Your Guide to Designs, Lettering Methods, Color and Contrast on Headstones

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Alecia Milano
Posted by Alecia Milano on July 9, 2024

One of the most important parts of our job as a memorial provider is balancing headstone design best practices with what your family wants to see on your loved one’s headstone.   

There are a lot of factors that go into designing a headstone: size, shape, granite color, lettering font, lettering method, to name a few. And each of these factors impacts how a memorial will look when it is finished and placed at its final resting place.  

While we’re sure you have a beautiful vision in mind for your loved one’s memorial, it is our job to make sure that all the components work together from start to finish. Here are a few topics we often discuss together with families when designing headstones.  

If you’re ready for a conversation with a memorial specialist, please click here to set up a virtual or in-person meeting 

How Designs Appear on Different Headstone Shapes      

The arrangement of text, symbols and pictures can vary greatly depending on the headstone shape that you choose. While larger monuments, for example, allow room for larger letters and elaborate designs, lawn-level headstones may need to be a bit simpler 

Memorial shapes sketch

It’s also important to realize that more complex designs intended for larger stones cannot always be shrunken down to fit a smaller stone. Not only will the resulting design look busy on the smaller headstone, but it also may not be technically possible when sandblasting. 

sandblast engraving

Sandblasting is considered one of the most effective methods for engraving headstones and uses an air compressor to shoot small particles of sand through a hose to erode the granite surface. Prior to sandblasting, a rubber stencil of your custom design is cut and placed on the headstone.   

When drawing headstone designs to be sandblasted, every letter and symbol must have two lines that are ideally 1/8” apart from one another. If a design is reduced too much, the lines become too narrow for the rubber stencil to be cut. We can generally increase lines by 10% to 15% but shouldn’t reduce the size by more than 5%. 

Here is an example of what these lines look like in our CAD (computer-aided design) software.  

V-Lines Sandblasting CAD

A memorial specialist will guide you through the best size and arrangement for your headstone design, but it can be helpful to know why some ideas may need adjusted to best fit your loved one’s memorial.  

Headstone Fonts and Lettering Methods  

Families have a wide array of fonts and lettering methods to choose from to display a loved one’s name, birth and death dates, and meaningful quotes on their headstone. And while there are many beautiful options, some appear better than others depending on your memorial size and chosen granite color.  

For example, sans serif fonts (without the little feet on the letters) are usually better for smaller headstones or headstones with lots of text.  

Hughes - Lawn Level Memorial - Cleveland Memorial Gardens  Hosta_Upright Monument 2

More elegant or complex serif fonts tend to fit upright monuments best, like the one pictured below.  

Howard - Companion Memorial - Holy Cross Cemetery

Your chosen granite color can also impact how different fonts and lettering methods appear on your headstone. For darker granite colors like Jet Black or Impala Black, skin traced lettering adds nice contrast between the letters and the granite.  

Devic - Companion Memorial - St. Theodosius Cemetery

Meanwhile, lighter granite colors like Bethal White and Barre Grey tend to look best with deeper V-sunk lettering.  

Providenti - cropped

These are just a few examples of how lettering methods, fonts and granite colors combine to create truly beautiful headstones. However, our expert memorial designers can work with you and your family to design the unique style you’re looking for.  

Headstone Lettering Sample_1

Headstone Lettering Sample_2

>>> Related Resource: How Headstone Lettering Appears on Different Granite Colors 

Do Granite Colors Look the Same When Wet?     

Something that may not be immediately apparent is that certain granite color and lettering combinations, like frosted letters, will look different when wet. 

Gurchik - Slant Memorial - Maple Grove Cemetery 

Frosting is a technique used to create more contrast and dimension between lettering and the main portion of the headstone. However, when it rains, the frosted box can darken and blend in with the granite, making it harder to read the name or message on the stone.    

While this isn’t a huge concern for most families, it is something to be aware of when designing your loved one’s memorial. In the Milano Monuments showroom, we have spray bottles to demonstrate this effect if your family wants to see the difference before choosing a design.  

Discuss Your Headstone Design Options With a Memorial Specialist   

Evaluating your headstone design options can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Contact our team of memorial specialists and we can set up time to guide you (virtually or in-person) through which fonts, colors and headstone types make the most sense for your loved one.   


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Topics: Memorialization

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