Tombstone typography

Chris Dean's picture

When you're wearing your pine pyjamas, what typeface do you want them to use on your tombstone?

I'm going with Linotype Univers® 530 Basic Medium.

And Adrian, if you're out there, please design some small caps and old-style figures for Univers.

sasha-em's picture

This caught my eye for another reason entirely, but you might enjoy what it reminded me of. This guy Samuel Bean designed his wive(s) tombstones as a cryptogram. I found a picture of it in some typography book (maybe it was a Lupton book?) forever ago and I'm in love with it.

But to answer your question I sure hope mine is set in Mrs. Eaves.

John Hudson's picture

Typeface on my tombstone? No thank you.

Alaskan's picture

You be surprised at how strict graveyards are about tombstone design. If you want a uniquely beautiful tombstone, you'd better search for an accepting graveyard first. However, they all seem to accept tacky, gaudy or painfully sappy designs.

Ed_Aranda's picture

VAG Rounded - for sure.

David Rault's picture

I don't care what will be my tombstone type, for I don't believe in afterlife, so why should I.


dtw's picture

@DavidR: Posterity. You won't be there to look at it, but other people will. Wouldn't you like (now) to think that in the future they will see something stylish and think, "Ah yes, that was typical of him..."?
Otherwise, you might similarly ask "What's the point in looking after the planet?"

David Rault's picture

Yes, actually, what's the point?

Andreas Stötzner's picture

John Hudson: “Typeface on my tombstone? No thank you.”


will powers's picture

Were I to have a tombstone, it'd be cut by Christopher Stinehour of Berkeley, California. I know he'd not use any existing typeface, but cut letters just for that particular stone. & I'd not want to see any of it before I perish.


Chris Dean's picture

Courtesy of my supervisor, Dr. Raymond Klein.

John Hudson's picture

Andreas: Disillusioned?

Typography is a technology for the reproduction of text. Since a tombstone is a unique production, both in terms of being a singular material object and containing text that is relevant only to the individual there interred, typography strikes me as an inappropriately generic and industrial technology.

Alaskan: You be surprised at how strict graveyards are about tombstone design.

This is certainly true in large urban and suburban cemeteries. In North America, many places allow only flat, cast memorial plaques on concrete bases, so as to make it easier to cut the grass.

Thankfully, my local cemetery isn't like that.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I am with Will and John on this one. I want something carved into stone.

jb_tubman's picture

Correction: They’re called monuments or memorials. It’s only a tombstone if it is on a tomb, which is a large vault, which is different from a grave. Also, the correct word is “cemetery,” not “graveyard.”

I may be an enthusiastic computer nerd amateur in the world of typography and design, but I was a professional in the world of monuments. I spent four summers of my youth working at my family’s funeral home, installing them in cemeteries (along with many other kinds of chores that you probably don’t want to read about here). And my brother is a regional manager for a major Canadian memorials company. And I live half a block from one of the biggest cemeteries in Calgary.

My brother used to have his own firm, before he (happily) sold it to the company he now works for. He used software called “MonuCAD” for the designs. Letters are (generally) sandblasted into the rock, not carved. Monument production is quite, quite industrial.

Could you have guessed that I’m a member of the Facebook group “You know you grew up in a Funeral Home if....”?

Jim Tubman
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
"The Stampede City"

P.S. Has anyone seen a monument done in Comic Sans?

IEUAN REES's picture

I make my living entirely from commissioned lettering and calligraphic work in Wales, UK and in recent years the request for hand carved headstones has increased enormously. The reason is that more and more people are getting fed up with the cold typographical approach of most monumental masons and they want to have something more personal and unique.
I can carve any typeface but type faces for 2D rarely work on stone due the influence and direction of light on the v-cut incision and most are not sympathetic to the chisel, wrist movement nor to the stone.
Letters suitable for carving are usually too heavy for typefaces as the horizontal lines in particular need to be heavier as the shadow reduces their weight. The weight of the letters will depend on which direction the stone faces and how much light falls on them and if there are any trees or buildings around that would prevent enough light to come through.
Every headstone I design and carve is individually considered for the needs of the family and its location and often I need to personalize the letters and working with typefaces would restrict creativity and individuality.

