We present a comprehensive theoretical model suitable for treating the effect of pulsed collinear photothermal deflection spectroscopy (PDS). The work is an extension of the theoretical model previously developed for the mirage effect, which can take into account both photothermal deflection and photothermal diffraction effects based on the Fresnel diffraction theory. With the diffraction model, both the collinear PDS and the photothermal lensing spectroscopy techniques can be treated in a unified manner. The model provides a detailed analysis of the laser-induced optical diffraction effect and can be used to optimize experimental parameters. The modeled results are presented in detail, with an emphasis on the advantages of using a near-field detection scheme for achieving the best sensitivity to local temperature change and better experimental stability against environmental noise. © 1999 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.