Is there any better way of immortalising or paying tribute to someone than a dedicated and engraved plaque? A memorial or commemorative plaque is a stone or metal plate to honour someone’s life and legacy.
It’s typically secured to a fixture like a statue, wall or memorial bench. Of course, plaques aren’t limited to memorials: a plaque can also be used to give directions, celebrate an occasion or recognise donors. Engraved plaques can also celebrate the opening of a new building or park.
In the past, traditional materials like stone and wood were commonly used to make memorial plaques. The modern world also introduced artificial materials like acrylic and resin – but in the face of wear and tear, they don’t always hold up in harsh weather conditions. Even treated wood can break down over time, whilst glass and plastic are also not practical and prone to damage. So, which is the best material to use in making a plaque?
The best materials for an engraved plaque are bronze, brass and stainless steel, which are metal alloys. These alloys are all notable for their strength, hardness and corrosion resistance. Granite, marble, glass and aluminium are also used for memorial and commemorative plaques. The ideal choice depends on a range of environmental factors and local conditions.
When choosing the best materials for a plaque, the overall look and feel shouldn’t be the only criteria. More importantly, you should consider whether that material can withstand the elements and the test of time. Choosing the optimal material also depends on the location of the plaques; indoor and outdoor plaques have different material requirements, for instance.
If you plan to install a plaque, your laser engraving service can advise you on which material is most suitable. However, you may want to come prepared and do some research ahead of time so you can weigh up your options. Whatever your reason for installing a plaque, this guide is here to help you decide which material is right for you.
What Materials Are Used For Plaques?
Bronze, brass, stainless steel, granite, marble, glass and aluminium are the most common materials used for memorial or commemorative plaques. Materials like stones and wood are also a common option for memorial plaques.
Silver and gold are premium options for those willing to make a more significant financial investment in a commemorative piece.
With modern technology, various artificial materials can also be engraved for memorial plaques. These materials include porcelain, acrylic, resin and crystal.
Laser engraving companies will typically have specific materials they’re able to work with, since the equipment used to engrave a metal plaque is not necessarily suitable for acrylic or granite. It’s possible for plaques to be created using several different marking techniques, so it’s also important to understand the difference between laser etching and laser engraving, and which materials are suitable for each. You’ll want to ask your local service provider which materials their workshop handles, and typically they can provide the sheet metal or slab for the plaque as well as engraving services.
What Metal Is Best For Outdoor Plaques?
Bronze is the best metal for many outdoor applications. It’s an alloy mainly consisting of copper, with added tin. This composition makes cast bronze harder, thicker and more durable than other plaque materials, as copper and tin are rust-proof metals. An engraved bronze plaque can last a long time under any weather conditions, and it doesn’t tarnish or lose legibility.
Brass and aluminium, both cast and anodised, are also suitable for outdoor plaques. However, they are susceptible to vandalism and wear and tear over time. Stainless steel can also be used for outdoor plaques and signage, depending on its grade.
What Is The Best Material For An Underwater Plaque?
Stainless steel is the best material for an underwater plaque. In particular, grade 316 stainless steel is typically used in marine applications. This alloy has eighteen per cent chromium, more than eight per cent nickel and between two and three per cent molybdenum.
Molybdenum is the element that gives stainless steel its high resistance to salt and makes it ideal for more inhospitable environments. Stainless steel also has a passive chromium oxide layer that covers its surface and helps prevent corrosion. This film restricts oxygen and water penetration to the underlying metal surface.
Underwater plaques are exposed constantly to oxygen and moisture. As a result, rust formation is inevitable. The good thing about stainless steel is that it provides unparalleled resistance to rust or corrosion underwater. Choosing stainless steel for a submerged plaque means it will remain intact and legible for much longer.
Pros & Cons Of Plaque Materials
Common plaque materials like bronze, brass and stainless steel are all sought after for their high durability. They can also stand the test of time, which makes them ideal as engraved plaque materials. Despite this, these materials also have drawbacks, such as their cost and maintenance requirements.
Read on to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of these plaque options.
Pros & Cons Of Bronze Plaques
Bronze has been a popular choice as a plaque material because of its durability, with minimal maintenance required. You’ll see many bronze memorial plaques in public gardens and on park benches because of their strength. These plaques are also easy to keep clean, and they tend to age well over the years.
Over time, bronze plaques break down, but this isn’t necessarily a downside. This process creates a natural patina, an aesthetic look that serves as another selling point for bronze plaques.
Patina is similar to rust on iron, and just like corten steel’s chic weathered look, patina is often a desirable look. Bronze plaques form a green film on their surfaces due to prolonged exposure, but the colours it produces add to the plaque’s visual appeal. The patina process makes the borders, letters and emblems on the plaques stand out boldly.
Bronze plaques are a versatile choice that can suit many different locations. This plaque won’t look out of place; it’s always attractive whether it’s outdoors or indoors. When used to preserve the memory of a loved one, a bronze plaque carries the message with permanence and reverence.
The only drawback to using bronze plaques is their cost. Bronze plaques are usually more expensive than stainless steel and other more economical options.
Pros & Cons Of Anodised Aluminium Plaques
Anodised aluminium plaques are lightweight, which makes them suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. They can easily be mounted to any type of platform, stone or wall.
