When making burial arrangements for a loved one, one important step is to select a grave marker. Choosing one is not easy, but it can be a significant step towards your healing process.
In this article, we offer a guide to choosing a grave marker that will best memorialize your loved one. We discuss different types, cost, design options, and other important information to consider.
What is a Grave Marker?
A grave marker is a slab of stone or bronze the lays flush to the ground and marks the site of a grave. They might also be called lawn marker, grass marker, flush marker, or lawn-level stone.
The term ‘grave marker’ can be used to refer to any means of signifying a grave, such as a tombstone, cross, or flat markers. We will focus on flat, nearly flat, and specialty markers in this article—not headstones or tombstones.
A grave marker is usually simple in design and contains personal information such as the name, birth date, and date of death. In most cases, it also features some words or phrases meant to honor the memory of the deceased.
Families often wait for weeks or months before buying a permanent grave marker. In its place, a temporary marker is put on the grave as a place holder.
Some cemeteries have dedicated sections meant only for grave markers (not headstones). Memorial park is a term for a cemetery that only allows grave markers.
Types of Grave Markers
Grave markers generally fall into three categories:
Flat Grave Markers
Flat markers are flush to the ground and made of solid stone or topped with bronze. This memorial is usually placed at the head of the burial space. When it comes to size, a flat marker can either be in single, companion, or child size. These are very easy to maintain.
Ledger Grave Markers
A grave marker may be too small or not have enough freedom for details. In this case, a ledger grave marker can provide enough space for engraving words and illustrations for your loved one.
Ledger markers are flat grave markers that can cover the entire burial space. It is a thick slab of stone typically measuring 8 inches thick. Of course, they are installed after the casket is buried.
You can use a ledger grave marker with an upright headstone at the head of the grave, or simply use it alone. Ledger grave markers are also suitable for multiple burials due to their size.
Specialty Grave Markers
Specialty markers are those with unique designs and styles. While the usual grave markers are flat and rectangular, special markers can be made in unique cut designs.
Some examples of specialty markers are memorial benches, obelisks, crosses, and angel statues. There are a lot more customizable designs for specialty markers. Giving you the freedom to choose one that would best honor the deceased.
An older grave in Purewa Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo taken by Photo by Sandy Millar.
From Jalan Makam Peneleh, Peneleh, Surabaya City, East Java, Indonesia. Photo by Kevin Yudhistira Alloni.
Grave Marker Materials
it helps to be familiar with material types when purchasing a grave marker. There is a wide range to choose from, but the most popular options are granite and bronze.
Bronze and granite are both durable, long-lasting, and easy to clean and maintain. They are also available in different colors and easy to customize. There is a wide range of options for personalization and embellishment for both choices.
Granite is an extremely resilient material which is why it has been a common choice for grave markers for centuries. Due to the integrity of the stone, it is durable, long-lasting, and capable of withstanding natural elements.
Granite markers are available in various colors and styles. They can also be finished with elegant polishes and finishes. Craftsmen can engrave almost any design on a granite grave marker.
Another suitable material for a grave marker is bronze. Bronze is an alloy mostly made of copper and contains other metals such as tin. This material is highly durable, making it a perfect choice for grave markers.
These typically feature a granite base topped with a polished bronze plaque. It is created by heating and liquifying the bronze and then shaping it in a mold that contains the design of the plaque. The marker is then applied with brown tinting.
Aside from rectangle shapes, bronze markers are also available in specially cut designs such as oval or heart shapes.
Alternatively, markers can also be created out of other materials such as slate, marble, and fieldstone.
These materials can look great when used as a grave marker, but they are not as durable. Relative to granite and bronze, these materials tend to deteriorate quickly—which is why cemeteries usually do not recommend these materials.
How Much Is a Grave Marker?
Prices vary depending on style and detail, but here is a general guide to price range among material. Read our guide to headstone prices to see how markers compare to other options.
The price of a granite grave marker will start around $200 and reach $1,800 for a single grave. It would cost about $600 to $2,500 for a granite marker in companion size (two graves).
These prices vary depending on the specific dimensions, color, and the amount of engraving and illustration included.
For a bronze grave marker, it can cost around $600 to $2,500 for a single size and $1,500 to $3,000 for a companion size.
These prices also vary depending on the dimensions, color, lettering, and illustrations included.
Depending on other customizations such as the rare color of the stone, amount of lettering, symbols, illustrations, and the seller, a grave marker can cost up to $10,000 or more.
Note that a grave marker, especially if purchased from a cemetery, is purchased separately from the burial site.
- Grave markers are always installed by professionals and require an installation fee, which starts at around $200 to $2,000. The two main factors affecting cost varies are the size and weight of the grave marker.
- Depending on where you grave marker is made, you may incur a shipping cost that will vary according to the size and weight of the marker, as well as the distance traveled.
- Some sellers charge separately for engraving of name, birth date, date of death, and other additional lettering. Typical engraving usually costs around $500.
How To Choose a Grave Marker
- First, find out if the cemetery permits additional designs on the grave marker. You might not be allowed to add any more details apart from the name, birthdate, date of death, and a few words. In if this is a problem, reach out to the cemetery. They will inform you of your options.
- Decide where to purchase. Different retailers offer different materials, price ranges, and levels of customization. Start with your cemetery (local recommendations) to avoid shipping costs if possible. We discuss other purchase options later in the article.
- Choose a size. A small grave marker will have a limited amount of space for additional designs apart from the basic details. If the grave marker is larger, such as a ledger marker, you would have more room to add illustrations, designs, and letterings.
- Decide on the type, material, and size of the grave marker. If you already know which style of grave marker to choose, you can narrow down your design options. For instance, a bronze marker allows embossing. On the other hand, granite markers are etched and engraved.
