This paper proposes a novel pulse compression algorithm, in the context of frequency modulated thermal wave imaging. The compression filter is derived from a predefined reference pixel in a recorded video, which contains direct measurement of the excitation signal alongside the thermal image of a test piece. The filter causes all the phases of the constituent frequencies to be adjusted to nearly zero value, so that on reconstruction a pulse is obtained. Further, due to band-limited nature of the excitation, signal-to-noise ratio is improved by suppressing out-of-band noise. The result is similar to that of a pulsed thermography experiment, although the peak power is drastically reduced. The algorithm is successfully demonstrated on mild steel and carbon fibre reference samples. Objective comparisons of the proposed pulse compression algorithm with the existing techniques are presented. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.