Complete Guide to Headstone and Memorial Inscriptions: Wording, Design and Cost

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Gathered Here


If you’re looking to have an inscription engraved on a loved one’s memorial, there are 3 questions you’ll typically need to answer:

  1. What wording should I include on the headstone or memorial?
  2. What style of inscription should I choose?
  3. How much does the inscription on the headstone or memorial plaque cost?

This Guide takes you through these 3 questions, with explanations and illustrations of each of your options to make your decision-making process that little bit easier.

If you’d like information on selecting and/or designing a headstone or monument, see our Guide to Headstone Style and Design. And for everything you need to know about selecting a memorial when a loved one dies, see our Complete Guide to Headstones and Monuments in Australia.

1. Headstone terminology

The world of headstones and monuments can involve a lot of unfamiliar words and phrases. If there are any terms for which you’d like an explanation, head over to our Guide to Headstone and Monument Terminology.

2. Wording of a memorial inscription

The engraved wording on a loved one’s gravestone is important for a number of reasons:

  • it can be a final farewell message from you and your family;
  • it can reflect something key or pertinent about the deceased;
  • it can include a message that the deceased wished to convey;
  • it can serve as a reminder about the deceased for those who visit the gave in years to come.

The wording on a headstone often includes:

  • the deceased’s full name;
  • the deceased’s date of birth and date of death;
  • an epitaph – that is, a short message in memory of the deceased.

Selecting the wording for an epitaph can be difficult – it’s likely you’ll want to get it just right. It’s ok to take your time, and to ask friends and family, or even your stonemason, for suggestions. You might also seek inspiration from the examples we’ve included below.

Headstone wording: epitaph examples

Beloved mother and wife.

Always in our thoughts. Forever in our hearts.

A true fighter to the end. His strength and spirit will live with us forever.

God has her in his keeping. We have her in our hearts.

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

He asked for so little, but gave so much.

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

An inspiration to us all.

Sadly missed by your loving family.

At peace in God’s hands.

3. Style and design of a headstone inscription

The style of the memorial inscription is important because it plays a key role in creating the look of the tombstone. The inscription style can help differentiate your loved one’s headstone and make it more unique.

The style of the headstone or memorial plaque inscription encompasses:

  • the font or the lettering;
  • the type of engraving in the stone;
  • the use of symbols (if any);
  • the use of photo/s (if any).

Inscription font or lettering

The lettering of the inscription can usually be done in a number of different fonts. It is important to determine the fonts that are best suited to the stone you have selected. This is because some fonts require a deep cut which may not look sharp or clear on particular types of stone. The font you choose may also be affected by the length of your message and size of the headstone, as some fonts are not suited to a smaller letter size.

A headstone usually features 2 or 3 different fonts.

Fonts for headstones tend to fall into four categories:

1. Serif

A serif is a small decorative line attached to the basic form of a character or letter. Texts that are classified as ‘serif’ have these decorative lines. A popular serif font is Times Roman. Serif lettering is a popular choice for headstones as it is simple and easy to read.

Headstone inscription fonts

2. San serif

San serif fonts do not use serifs (see above). Arial is a common san serif font. San serif fonts are also easy to read.

Headstone inscription font

3. Gothic

Gothic fonts, which are also referred to as Blackletter, Fraktur or Old English fonts, are more elaborate or fancy. These fonts have dramatic thin and thick stokes, with swirls on the serifs. Gothic fonts are often used for the first line of text on a tombstone; for example, “In loving memory of…” or “Here lies…”

Headstone inscription font

4. Script

Script lettering is based on handwriting or calligraphy and may be used as a ‘special’ alternative to a serif or san serif font. Script fonts are often used for inscribing quotes, poetry and religious passages.

Headstone inscription font

Engraving styles for a headstone inscription

There are a number of different engraving styles used for memorial inscriptions. Remember, the inscription style you choose should factor in the type of stone, your selected font/s, any cemetery regulations and your budget. Remember to also ask your stonemason if your chosen type of engraving requires more maintenance than others.

1. Standard engraving / incised lettering

Standard engraving involves the lettering being cut into the stone, usually by sandblasting. This type of engraving is appropriate for granite, marble and sandstone monuments. The letters can be left as is (natural) or can be painted with enamel paint or 23 carat gold leaf. Gold lettering is more expensive but lasts longer than silver and white.

Gold leaf lettering - Headstone engraving

2. V-cut lettering / hand carving

V-cut lettering is achieved by cutting the letters into the stone, and then using a hammer and chisel to give the letters a deep “V” cut. This hand carving is suitable for headstones made of marble, granite, sandstone and slate. As with incised lettering, this type of inscription can be left natural, or enamel paint or 23 carat gold leaf can be used.

Deep V-cut lettering - Headstone inscriptions

3. Raised engraving / embossed lettering

An embossed inscription is where the ‘background’ to the letters is sandblasted away leaving the letters to appear raised against that background.

Raised lettering - Headstone engraving

4. Lead letter inscriptions

Lead letters are achieved by carving the letter outlines into the stone, and then beating lead into those letter outlines so that it fills the letters and lies flush with the stone. This type of engraving works well with marble but is expensive.

Lead lettering - Headstone inscriptions

5. Raised lead letter inscriptions

As the name suggests, raised lead lettering features lead letters that stand out from the stone. This style of engraving is very expensive and is not frequently used.

Raised lead lettering - Headstone inscriptions

Headstone symbols and photos

Also consider if you would like to include some kind of symbol (for example, a religious symbol) amongst the text, and/or if you’d like a photo of the deceased to be engraved on the tombstone.

4. Cost of a headstone inscription

It can be difficult to estimate the cost of inscribing a headstone or monument because stonemasons have different methods of charging for the inscription. While some stonemasons charge for the headstone itself but do not charge extra for the inscription, others charge by the letter, or sometimes by the number of lines of wording on the stone. Often, a stonemason will provide a number of letters for free, after which each additional letter will be charged at a fee.

Some of the factors that may affect the cost of a tombstone inscription are:

  • number of letters;
  • any additional symbols or photos;
  • type of engraving;
  • use of paint or gold leaf;
  • lettering material.

If you’d like to get a better idea of pricing, you can use Gathered Here’s online store to find the cost of the inscription you have in mind. Just enter your preferred inscription wording and any design requirements in the box provided, and we’ll send you 3 price quotes from local headstone and monument masons. It’s quick, easy, and there’s no obligation for you to purchase. Request your quotes now.

We hope you’ve found this guide to headstones inscriptions useful. For information about additional headstone services and headstone restoration, see our Guide to Headstone Inscription Services, and for information about buying a memorial, visit our Headstones, Monuments and Memorials FAQs.

If you have any questions about our headstone and monument quote service, or our monumental mason comparison service, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at or start a live chat by clicking the floating message box in the bottom right corner of your screen.


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