This letter provides the theory and mathematical analysis in support of a recently proposed frequency modulated thermal wave imaging for nondestructive subsurface defect detection in solids. The authors illustrate how the technique simultaneously combines the advantages of both conventional pulse based thermography as well as modulated lock-in thermography. A specimen is heated for launching thermal waves into the sample, not at a single frequency (lock-in) or at all frequencies (pulse), but in a desired range of frequencies. While peak power requirement is reduced, phase images obtained retain known advantages. Experimental results from a carbon fiber reinforced plastic sample are presented in support. © 2006 American Institute of Physics.