Upright Headstones, Gravestones, and Memorials

When it comes time to memorialize a recently passed loved one, you can tell their story in no grander fashion than with a beautifully designed Upright Headstone. There are many shapes, sizes and colors, ranging from the very traditional look, all the way to the modern and completely custom memorial sculpture.

In this article, we are going to go over the basic design elements of some of the most beautiful upright memorials that we have had the pleasure of bringing their story to life.

Table of Contents

  1. Custom or Traditional Uprights
  2. Choosing your material
  3. Sizes and Colors
  4. Flat top, Serpentine top, and Rock Pitching
  5. Single and Double (Companion) Upright Headstones
  6. Truly Custom and One of a Kind Uprights
  7. Prices and what to expect
  8. Where to go to purchase an Upright Headstone

Custom or Traditional Uprights

An Upright Headstone is maybe the most common headstone, seen all over North America and Into Northern Europe. The tradition of placing an Upright Headstone can be seen in many religious burials (Muslim, Jewdism, & Christianity most popular). The Upright typically encompasses the whole story of the deceased. Full Name, date of birth and passing, a message, prayer, verse, and favorite saying are all traditionally engraved on the headstone. As you start to think about your design, it helps to think of fond memories with your loved one and the mark they have left on this earth.

Traditional Upright Headstone
Custom Upright Headstone

Traditional Upright Monuments

Traditionally, an upright memorial will be set atop a 1′ thick “Base” and then placed at the very top of the grave plot. One of the most recognized headstones, uprights typically stand between 2′ and 3′ tall. So when the monument is completely set up, you can expect it to stand 3-4 feet tall. The top of the upright will likely be oval as seen with many Military Headstones or a serpentine top or “serp top” for short. 

For those looking to tell the story of a strong and prominent individual, this is our recommendation. The height of the headstone, combined with the overall surface area to tell their story just can’t be beaten. Being one of the most common also means that you may be able to build your loved one’s monument for less than you previously thought. See our Upright Headstones and Grave Markers Price section below.

Custom Upright Monuments

The only thing grander than a Traditional Upright Memorial is one with a completely custom shape and color. Both are unique to the loved one or loved ones lost and aid in helping to tell their story. Keep in mind that if a custom headstone is what you are looking for then please know that once the initial design is done and the proofs are finalized, these headstones can range from 3-6 months before they can be fully set on the burial plot. Also, the more unique and rare the stone or material, the more expensive. If neither time nor money is an issue for telling your loved one’s story than we highly recommend designing to your heart’s content. In most cases, any shape and size can be built.

Choosing Your Material

This is always a good place to start. Throughout North America, the most chosen material to build these types of memorials is granite. Granite is a natural stone mined from select portions of the world. Granite is long lasting and tough. With proper engraving techniques, you can expect your chosen memorial to last for an industry average of 7 lifetimes.

Other but far less common materials used for Uprights are sandstone, limestone, and other natural stones. Being less common, you will likely pay a pretty penny to build your chosen memorial in anything other than granite.

SIzes and Colors


As far as Upright Headstones are concerned, they typically stand between 3-4 feet once complete. Typically, the upright is placed on a base which is likely to be 6 inches to 1 foot wider on either side, centering the upright in the middle. (2-5 inches on either side if you will not be incorporating flower vases.) For single Upright Headstones, they typically range between 1.5-3 feet wide. For Double Upright Headstones or Companion Upright Headstone, they would likely exceed the 3 feet depending on the design. 


The color of the stone is what we call the headstone’s “Body Language”. By this we mean it is the first thing that anyone will notice about the stone, and says more about the loved one than most other aspects at times. The color of the granite typically corresponds to the price point, much like what we spoke on in the materials section. Most of the “colorful” granite used for upright headstones come from outside of the United States. (I.e Black from India, Blue Pearl from Norway)

The most common colors of granite are white and gray, both are typically mined in the hills the Sierra Nevada mountains as well as parts of Minnesota and the North East United States. China and India both supply similar white and gray granites.

Flat top, Serpentine top, and Rock Pitching

Flat top

Flat top Upright Monuments are most commonly used in conjunction with other memorial designs like pagodas and mausoleums. If you are looking to make an attractive modern statement with your loved ones upright, then a flat top may be your edge. Typically smooth and polished, this design style adds the touch of class your clean cut loved one always had. PICTURE

Serpentine top

The Serpentine Top is “THE” headstone topper for 85% of all upright memorials. Typically incorporated with a rock pitch finish, the serpentine is a centered and tapered design element. Almost all serpentine tops start from the top middle of the headstone and taper down 1.5-2 inches at the outer edge of the headstone. PICTURE

Rock Pitching

This is the name for the “natural finish” incorporated in many an upright headstone design. Natural and longest living, a rock pitched side of a memorial is one that has been set and literally broken away with hammer and chisel. To craft this design element, the monument builder must set a precise line and break the stone by tapping each point one after another until the stone naturally cracks. No two rock pitches are the same, thus adding a level of uniqueness to each stone.

Rock pitched base with custom Upright Memorial
Natural Rock Pitched Upright Boulder with Plaque

Single & Double (Companion) Upright Memorials

Single Upright Monuments

As mentioned previously, the single upright headstone is one that will only tell the story of one individual. Their full name, date of birth, and their passing. Most commonly customized to the single persons life and message, the single upright headstone can be completely engraved with even the finest of detail.

Double (Companion) Upright Monuments

Aligning with more of a traditional design, a double upright headstone, also known as a Companion Upright Headstone, is a singular headstone that spans the space of 2 burial plots or graves. Likely a loving couple or potentially a whole family’s names may adorn this design. The last name or surname tends to be the prominent large letters engraved across the top with each birth and passing date engraved on either side of the front face.

Truly One of a Kind Upright Headstone Monuments

These designs are ones that we truly had the pleasure to design. Many shown below will call upon one central element, a favorite flower, tree, sport, or life’s calling, to design.

Prices for Traditional and Custom Upright Headstones, What to expect.

Prices for traditional Upright Headstones

As far as Traditional Upright Headstones go, you can expect to pay somewhere between $2000 – $5000+ depending on size, shape, color, and amount or personalization. As mentioned before, color plays a huge factor in how expensive an Upright Headstone might be. Gray and White will likely be the most cost-effective while Blue Pearl and Emerald Pearl, with their iridescent flakes, can potentially increase the price of the same design 4 fold.

Prices for Custom Upright Headstones

When we say “you can design to your heart’s content” know that the price for such designs will reflect the amount of work and materials that will be needed to accomplish your vision. A completely custom headstone typically starts at the $5000 mark and could cost as much as $100,000 for the most elaborate of upright setups. If you are serious about using every inch of the stone to celebrate your loved one’s life then we highly recommend you give us a call so that one of our expert memorial designers can cater the stone and design experience to your loved one’s unique story.

In Conclusion

Here at Santa Barbara Monumental are here to help, we believe that every life has a story tell and each should be celebrated. We hope we helped you understand the basics of Uprights and if you are willing, we would love to set a meeting to design the story of your loved one in stone.

Let's start telling the story of your loved one in stone.

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