How to Add a Picture to a Headstone: 6 Methods


Sometimes people have a hard time grieving for their loved ones by a gravestone. When you miss someone, it’s hard to feel connected to them just sitting by a piece of stone.

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Even the most beautifully designed headstone can literally feel like a cold slab. Though it may never fully replace the warmth that a loved one radiated, more and more people are seeking to make headstones more personalized.

They are opting to include a likeness of their loved one on a headstone. Grave decorations like a simple headstone picture can make a grave marker feel more special. It can also add a warm, personal touch to a monument that often feels impersonal. Here we explore some of the ways that people incorporate pictures onto headstones.     

How to Add a Photo to an Existing Headstone

The concept of adding photographs to headstones is not a new one. Back in 1845, two French photographers developed a process that allowed photographic images to adhere to ceramic by firing it in a kiln.

These ceramic pictures were then mounted on grave markers. This is just one example of how you can add an image to a grave long after the headstone was built. Here, we’ll explore some more.  

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

1. Ceramic photograph

What you’ll need: Photograph printed onto a ceramic disc through an online company, silicone caulk, and strong double-sided adhesive (if necessary).

How to apply: As we mentioned above, photographs have been able to be printed onto ceramic discs for over 150 years. Many companies have streamlined the process, so it’s easier to do than ever. You can get them in several different sizes, including round, oval, rectangle, and heart. Some companies will send them complete with a very durable adhesive attached to the back.

Here’s how to install:

  • Decide where on the headstone you would like to apply the photo. 
  • Use rubbing alcohol to clean the area where the picture will be placed. This cleans the surface and prepares it for the adhesive. You can clean the whole grave if you’d like to, so you’re working on a consistent surface. 
  • If the company already applied adhesive to the ceramic disc, peel off the backing. Then place the photo in the area you cleaned for it. If it didn’t come with an adhesive backing, apply double-sided adhesive to the back of the disc before placing it.
  • Continue pressing the photo against the surface for about two minutes until it is securely bonded.
  • For additional polish, use a high-end silicone caulk to seal the gap between the edges of the picture and the headstone. This will make it look like a more professional installation. It will also help keep moisture from having a negative impact on the adhesive. This means your photograph will stay on for even longer and be more durable. 

Depending on the shape and size you go with, a ceramic headstone photo could cost anywhere from $100 to $350. 

2. Bronze plaque 

What you’ll need: Bronze plaque featuring an etched likeness of the deceased, sandpaper, and construction-grade adhesive.

How to apply: Sometimes it’s nice to give an existing headstone a little facelift. One great way to do that is to get a bronze plaque made that features the likeness of the deceased. This might have been etched using a photo reference. Look at the headstone first to find where there’s enough empty space to put a photo. Get a plaque made to those specifications. You can also have words etched into the plaque to further commemorate the deceased.

Bronze is a good material for a plaque like this, as it looks high-end but is also fairly durable. It will need some upkeep, though. Whenever you visit the cemetery be prepared to wipe away any tarnish and apply a coat of lacquer to protect it.

To secure the plaque, clean the spot on the headstone where you’re mounting it with alcohol. Use sandpaper on the back of the plaque to rough up the surface. This will actually strengthen the bond when you glue it down. Apply the adhesive to the back of the plaque and hold it up until it bonds to the spot. This might take about fifteen minutes. Wipe away any adhesive that might have dripped down before it has a chance to set. 

Before you buy an adhesive, talk to the experts at your local hardware store. They can advise you on what adhesive will adhere best to the surfaces you’re working with. Small bronze plaques can be commissioned for as little as $80. It’s a small price tag for an addition that will look expensive and high-end.     

3. Photo memorial wreath

What you’ll need: Laser cut wooden photo frames, laser cut Christmas tree ornaments, wooden wreath, festive fabric, family photos, waterproof lacquer, and strong waterproof glue.

How to apply: Not sure if you’re ready to commit to adding a permanent photo to a loved one’s headstone? Try out this temporary photo installation first. Many cemeteries allow families to adorn the grounds with seasonally appropriate decorations. This craft is a great way to introduce a photo element. Wrap a wreath in a festive seasonal fabric. Place photos of the deceased in the laser cut wooden photo frames.

Seal the photo and frame alike in waterproof lacquer to protect them both from the elements. Do the same thing to laser cut snowflakes and other winter-themed ornaments. Glue the pictures around the wreath, interspersing them with the lacquered ornaments. Finish the wreath with a large bow of the same fabric you wrapped it with.

This temporary decoration can be a great gateway into the world of headstone pictures. It’s also very inexpensive - you could get all the necessary materials for well under $100.  

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

How to Add a Photo to a New Headstone

If you’re currently in the market for a headstone, you can commission one that includes a picture of the deceased. Because the likeness is affixed right to the headstone, you don’t have to worry about it getting lost. It can also become the centerpiece of the design instead of an afterthought.

You can get a new headstone for an existing grave, assuming you have the grave deed that allows the headstone to be changed out. Or you can order a picture headstone for someone who has passed away recently. You can even pay ahead of time for your own headstone to make it easier for your family. Whatever your reason for looking for a headstone, here are some great ideas:

4. Photo headstone

Earlier we talked about ceramic photos that could be printed out and attached to an already-standing headstone. But many companies also include this feature when they’re creating a new headstone, by setting the ceramic photo disc right into the headstone. This makes for a sturdier long-term option.

The photos will be more secure when they’re attached to the headstone this way instead of after the fact. These photos can also provide the closest likeness of your loved one. The color and nuance that can be captured in ceramic printed photos are astounding.

New headstones cost $1,000 to $3,000. If you’re commissioning a new headstone, this detail won’t add significantly to that cost. 

5. Etched headstone

Ceramic printed photos can be a very accurate representation of the deceased. But over time, those images may begin to look dated. That’s just a function of faithfully adapting a photo print. Adhering to a photograph that captures a moment in time can make the photo seem stuck in that era. 

As a result, people sometimes opt to have their loved one’s likeness etched into a grave. Bronze and metal are both surfaces that lend themselves well to etching. You can get a very good interpretation of your loved one carved into a marble slab or bronze plaque as part of a new headstone.

Laser etching will be more affordable than hand-etching. But hand-etching gives you more options for compensation.

Depending on the size and material of your headstone, an etched portrait could add $600 to $2,000 to the final price tag.  

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

6. Digital headstone

This might sound like science fiction, but it’s much closer to scientific fact. There have been recent moves within the funeral industry to turn to digital headstones. Unlike traditional headstones, these are actually digital screens. They show interactive displays of the life of the deceased. They can feature photos, music, and video, and can include quotes from the deceased’s loved ones. 

This makes for a highly customizable headstone creation experience. There’s a reason they haven’t caught on widely yet, though. Technology constantly evolves. People might not want to commit to a system that may quickly turn obsolete. As such, there’s not a real price tag we can place on this option as of yet.     

Add a Personal Touch to a Headstone with a Picture

Buying a headstone or grave marker can be a complicated procedure. It stands as a final monument to a deceased loved one. So you want to put a great amount of thought into what it says and what it looks like. You might agonize over which font a memorial quote or epitaph looks best in. And obviously, you will pay attention to each decorative element you include. This includes any picture you might include on a headstone.

Generally speaking, you should select a photo of the deceased that they really loved. It could be from a special day in their lives, Or it could just be a picture they found especially flattering. Personal details like this can make any headstone feel more relatable and accessible.

If you're looking for more headstone buying tips, read our guides on temporary grave markers and grave blankets.

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