How Long Are Laser-Etched Headstones Supposed to Last?

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Purchasing a headstone is expensive. Along with other funeral expenses, headstones can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 on average. Those made of more exotic materials or elaborate designs can go up to $10,000 or more. Understandably, it’s critical that the names, dates, and pictures or symbols placed on the surface last for generations. 

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Many families like the idea of laser-engraved headstones. But how long do laser-etched headstones last? Will they stand up to the elements and remain pristine over time? Here is everything you need to know about laser-etched headstones.

Average Lifespan of Laser-Etched Headstones

When a picture is etched into the surface of a headstone, it becomes a physical part of the stone. The picture can’t be removed or taken off, and it certainly won’t fall off. As long as a laser-etched headstone is taken care of and maintained properly, the picture and wording should last for decades into the future. 

If you’re getting ready to purchase a headstone for a loved one or you’re deciding on an option for your own burial someday, you want to consider how long you want the headstone to last. Headstones are small memorials to the person buried beneath them, meaningful for a family’s legacy, and traditionally grouped together in family plots. Needless to say, you want the headstone to last more than a decade or two.

Laser-etched headstones give you the opportunity to place a person’s name, dates, and picture on a slab of granite that looks as clear and crisp as the actual photograph. 

ยป MORE: How do you handle your loved one's final affairs? Get your free post-loss checklist.

 

What’s the Difference Between Laser-Etched and Engraved Headstones?

When purchasing a headstone for a loved one, you’ll need to decide on either laser etching or engraving of their name, dates, and other desired elements. While both ensure clear marking of a person’s information, there are several differences between laser etching and engraving.

Expense

Laser etching is completed with a computer-directed laser that burns the desired design into the stone.

Once the name, date, symbol, and photographic requirements are entered, the program completely takes over. Since this process is completely computerized, the associated cost is significantly less than engraving.

Depth

Laser etching places the design directly into the surface of the stone. The design is often just beneath the surface of the stone and the design is not very deep. The laser etching process takes less time and removes less stone in the process.

Engraving, on the other hand, places the designs deeper into the stone. Due to the increased depth, they are less subject to corrosion and degradation over time. They hold their shape and sharpness with greater clarity even when in areas that receive significant amounts of rain, snow, and wind.

Clarity

Both laser etching and engraving provide words and pictures with pristine clarity. If, however, you desire a full photograph to be placed on the headstone, then laser etching is going to be the best option. 

Laser etching can produce a clear picture based on a photograph better than engraving. Engraving can produce symbols and very basic pictures but cannot accomplish the more complicated pictures currently desired by many families.

Design

Laser etching far out-paces engraving. Your headstone design needs could very well determine which service — laser etching or engraving — you need.

If you want basic names, dates, and a few symbols such as roses or religious symbols, you can choose laser etching or engraving. Either option will work well and, if you need a budget-friendly option, you can choose laser etching.

If you want a full picture in addition to names and dates, then laser etching is the only way to go. Traditional engraving cannot produce the depth, complexity, and clarity needed when transferring a photograph onto a black granite headstone.

Quick Tips for Making Your Headstone Last

Given how much headstones cost, it’s important to make sure that it lasts for years to come. A quick look around a cemetery is all you need to see many examples of headstones that weren’t made to last. While you’d expect headstones from the 1600s to fade and wear with time, some stones that are more recent also show signs of wear. 

To keep a headstone looking as sharp as possible for many years to come, follow these easy tips for purchasing and preservation.

Purchase quality granite

When you have words or an image laser-etched on a headstone, it means the design is drawn directly into the stone. Because of the process, the etching itself should last as long as the stone. This is where quality is important.

The etching is drawn into the top of the stone. All stones wear down over time due to erosion from rain, wind, sand, and touch. If a soft stone is purchased for a headstone and a tribute is etched into the surface, the stone will degrade over time. As the stone wears away, the etching and epitaph will wear away as well. 

To get a better idea of how this works, simply visit an old cemetery and look for the oldest headstones. Many times, you can barely make out the first and last name of the person laid to rest there. Why? The stone was likely the most inexpensive option. After just a few hundred years, the stone wears down so much that the names and dates are barely recognizable.

If you want an etching to last for hundreds of years, it’s important to buy a headstone made from a high-quality granite. Granite is a hard, dark stone that is resistant to erosion and fading. Granite headstones will last for hundreds of years into the future with little to no sign of fading or weathering.  

Apply a sealant

Though this is extra on top of your standard headstone cost, applying a sealant to your stone could be well worth it. If you need to purchase a less expensive stone, a sealant can help protect the stone from weather and erosion even though the stone itself is of poorer quality.

The surface should remain clear and sharp with a sealant applied to the stone, even if the base or sides begin to erode. The person’s name, dates, and picture will remain untouched thanks to the sealant on top, even if the rest of the stone begins to degrade. Sealants work especially well if etching onto the surface of less traditional and more unique headstones.

Use dark granite

Etching works the best when set against a dark high-quality granite stone. Though you can still etch on lighter stones, the contrast is lower on light or white stones.

In order to obtain an etching that can be seen well both up close and far away and for many years to come, dark high-quality granite is best. A dark stone also works best when etching a complicated picture, symbol, or multiple lines of text.

Maintain the stone

Each season, headstones get rained on, snowed on, leaves cover them, and dirt and dust can add up. By the time fall ends or summer comes around, the stone is probably due for a good cleaning. Erosion takes the largest toll on headstones and etchings or engravings.

To boost the longevity of the stone as much as possible, schedule a regular maintenance cleaning once or twice a year. Clearing off dirt, mud, and debris with simple water and a soft brush will help keep the stone and the etching looking good for years to come.

Use gentle cleansers

When cleaning a headstone, it’s important to stay away from harsh or abrasive chemicals. Abrasive cleaners can contribute to a stone’s degradation.

These cleaners can even wear into the layer of etching. When this occurs, the etching and the stone’s surface will become flush with one another and the etching can entirely wear away. 

Choose your headstone position

If you’re able to choose the place that the plot and headstone will go, choose a place that is as sheltered from the elements as possible. The less exposed your headstone is to the weather, the longer it will last. Most headstones degrade faster because they are exposed to wind, rain, sunlight, and snow on a year-round basis. Keep your headstone as protected as possible to ensure its longest life possible.

Some things to keep in mind include whether the stone is positioned out in the open, is under the covering of trees, or is sheltered by the side of a building, a pergola, awning, or another structure that happens to be in the vicinity. Consider the area of the plot and stone carefully before choosing. 

A Memorial to Last

Take your time when choosing the right headstone for your loved one. Your choice will be a permanent memorial and tribute to your loved one’s life, influence, love, and legacy on earth.

If you're looking for more headstone-buying resources, read our guides on pet headstones and how to add a photo to a headstone.


Sources

  1. “Laser Engraved Headstone Full Process Overview.” YouTube, uploaded by AP Lazer, 28 Aug. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZbU4Vs6-4k.

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