If you are interested to see some of my headstones and other work please visit my web site:

Ieuan Rees

Ed_Aranda's picture

@IEUAN REES: I browsed your website, and that is some remarkable work you've done! I can't imagine working with a medium as unforgiving as stone. Artists who were born into the digital age I believe become spoiled by the option to undo a mistake at the click of a button. Stone, more so than anything other medium, I would imagine requires the artist to work under the pressure of consequence for a bad decision or a slip of the hand.

rs_donsata's picture

No tombstone. Bury me on the woods and plant a tree over my guts. You can name the tree after me.


John Hudson's picture

Given my views on what Jim Tubman rightly describes as ‘industrial’ production of monuments with sandblasted lettering, I was bemused to receive today this image from Maxim Zhukov, showing my Sylfaen Cyrillic type used on a stone at the Troekurovo Cemetery in Moscow.

dberlow's picture

"When you die, what typeface do you want them to use on your tombstone?"



Chris Dean's picture

A tree as a tombstone. I think planting a tree as opposed to erecting a stone is beautiful.

Chris Dean's picture

I thought Wikipedia's definition of epitaph might be of interest.

russellm's picture

some photos I took recently at Toronto's Necropolis:

stick letters - a popular theme

Cast Iron letters mounted on a wrought iron gate.

A complete and utter mystery.

CCC ligature!
These letters are cast lead inlaid into the stone. there are quite few tombstone from the same era around here with similar cast lead inscriptions, which possibly suggests that monument makers of the day could order them out of a catalog, which in a way makes it type.

More lead 'type' from the same stone. I like the TH ligature.

This one, from an older stone shows some mounting details.

JamesM's picture

> I spent four summers of my youth working
> at my family’s funeral home

My brother is a minister and has heard some interesting anecdotes from his funeral director friends. Like the time one of the funeral directors was listening to a ball game on the radio while driving the hearse to the cemetery, and was so distracted that he drove 5 miles past the cemetery, with a long procession of mourners following dutifully in their cars.

When he realized his error he turned the hearse around in a parking lot, with all the mourners following him, and headed back to the cemetery. He expected the family to chew him out later, but they never said a word.

oldnick's picture

Some of Eric Gill's first forays into typeface design were in the field of tombstone lettering. These letterforms are based on his work on Percy Joseph Hiscock's tombstone in Chichester caathedral...

riccard0's picture

Amazing photo, Neverblink! It seems a book cover.

hrant's picture

Superb photo. Horrible tombstone - it's like the guy never lived.


eliason's picture

It seems a book cover.

I half-expect to see an Amazon "Click to LOOK INSIDE!" banner on top!

Chris Dean's picture

@neverblink: Do you have a high res so we can read the type at the base of the stone?

I'd love to see what Müller-Brockmann's tombstone looks like. Does anyone know where he is buried?

russellm's picture

Tombstone like a business card?

Some folks don't know when to quit.

neverblink's picture


The image I posted was taken from Creative Review. It's a headstone done by Peter Saville and Ben Kelly for their friend and collaborator Anthony H Wilson.

You can read the full article, with more photos here:

simon's picture

Yeah, like I said in the Creative Review blog comments, I'm not sure Rotis is a very good typeface for a tombstone, particularly at the letter sizes Saville uses here. I'm not keen on Rotis and, if I'm honest, I was never really keen on Tony Wilson: then again, saves ruining another couple - an unappealing '80s type for an unappealing media type.

mike_duggan's picture

not typographic necessarily, but a few classics here

hrant's picture

It's interesting that the two cubes are actually making a Muslim star.


JamesM's picture

I like Rand's memorial although it vaguely reminds me of a pair of dice.

TylerEldredge's picture

I want my tombstone in comic sans, sort of as a cosmic middle finger to the universe.

Té Rowan's picture

I have already picked out my epitaph: ^D

Probably oughta be monospaced, though, something like VT320.

hrant's picture

Very nice.
BTW, what's wrong with Janno Hahn anyway?


Chris Dean's picture


quadibloc's picture

It's quite true that, in general, one does not have tombstone typography. Nor is it really tombstone calligraphy, although that comes closer.

I did a search on "monumental lettering", hoping to find the correct term, but it seems that there is no single word, and that phrase is often what is used for what the people who carved the Trajan column did.

So there you have it.

Tombstone Monumental Lettering

as a possible improved title for this thread.

hrant's picture

Actually these days most tombstones are done by machine, so it's definitely typography. Not a very good kind of typography, but still.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Am I the only one who plans on being cremated?

hrant's picture

I'd like to go straight into the earth in my birthday suit.
But it's probably illegal since it doesn't cost much money.


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