This article reports on the characterization of delamination damages in composite laminates using wave visualization method. A combination of plate-guided ultrasound and air-coupled ultrasonics is used to locate and visualize delaminations. The study focuses on the physics of Lamb wave propagation and interaction with delaminations at various through-thickness locations and positions. Three-dimensional finite element simulations are used to study, in detail, the changes in wave features such as mode velocity, wavelength and wave refraction in the delamination region. These wave features provide information on the location, position and orientation of the delamination. These studies are validated by experimental measurements. The influence of position of source and delamination on wave refraction in the delamination region is examined. This method also correlates the results obtained from experiments and finite element simulations to theoretical dispersion curves in order to distinctly determine the delamination location. © 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.