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Headstone Designs: What To Put & How To Make Them

When a person is buried, their life is distilled into their headstone. That said, headstones are often an afterthought, considering all the preparations that need to be made when someone dies. Plus, not a lot of people know how to design a headstone that’s thoughtful and captures the essence of their deceased loved one. 

That’s why we’ve written this guide that demystifies the process of purchasing and making a headstone. Keep reading to learn how to create headstone designs!

What To Consider Before Buying A Headstone

You have to consider three important things when designing a headstone:

Budget

The foremost consideration is budget, as you should only get a headstone you can afford. Before you look into designs, set your budget first.

Don’t be afraid to shop around – talk to a few memorial companies and get their prices. Then, do your research into the company and its services so you don’t get ripped off over the cost. Make sure that their materials and output are good, and check reviews from previous clients. 

Remember that custom headstones are going to take a lot more work, and therefore will be more expensive. A good memorial company may also offer cheaper headstone design templates so that you have an easier time creating a headstone.

Location

Cemeteries have rules surrounding what kind of headstones they’ll allow, so talk to them first to find out their rules. You don’t want to pay for a headstone only to find that the cemetery doesn’t accept fancy and unique headstone designs.

Also, don’t forget to look around the cemetery and check out the headstones that are already there. Consider if you want your headstone to stand out or blend in.

Personalization

With budget and location in mind, now you can think about what goes on the headstone. Keep in mind that more complex headstone designs and ideas typically cost more. A simple headstone with just the name and dates will be a lot cheaper than a headstone with a photograph, lots of text, a custom design, and so on.

Think about inscription first before you think about shape. If you start with a given shape, you may not have enough room to fit your inscription.

Essential Elements Of Headstone Design

Now that you know what to consider when choosing the right headstone, you can start creating the actual design of the headstone. Here are some of the elements you can incorporate into gravestone designs:

Memorial Size

Are you getting the headstone for just one person? That’s a single memorial. If it’s for two people, it’s a companion memorial. If it’s intended for a family plot, it’s a family memorial.

You have the most freedom with single headstone designs since you can focus on one person. Larger memorials have more space for engravings, but you also have to split the space between two or more people. And, as always, the larger the headstone, the higher the cost.

Headstone Shape

There are four basic headstone shapes:

  • Flat: The simplest possible type, flat headstone designs come in a square or rectangular slab that’s flush with the ground.
  • Bevel: Also called “pillow” memorials, bevel headstones are raised a few inches above the ground and have a slight slope.
  • Slant: A slant memorial is halfway between a bevel and an upright. The slab is set upright but with the front slanted to display the inscription.
  • Upright: These stand upright atop a base with no slanting. Upright headstone designs can range from simple rectangles to more elaborate shapes.

While these four are common and classic shapes, they’re not the only ones. You can choose from any number of unique headstone designs to better match the personality of the person being buried. For example, cross headstone designs are a popular choice for Christian burials.

That said, there are two limitations to a custom headstone: the memorial company’s capabilities and your budget. Beyond that, any headstone ideas you have are possible.

Headstone Material

You’ll have to consider what you want your memorial made out of – granite and bronze are two of the most common, although some opt for marble. These materials can withstand weather and degradation, and cemeteries might not permit other materials for outside memorials. Check with the cemetery in case you’re set on a material that isn’t granite, bronze, or marble.

Granite is a classic headstone choice thanks to its durability. Granite is especially easy to sculpt, so it’s the perfect choice for tree headstone designs. However, be mindful of quality, as not all granite is made equal. Look for high-grade granite, which is more durable and suitable for cutting and engraving. Lower-grade granite may chip or degrade. 

Bronze memorials are typically mounted on a base of granite or cement. Bronze doesn’t rust or degrade, so it’ll last for quite a long time. However, over time, bronze forms a blue-green patina that protects it from the elements. If you want a bronze memorial, consider whether this color change is a deal-breaker.

Other materials may be used, but none of them last quite as long as granite or bronze. If you have your heart set on alternative materials, consult with the cemetery to see if they’ll allow it. Also, keep in mind that you’ll have to clean the headstone, so make sure to choose an appropriate material.

Engraving And Accents

Once your stone is shaped and carved, you can then think about engraving it. Headstone engraving designs come in many forms, ranging from simple to complex. The most basic includes the deceased person’s name and the dates of their death and birth.

Messages And Quotes

Others may wish to say more about the deceased. Were they a wife, son, honor student, or hard worker? All this and more can be put into the engraving so that the person is remembered.

Traditional sayings and quotations relating to the person are another option. Think of something meaningful, like something the person used to say or a quote they lived their life by. You could also engrave a message to the deceased, such as “We’ll always miss you.”

Images And Symbols

Text is easy enough to incorporate, but you can also ask for images to be engraved into the memorial. These images can be nearly anything. Religious symbols like crosses, the Star of David, the star and crescent, etc. are pretty common in headstone designs.

Other images displaying love or personal passions can also add a personal flair to a tombstone. For example, if the deceased loved the violin, you can have a violin engraved onto the headstone. Meanwhile, headstone designs for couples can incorporate a pair of rings or hearts.

Photographs can also be added to headstones, albeit not engraved. The photograph is placed onto a porcelain or ceramic plaque, which is then placed onto the headstone.

Accents

Accents are optional enhancements that make the headstone more unique. For example:

  • Flower hole or a vase to make it easier to place flowers
  • Weatherproof lamps to illuminate the headstone

Military headstone designs often incorporate an element where other veterans can leave coins for the deceased.

Talk to the memorial company about what accents they offer, as not all companies offer these add-ons.

Sculpture

For a more artistic memorial, you can have a sculpture carved to go with the headstone. Aside from budget considerations and cemetery rules, there are no limits to what you can have carved into stone, such as:

  • A book for a bibliophile
  • An angel or cross for the devoted

Conclusion

Buying and designing a headstone may be a confusing experience, especially on top of all the other responsibilities you have to take on after someone you love has died. Fortunately, there’s no “wrong” way to design a headstone and memorialize the person you’re burying. 

We hope that this guide has given you ideas for tombstones, helping you create a meaningful memorial for your loved one.

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