Design Options and Accessories
After choosing the style for a grave marker, it is now time for the design process.
When considering a marker, it is usually best to draw from the personality, beliefs, and identity of your loved one. Think about how they would want to be remembered.
For instance, if your loved one was a nature lover, consider a design that features outdoor scenery. If your loved one was a religious person, you might choose to feature religious themes, emblems, or symbols.
There are also other entry points to get creative when planning for a grave marker. You can add words, illustrations, and symbols, as well as accessorize with a portrait and vase.
One of the most important elements on a grave marker, apart from the basic details, will be the words you choose. Epitaph and scripture are common tributes for a person’s life. Try to choose words or phrases that capture your loved one’s identity.
A good place to start for inspiration are the favorite quotes, poems, song lyrics, and Bible verses of the deceased. However, you are not limited to these options. You are free to choose what you think would be preferred by your loved one.
Get suggestions from other family members and friends or borrow from existing epitaphs and other sources. You can also create your own.
There is a wide range of options when it comes to choosing illustrations for the grave marker. You can add artwork, emblems, symbols, logos, and other visuals that reflect the person’s life.
Usually, the maker will have extensive options for illustrations for you to choose from. And most manufacturers provide the choice for you to design your own unique illustration for the deceased.
Examples of traditional illustrations are flowers, angels, and praying hands. You can also add images that draw from the organization or groups in which your loved one belonged to, such as military symbols, religious icons, sports logos, or others.
Many families find it comforting to see a photo of their loved one on the grave marker. Recent advances allow for an exact replication of images on porcelain tile for a reasonable price—either in color or in black and white.
After you provide your chosen photo, the maker will replicate it permanently onto a ceramic tile. They can form it in different shapes such as oval, rectangle, heart shape, or circle. Another benefit, is that ceramic pictures are easy to install.
Make sure to provide a photo with a high resolution to ensure that the finished product will have fine details.
Some families choose to accessorize with vases to hold flowers from each visit. Usually, a flat grave marker will have a hole that accommodates a flower vase. When the vase is not in use, families can turn it upside down or lay it flush on the grave.
Vases are available in a wide range of materials and styles. The most popular types are granite, bronze, and metal.
Typically, granite vases go well with granite grave markers. The same goes for those made of bronze. The most economical option would be made of aluminum or zinc.
Where to Buy Grave Markers?
You can purchase a grave marker directly from the cemetery, funeral home, or an online monument company.
It is a common option for families to buy the burial plot and the grave marker at the same time directly from the cemetery. In this case, the cemetery staff will keep the family posted on all details of the grave marker including the price quote, design, and installation services.
This is a convenient option since cemeteries usually have rules about the grave markers they allow in their property. In this case, you will not have to worry about meeting their requirements and they will handle the details.
Some funeral homes have selections of grave markers as well. Purchasing from a funeral home can be a good option since the funeral director will help you with the buying process and the majority of your funeral expenses will be in one place.
However, it may take a bit more time to process the order since funeral homes do not manufacture the markers themselves. They would only serve as a mediator between the family and the cemetery or other source. Usually, families buy from a funeral home when their chosen cemetery does not offer grave markers.
This can lead to increased cost.
Online Monument Company
The best option is to purchase from an online monument company or retailer. These sellers focus on providing grave markers and other memorials, and they usually have extensive options that provide the best value.
Since this is not one of those urgent decisions, shopping online can be a great choice.
You will have unlimited options and more opportunity for customization. This way you can truly arrive at a unique tribute for your loved one.
Buying online makes it easier to shop around and find the best value. Some online retailers offer free shipping and do not charge an extra fee for additional engravings.
One thing to remember, though, is that it is your responsibility to determine the rules and guidelines of the cemeteries regarding allowable material and size of the grave marker.
Take Note of Cemetery Restrictions
Some cemeteries are very particular about the type of grave marker installed in their property. They regulate the types of materials, sizes, and sometimes even the design. Some cemeteries only permit bronze markers, and some only allow granite. Each cemetery is different.
Unlike funeral homes, cemeteries are not required by law to give you a printed price list before you buy, and no federal regulations give cemetery customers the right to buy only the services and merchandise they want.Funeral Consumers Alliance
In each case, you must check the policies and guidelines of the cemetery before purchasing.
If you will buy a grave marker from an online retailer, they will often need (critical) information about the cemetery’s rules. In some cases, they will reach out to the cemetery themselves and confirm their regulations.
It will save time and make the process simpler if you are familiar with cemetery policies.
It depends. Because grave markers are available in a range of materials, styles, designs, and sizes, prices vary widely.
To give you a price range for popular the choices, a granite grave marker costs between $200 and $1,800 for a single size, and range from $600 to $2,500 for a companion size. For a bronze grave marker, it can cost between $600 to $2,500 for a single size and $1,500 to $3,000 for a companion size.
Yes. You can buy a granite marker from an online monument company or retailer, instead of your funeral home and cemetery. Online sellers usually have a variety of styles and choices and offer less expensive prices than cemeteries. They make it easy to compare by prominently indicating their prices.
No. Before buying a grave marker, especially online, it is important that you check the rules and guidelines of the cemetery first. Most cemeteries regulate the allowable size, material, and design of the grave markers being installed on their property.
Sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably but a grave marker generally pertains to a flat marker flush to the ground, while a headstone refers to upright monuments installed at the head of the burial space. Both grave markers and headstones have various styles and designs.
Yes. Recent technology allows for the production of exact replicas of photographs onto ceramic tiles. The finished product can then be installed onto the grave marker as an accessory.
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