A printer in which thermoplastic ink is transferred to paper from a donor roll or thin backing material by localized heating. This type of printer, introduced in 1982, is very quiet in operation, produces a good contrast image, and is mechanically simple in design. The print head is similar to that used in the earlier thermal printers that use sensitized paper, but the heating elements are usually smaller and thus allow the formation of a better character shape.
Thermal transfer printers are capable of producing very good color images but the cost has largely caused them to be replaced by color inkjet or laser printers. They are now used for such specialized applications as barcode or plastic labels.