How to Choose a Headstone: Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Memorial

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The process of selecting and/or designing a headstone can involve a lot of decisions…

Should I choose a headstone and base or go with a full monument?

What type of stone should the headstone be made of?

What font should I pick for the tombstone inscription?

Whether you’re choosing a headstone or monument for the first time or you’ve travelled this path before, the various steps of the process can get a little confusing.

To make things easier, this Guide will take you through each of the decisions you’ll need to make in selecting the style and design of a headstone or monument, with explanations and illustrations of each of your options.

Keep reading to learn more about:

  1. Choosing between a headstone and a full monument
  2. Picking a style of headstone
  3. Picking a style of monument
  4. Choosing a material
  5. Headstone design
  6. Full monument design
  7. Headstone and monument inscriptions
  8. Cost of a monument design

Headstone or full monument?

In our Complete Guide to Headstones and Monuments in Australia, we discuss some important criteria you should keep in mind when choosing the type of monument you’d like to use to mark your loved one’s grave. These considerations, together with personal preferences, will help you determine whether you’d like to purchase a headstone or a full monument. As a quick reminder:

  • A headstone (or a tombstone or gravestone) is a monument placed at the head of a grave, usually on top of a stone base. A headstone is a ‘grave marker’ in that it marks where the deceased is buried, but – unlike a full monument – a headstone does not cover the entire grave.
  • A full monument includes a headstone and base, as well as a stone kerbing which creates a ‘border’ around the gravesite, and some form of slab or other material to cover the grave.

Types of headstones – picking a style of headstone

The main types of headstone are:

  • flat grave marker (or grass marker) – a tablet made of either stone or bronze, which is set flat into the ground;
  • flat tablet – a block of stone or concrete with a flat top. The inscription can be on the stone, or on a plaque attached to the stone;
  • desk tablet or sloper – a block of stone or concrete with a sloping front face. The inscription can be on the stone, or on a plaque attached to the stone;
  • headstone and base.

Types of full monuments – picking a style of monument

A full monument can be a:

  • single full monument – for the interment of one person;
  • double full monument – for the interment of 2 people (often a couple). Generally, the monument is built and inscribed when the first member of the couple passes away, with a space left on the monument for an additional inscription on the passing of the other person;
  • triple full monument – for the interment of 3 people.

What are headstones and monuments made of? Choosing a type of stone

Before you can decide on important style elements such as the shape of the tombstone, and the finish of the rock, you will need to select the type of stone that the monument will be made of. Generally, headstones and monuments can be made of sandstone, limestone, marble, concrete, slate, bronze and – most commonly – granite.

Sandstone headstone

Sandstone headstone monument

Limestone headstone

Limestone headstone monument

Marble headstone

Marble headstone monument

Concrete headstone

Concrete headstone monument

Slate headstone

Slate headstone monument

Granite headstone

Granite headstone monument

Why is granite the most commonly used stone for headstones and monuments?

Subject to your budget, and to the requirements of the cemetery section in which the monument will be installed, many monumental masons will recommend choosing a granite headstone or monument because:

  • it is the most durable stone option – granite is a hardy stone which will last long into the future;
  • granite can withstand a range of environmental conditions, including hot, cold, dry and damp, and is therefore not susceptible to rapid erosion like some of the other stone options;
  • it requires little maintenance;
  • it is available in a range of colours and finishes.

To make the most of these features, be sure to invest in a good quality granite.

While granite can at times be more expensive than alternative options, it’s important to remember that stones that are not durable will erode and become damaged over a shorter period of time, and may very well require additional expenditure for repairs.

Headstone design

Headstone design includes the shape and finish of a gravestone.

Headstone shape

Walking through a cemetery, you will notice that headstones come in an endless selection of shapes; some are more traditional, while others are entirely bespoke.

The following are some of the more common headstone designs:

Book-shaped headstone

Cross-shaped headstone

cross shaped headstone

Serpentine-shaped headstone

Serpentine-shaped headstone

Half ogee-shaped headstone

Half ogee shaped headstone

Heart-shaped headstone

Heart shaped headstone

Tear-shaped headstone

Tear shaped headstone

Headstone finish

The finish of the headstone refers to the way the stone appears. A headstone can be finished in the following ways:

Polished finish – smooth and shiny; best for showing off granite; highly reflective.

Headstone with polished finish

Part-polished finish – smooth and shiny on inscription and base area; emphasises the inscription.

Headstone with part polished finish

Pitched (or rock pitch) finish – stone is hand chiseled; rough and natural; often used on edges.

Headstone with rock pitched finish

Sawn (or honed) finish – stone is smooth but unpolished; often used for sides of headstone; possibility of the appearance of lines from the blade.

Headstone with honed finish

Full monument design

The design of a full monument includes the kerbing and covering of the full monument.

Kerbing or kerb set

Kerbing is the stone border or ‘curb’ around the burial plot. When choosing kerbing you will need to decide on style and type of stone.

Standard kerbing

Full monument with standard kerbing

Splayed kerbing

Full monument with splayed kerbing

Stepped kerbing

Full monument with stepped kerbing

Covering of the full monument

To cover the remainder of the burial site (that is, the space within the kerbing), you can select a ledger slab in a stone matching the kerbing or, alternatively, you can cover the gravesite with granite chips.

Ledger slab

Full monument with ledger slab

Granite chips

Full monument with granite chips

Headstone and monument inscriptions

You will need to think about the inscription that will appear on the headstone. This involves drafting the wording and deciding on the style of the inscription.

To learn more about inscriptions, including engraving options, see our Complete Guide to Headstone and Monument Inscriptions. And for information on adding an additional inscription to an existing headstone, see our Guide to Headstone Inscription Services.

How much does my monument design cost?

Once you’ve decided on the various design and style elements of your headstone or monument, you’ll want to get an idea of how much that combination costs. You can use Gathered Here to determine the cost of the headstone or monument. Just select your chosen design features from the list of options 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.

To learn more about the cost of headstones and monuments, see Memorial Prices Explained.

We hope you’ve found this Guide to Headstones and Monument Style and Design useful. For more 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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