Anodising aluminium makes the material more durable and improves its wear resistance. Additionally, it gives plaques a polished finish. There’s also no risk of chalking and surface finish fading. If needed, anodised aluminium plaques can be painted to contrast with their surroundings, helping it stand out even more.
A drawback to using anodised aluminium for plaques is its softness as a material. Being softer makes the plaques vulnerable to vandalism, scratching and fading. It can also bend if dropped or damaged, and any impact can leave noticeable marks and dents.
Pros & Cons Of Brass Plaques
Brass is another durable metal that’s visually outstanding, both naturally and when painted to fit a preferred design. Brass plaques are visually similar to bronze but with a slightly more noticeable gold-like lustre. With a wide range of brass alloys available, brass plaques can come in various shades and colours. When mixed with tin, brass plates can also be more resistant to saltwater and be used for naval and submerged applications.
Depending on the quality of the brass used, brass plaques can also be used both inside and outside. However, they are better used indoors because they are more prone to wear and tear and vandalism than their bronze counterparts. Brass plaques can be easily tarnished and scratched, requiring regular polishing to keep their shiny finish.
Similar to bronze, brass plaques are more costly than stainless steel.
Pros & Cons Of Stainless Steel Plaques
Stainless steel plaques provide a good balance of durability and affordability, especially for outdoor uses. They are a less expensive option that is strong enough to withstand harsh weather conditions.
Having corrosive-resistant surfaces, stainless steel plaques are resistant to rust and don’t deform easily from damage or environmental impact. Marine-grade stainless steel 316 can even be used underwater. It can withstand most industrial solvents and chemicals, as well as salt water.
If you want a modern look to your plaques, opt for stainless steel. This up-to-date material offers a different look stylistically to both brass and bronze. In addition, stainless steel plaques are resistant to discolouration due to their non-porous surfaces, and they are less likely to dent.
A downside to having stainless steel plaques is that the stainless steel will start corroding once its protective film or surface gets damaged. This corrosion won’t cover the entire surface, however, typically just affecting crevices in the design.
Pros & Cons Of Acrylic Plaques
Acrylic plaques are highly durable for the cost of investment. They are thirty times as strong as glass and resistant to damage from impact. Even if they are dropped, acrylic sheets won’t shatter into pieces.
Acrylic is a polymer material that’s colourless, transparent and sturdy. With this modern translucent material, acrylic plaques give the looks and feel of glass but without the associated weight and potential danger if damaged. They weigh 50% less than glass, which makes them much easier to handle.
Acrylic plaques are also weather-resistant. They can be used outdoors and resist weathering whilst protecting their colours. These plaques remain transparent and don’t yellow with age. Another reason to consider acrylic plaques is that they can be easily customised. Because of how they are created, you have complete creative control of the design to produce a plaque that is both unique and fitting for any application. You can even create a 3D effect to it by adding a solid background colour.
If you need to work within a budget, acrylic plaques are an excellent choice, as they’re cheaper than glass while providing a similar look.
A disadvantage to using acrylic plaques is that they are more liable to scratching than glass. If exposed to direct flame, they can also melt and release toxic fumes.
With so many fantastic options, choosing the perfect plaque can be a challenge. However, working with an experienced engraving company can help you narrow down the options. You’ll get reliable advice on which metal will be ideal for your location, and you’ll also understand your options when it comes to laser engraving.
When you choose the right material, your precious memorial or commemorative plaque will be a lasting reminder.
Can You Put A Memorial Plaque Anywhere?
In theory, you can put a memorial plaque anywhere, but you’ll need to have the land owner or local council’s permission if it’s not on your own property. A commemorative plaque is typically placed at a sentimental location associated with the person being recognised. It can be affixed to benches, trees, litter receptacles, bollards, table sets, statues, urns or cremation memorials, walls of churches and other places of rest, theatre seats and more.
What Can You Put On A Memorial Plaque?
The main things you can engrave on a memorial plaque are the names and details of the person who passed away. These may also include a nickname and the date of that person’s lifespan. However, a memory plaque is very personal, so there is no hard and fast rule about what to put on there.
It’s a great way to remember and honour a loved one, so as someone who knew them best, you have the creative freedom to inscribe what you think they would like and what means most to them. That said, here are some ideas to consider when thinking about what to put on a memorial plaque:
- A significant or meaningful quote that relates to the person
- The impact the person has on others
- Highlights of the person’s life story
- How the person would like to be remembered
- Favourite verse, poem or pastime
- Your favourite memory of the person
- Graphics or photos
This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. Kanyana Engineering does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek specific advice on your metal fabrication project to ensure all variables are taken into consideration.
Graham Dawe is the Managing Director and Works Manager of Kanyana Engineering. With decades of experience in the metal fabrication industry, he is dedicated to keeping Kanyana at the forefront of the sector’s technological growth. Looking beyond the process itself to holistic, integrated CAD, CAM and MRP solutions, Graham believes Australian manufacturing has an enduring place on the global stage. In Kanyana Engineering’s state-of-the-art workshop in Mandurah, WA, Graham delivers an exceptional standard of work for commercial, industrial and government clients alike.