,” he said. “All 15 signed on.

“I didn’t have any business talking to these people. They’re responsible for fonts on your computer and for logos for restaurant chains.”

Chouinard constructed a few rough prototypes of the Ink Dial, and his next step is to begin manufacturing the final design. He said he wants to use as much local labor and materials as possible, and will meeting with Morgan Steel representatives to discuss fabrication.

“My dad was a steel man, so I want to make sure it’s made of American steel,” he said. “The Ink Dial is mechanical and very simple.”

‘Lost art’

Most printing today is performed by sophisticated electronic machines, and Chouinard said he was thinking about selling his old-style printing presses and finding a new career if the Kickstarter campaign failed.

“I think Terry was kind of at a crossroads,” said Chad Bottcher, founder of Athens design company Mindvolt. “What Terry does is becoming a lost art.

“What’s happening is the transition to newer technology, and his work is not as familiar as it used to be.”

Mindvolt has commissioned work from Chouinard before, and Bottcher said his classic method of printing makes words and images slightly raised or receded, allowing for a tactile as well as visual appeal.

“My staff and I were looking at his design, and I thought, ‘If he doesn’t get this, it’s going to be gone forever,’” Bottcher said. “We were all impressed with his optimism. He’s super passionate, and it shows in his work.”

Chouinard said he has always been interested in art and settled on printing in college.

“It’s an art that encompasses all other art,” he said. “You’ve probably never seen the Mona Lisa in person, but you’ve seen a print reproduction of it. I’ve traveled the world in print.”

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