Ultimate Guide To The Average Cost Of Headstone Engraving


There is a lot of information out there about the different headstone materials and how much they can cost to erect.

One thing that is often overlooked and is just as important is the engraving of the headstone. Knowing what kind of engraving you want and how much it will cost can really make a difference in the final product. 

For a standard 20 character sandblasted inscription, on a black granite tombstone, the price will be an average of $500.  For each additional character, it’s estimated at $8.00 each. The laser-etching of the same piece would be around half of the price and double the price for it to be hand-cut.

Funerals can be an expensive endeavor, but honoring a loved one’s memory isn’t something that you want to skimp on. The tombstone is a focal point of the funeral and you want the engraving to look good and last a lifetime.

Below, I’ve put together a little guide to help you to understand the options for an affordable and fitting tribute to your loved one. 

How much will it cost to engrave the headstone?

It’s a hard question to answer without full details. There are several factors that you have to take into consideration.

First is what form of engraving do you want to use, the main options available are sand-blasted, laser-etched, and hand-cut. You also have the finer details, different fonts, finishes, and inlays.

Then what the length of the inscription will be and if you want any photos, images or carvings. The type of stone you want will also affect the total cost.

Black granite is the most common type of headstone, that is very hard and most commonly worked on.  The cheapest will be a short laser-etched inscription with no inlays or photos on a black granite headstone. 

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Sandblasting

Sandblasting is the main method used for most lettering and designs seen on headstones today. This is because sandblasting was the most efficient and cost-effective way to engrave a memorial. 

Now, laser etching is a cheaper option and becoming more and more popular. The machine is very costly to purchase and would put some people out of work, so it has not been adopted by all.

The funeral industry is slow to change. The cost for a piece is quite consistent and doesn’t vary much due to the assembly line nature of sandblasting.  You will pay by the piece or per character (roughly $8 per).

Etching

There are two types of etching methods that can be done in place or alongside sandblasting. The whole piece can be etched in most cases or can be added after sandblasting to make it more personal and add final touches. 

Hand-Etching

Hand-etching is seen as more traditional and artistic. Though because of the time and labor intensity, it can be double the price of a sandblasted piece.

Hand-etching is a difficult skill that adds character and customization to a headstone. Talented hand etchers also take longer to complete a piece and sought after ones may have a waitlist.  Many people now choose to have a combination of both to save money and time. 

Laser-Etching

Laser-etching is the least expensive alternative to hand-etching and sandblasting.  It is especially effective if a family wants an image duplicated onto the stone. The reason it is cheaper is the work is done all at one time.

This does not mean that the work won’t last as long. It will actually last the longest out of all the options because there is no human error and the depths of the cuts are all equal. It will last as long as the stone does. 

In fact, for more information on the best material for a headstone, you can read my article about this right here.

A small downside is that since all the cuts are equal it does not offer the same depth as a hand-etched. It can’t cut soft stones as well such as marble, it needs a hard stone to cut. 

Also, many people feel that it is not as artistic enough and want something more personalized. But, since it has the ability to etch photos with precision, what it lacks in character can be made up for with the quality of the images. 

Sculptures & Carving

For a more extravagant memorial, you can get a unique sculpture or carving. These can be personalized for the family or individual. The pricing for sculptures and carvings depends again on a number of factors and can range up to thousands of dollars. 

Ceramic/Porcelain Photos

Ceramic or porcelain photos are mostly used as an alternative to hand or laser etching to put a photo onto the headstone.

The average sizes range from 2 to 10 inches and can be bigger if requested.  The material is usually ceramic but porcelain can be done as well.

Most shapes can be bone such as oval, square, rectangle or a heart. Most people will get grey and black but having color is available as an option.

Prices usually start at $250.00 and can get into the $1,000s  for a larger piece. The photos are often of the deceased but for other images, such as scenery, pets, the price will depend on each picture’s complexity.

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Basic steps in getting the engraving done

  1. You choose the type of monument you want: flat, upright kerbed, etc.
  1. The type of stone: granite (most common), marble (can’t be laser-etched), quartzite (longest lasting). 
  1. What you want it to say and/or have any photos, extra engravings. 
  1. Check with the cemetery to make sure the headstone and the engraving is ok. 
  1. Submit it to multiple companies and shop around to get the best prices. 
  1. They will give you a time frame and get started. Once the draft has been done, a proof shot will be sent to you or you will go in to check the work. 
  1. Once you approve, the stone will start to be engraved and when completed, it will be sent to the cemetery for installation.  
  1. If the stone is already installed it can be done on-site, but it will cost more to have them come out to the site. The cemetery sometimes also charges an extra fee to allow that to happen. 

If you haven’t quite decided on the type of headstone you need yet, please refer to my full article on what a headstone costs.

How long does it take to have the lettering completed?

Most sandblasted headstone lettering is completed within six to eight weeks, from the time you place the order to the final product and installation in the cemetery.

Hand-carving will take longer. Laser etching can be done more quickly, but the issue is usually with the backorders. Almost all of this can be expedited in special circumstances for a fee. 

What do I get for the inscription?

Sometimes the simplest inscription works the best. Think about what your loved one and what they represented.

Something that reflected their personality and highlights something special about the person. You don’t need a lot, just a few words can really stand out and do the job.

Besides the basics such as their name and dates, try to focus on one thing and keep it simple.

Common things to get on a headstone are epitaphs, less formal statements, uplifting-quotes, funny sayings, memories, religious sentiments, and bible verses. 

Just be aware that some cemeteries have certain rules on these kinds of things, read on for more information.

Are all types of lettering allowed in all cemeteries?

Sadly no, many cemeteries now have rules and regulations regarding what type of lettering is allowed on the headstone. Make sure you check with the cemetery before you get any work done, especially if it involves pictures or carvings. 

In fact, I have written an entire article on whether or not you need permission to erect a headstone and some other connected ideas to bear in mind. You can read that article here.

How can I save money?

Engraving can get pricey, no matter the size of the piece but you still want it to look nice. The smaller the piece the less it is going to cost. 

Most companies understand this and have a payment plan if you can not afford it at the time. Another option is to get a tombstone that is already finished and engraved with a stock statement such as “In Loving Memory”. These stones just need names and dates added, this way you can save money while still having something which looks nice.

What if I want to edit, add, or get it repaired? 

If an edit needs to be done in the future, most companies will go directly to the cemetery.  This is also done for companion graves. You will probably have to pay a fee to have them come edit or add to it.  Though rare you may need to have the headstone repaired. Common issues are cracks and simple restorations. These generally cost around $150.

If you need to add a name to an existing headstone, then you will find my article about doing this extremely useful. There are some surprising rules you need to know about.

Online Dealers

You want the writing to stand the test of time. An inscription on a headstone is designed to be around for generations for your loved one to be remembered by. 

If you are looking to get it done online which may save you some money, make sure that you choose a reputable dealer. Ask to see other work the company has done and what are their guarantees. While most local companies stand by there work and have a guarantee, online dealers don’t always have this.  

Do I have to get the headstone engraved?

No, you don’t. You don’t even have to have a headstone or a casket. Green funerals are becoming more common and do not have any of these things. If you’ve never considered this, then read my article which goes into a lot of detail about green burials.

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