Choosing a Grave Marker: Tips To Pick the Right Headstone


There is a curious headstone In Salt Lake City, Utah. It reads: “Lilly Gray, June 6, 1881 – November 1, 1958; Victim of the Beast 666.” This powerful epitaph from the woman’s loved one  shows that a gravestone can attract attention long after a person has gone, which underlines the importance of the monument. 

Choosing requires you to consider the rules of the cemetery, the materials and design of the headstone, and the time needed to commission it. It is important to choose a marker in the right size, in a durable material like granite to ensure that the headstone lasts a long time. 

In this article, we will offer simple tips to make choosing a grave marker less of an ordeal and all the information you will need to settle on the right one. 

The Struggles of Choosing a Grave Marker

Grave markers are an essential tradition in memorialization. So what makes selecting a gravestone so tricky? 

Some will worry about choosing the perfect ones to represent the loved one lost. Others may find that their budget limits their options. Or grief could be making it harder to function, clouding a person’s judgment. 

Before we get into the nitty-gritties of grave marker selection, there are some things you should consider before you get into the materials, size, and types of headstone. These tips will make it easier going forward, no matter what stage of grief you are in. 

Thing To Keep in Mind

  • Rules of the cemetery. Not all cemeteries have the same regulations regarding what markers they will allow on their property. From the size and material of the slab to specific epithets, run your design by the funeral director first, or ask for a list of requirements. This might be an excellent way to vet resting places when doing initial research if you intend to have a unique marker. 
  • Know the timing. In most cases, you will not have to select a stone before the funeral. This gives you the time and space to decide what would be best for your loved one. Just keep in mind that the gravesite will be incomplete till the stone is in place. Some stones can take longer to commission, depending on the material, size, engraving, and any special requests. 
  • Avoid popular trends. It can be tempting to go with the latest style or wording because they appeal to the aesthetics of the day. But over time, these trends will change. You want a timeless headstone that does not pigeonhole it into a specific era. 
  • Get personal. Choosing something that meant a lot to the deceased is an excellent option for making their grave marker feel like a more fitting tribute than a standard stone might. Engravers have been putting more customizations on markers in recent decades. 

How To Choose a Grave Marker

Once you are ready to begin searching for a grave marker, you need to know where to start. By now, you should have the rules of what your chosen cemetery will allow on their property. Keep these requirements in mind as you move forward. 

When putting in your order, they will ask for several things. These include: 

  • Stone size
  • Material
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Date of death
  • Epitaph
  • Customizations

Each of the above will factor into the final price. For those working within a budget, you may want to ask for a pricing list from several memorial companies. Remember that you are designing the grave marker, which can be as simple or as complex as you like. As a rule of thumb, less is usually more and will help the stone stay in good condition. 

Types of Grave Markers

There are many different types of grave markers that you can choose from, but they all fall into two broader styles: 

  • Flat – This is the more common style in today’s world. Flat markers lay down at ground level, flat over the burial site. They take up far less space, which is vital given that many cemeteries have a limited number of plots and charge by the square foot or the plot itself. This makes flat markers the more affordable option. They are also easier to maintain as they are less exposed to the elements. 
  • Upright/Standing – Once the standard for many gravestones, these are larger stone structures that are usually made up of one base stone and one standing stone. Upright markers are sometimes designed to be statues, such as the angel sculptures that were once a popular option among more wealthy families. These are still available but cost significantly more and will require more upkeep. 

Once you have chosen the headstone, you can begin to determine its shape. Some examples of forms include slants, ledgers, and bevels, each of which has different degree slants to sharpen or soften the edges. 

Designs done in various fashions, such as modern or gothic, should also be possible selections, as offered by your chosen engraver.

Be sure you pay special attention to lettering, which can significantly impact the timelessness of your grave marker. Choosing a clear, legible font ensures longevity of the headstone, and are a better option than fonts that are more ornate as these will become illegible over time.  

The Best Material for a Grave Marker

Durability is the primary consideration when choosing a gravestone, which comes down to the material. There are a number of different materials available. Some will be tempting because they are beautiful, but you shouldn’t let that be your only consideration. 

Sandstone and limestone are two examples of pretty options many will go for based on aesthetics. Unfortunately, they don’t withstand weather or time well, nor do slate or most metals. 

If you want your loved one’s grave marker to be standing and readable generations in the future, your best bet will be either granite or bronze. Both can fight against the elements and are easy to restore. 

Granite has the additional benefit of coming in various shades and colors. Unlike bronze, it won’t rust or oxidize, either. 

Blank grave headstone ready for your message. Has work path for isolation.

If you go with granite, check the grade rating to ensure you have the strongest possible stone that will last the longest time. The grading of granite is typically carried out with a chemical test to ensure its durability.    

Typical Cost of Grave Markers

Funeral and other end-of-life costs are generally high, and certain things like cremation can vastly decrease those costs. But even ashes are often interred in a Columbarium. 

Interred ashes have small grave markers, usually metallic, to denote their placement. These ashes are usually interred in a larger storage facility where you can visit, just like a traditional grave. 

The different kinds of grave markers available makes it harder to predict how much you will need to spend when you have to choose a headstone. The larger and more elaborate the stone, the more expensive it will be. 

The stone you use will also be an important factor. Granite is most commonly used for its durability, but it is also among the more expensive stones for grave markers. Slate is also a durable material, but tends to be even more expensive than granite. 

Expect to pay a minimum of $250 for a small, basic marker. For bigger, customized pieces, it could cost as much as $4,000. 

What is the Standard Size for a Grave Marker?

There are two standards for most: 24” by 12” (60.96 x 30.48 cm) for a single burial plot and 28” by 16” (71.12 x 40.64 cm)  for a double plot. A double plot is used when two people are buried beside one another, and there will be an inscription for each or for more elaborate customizations. 

Cemeteries will have information on how much will be allowed depending on the plot. Smaller grave markers are not uncommon, especially for flat-lying stones. If you are interring ashes, the plaque will also be much smaller. Often these are done by the funeral home itself, and they will tell you what can be included. 

If you don’t have room for a full-sized stone, many people will consider engraving the epithet on the casket or urn instead. While it will not be visible to those visiting, it can be a comfort to know something personal was laid to rest with a loved one. 

Commemorative items can also be commissioned for those close to the deceased. This includes miniature urns or jewelry that hold a portion of the ashes. 

Such items will give the departed’s family a chance to take home a tribute without having to be engraved on a more expensive stone. Printed materials, such as a program for the funeral, are another excellent budget-friendly alternative. 

Final Thoughts

There are many things to consider when choosing a grave marker. Knowing the basic rules and restrictions of the cemetery is the first step. Then you can consider the materials, size, and design of the headstone. 

Knowing what to look for when perusing your options will make it much easier to make decisions during this difficult time, and help you choose the perfect final tribute to your loved one.

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Alex Noel

Hi there! I'm Alex Noel and live in Indianapolis, Indiana. I started this website to share my experience. My goal is to provide Americans a more fulfilling goodbye.

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