Are you considering fixing up the driveway or sidewalk, or putting in a patio? Trying to figure out which is better, stamped concrete vs pavers? Much depends on your budget, skill level, and preference.
Pavers are made of concrete or natural material, come in different colors, shapes, and sizes, and are individually placed in patterns. They require constant maintenance. Stamped concrete is a single poured slab stamped to look like any of the paver patterns. With minimal maintenance, it will last decades.
In this guide, we’ll explain what stamped concrete and pavers are, do an in-depth comparison, and look at some pros and cons for each. We’ll provide you with the information to make an informed choice. We are not a stamped concrete or paver installer, nor are we associated with any. The information is presented as unbiased, although we do let slip what our preference is at the end.
- What Is Stamped Concrete?
- What Are Concrete Pavers?
- Stamped Concrete vs Concrete Pavers: Comparison
- Example: How Much Does a 20×20 Patio Cost
- Pros and Cons of Pavers vs Stamped Concrete
- Pavers vs Stamped Concrete: Which Is Better?
What Is Stamped Concrete?
Stamped concrete is poured concrete that is made to look like flagstone, tile, brick, cobblestone, slate, stone, wood, or other materials. It is commonly used for driveways, patios, pool decks, walkways, interior floors, and even walls. Stamped concrete may be fully colored or have accent colors added where desired, be textured to resemble different materials, and embossed to mimic shapes and patterns of different material finishes.
Stamped textures are commonly applied to 4” thick concrete using no-stick textured mats while the concrete surface is still wet. It is a complicated process as the mats must be moved and realigned to continue the pattern. A clear sealer is applied after 24 hours, and the concrete can be walked on within 48 hours of pouring and driven on within a week.
What Are Concrete Pavers?
Concrete pavers or paving stones are manufactured in different colors, sizes, thicknesses, shapes, and textures. They are commonly installed outdoors but are also used indoors. Pavers are available in hundreds of sizes, shapes, and even stamped patterns to create the potential for unlimited arrangements. However, concrete pavers are usually made in only three standard thicknesses.
Thin 1-1/4” thickness requires greater support and is often placed on concrete. Common or residential stones used for sidewalks, patios, pool decks, and light-weight vehicle driveways are 2-3/8” thick. Heavy traffic use such as streets or industrial parks frequently use 3-1/8” thick blocks. Cobblestones of olden days were cut stone between 4” and 6” thick, so special orders to match existing natural pavers are possible.
Stamped Concrete vs Concrete Pavers: Comparison
Stamped concrete and manufactured concrete pavers often have similar finishes, colors, and uses. However, there are some significant differences that influence which is best for the task at hand.
Stamped concrete is a single solid slab of concrete that has been stamped, embossed, or textured to mimic cobblestone, stone, bricks, flagstone, tile, pavers, wood, and other materials in a variety of patterns. The concrete may be colored and the surface textured.
The textured areas can even have additional coloring applied to the surface for enhanced shading and tone. Stamped concrete is embossed to resemble pavers or other natural materials.
Pavers are made of colored and occasionally textured concrete, can be arranged in thousands of patterns, and don’t look like a concrete pad.
Stamped concrete is typically a 4” thick reinforced slab of 3000 to 4000 psi concrete poured over a 6” to 12” thick prepared base. Expansion cracks are also commonly blended in as part of the stamped pattern. Stamped concrete withstands freeze-thaw and frost, roots, rain, and weathering, and has lasted for decades with limited maintenance.
The thickness, shape, and size of the concrete pavers affect their durability. Pavers are commonly made of 4000 to 8000 psi (or greater) concrete, making them individually stronger than stamped concrete of the same dimensions. Pavers are generally also laid on a 4” to 6” thick prepared base but it may be thinner due to the load it supports. Large 24” square or 24”x36” pavers occasionally have steel mesh reinforcing inside.
The overall strength and durability of a patio or driveway surface with paving stones are less than an equivalent-sized stamped concrete pad due to the individual size, thinness, and spacing between pavers. Moisture, weeds, and freeze-thaw action can cause pavers to lift, shift, and sink, requiring more maintenance than stamped concrete. A properly prepared poured and stamped concrete drive or patio will last longer than an equally well prepared and placed one of pavers.
Stamped concrete can be colored throughout, plus it can have additional color applied before it dries to accent texture locations. Paving stones may use color in the mix, like concrete, or be fabricated from colored granules.
When made of colored concrete, both pavers and stamped concrete hold their color well. However, some darker colors – such as red – will weather and fade or soften in hue. Grays and browns tend to hold color much better.
Color added after pavers and stamped concrete have been poured commonly wears quickly. Stamped concrete can be cleaned and recolored with concrete stain to revive the look, as can pavers, which can also be replaced to bring new color. Recoloring individual pavers is an option but often produces a checkerboard look.
Poured concrete driveways on a proper base can easily last 50 years, and there are examples that have lasted twice that. Stamped concrete can be expected to last as long since it is of similar construction. Exterior concrete requires minimal maintenance but may show age or weathering after 25 or 30 years. Concrete stains and sealers can bring new life to worn-looking concrete, or it can be left to age.
Individual concrete pavers will last as long as stamped concrete, the problem though, arises from movement between pavers covering large surface areas. Even pavers placed on a properly prepared base will shift over time, exposing the base to moisture and climate issues. Regular maintenance, including the lifting, leveling, realignment, and replacing of pavers will keep a driveway in good condition for 50 or more years.
Two similar-sized driveways or patios, one of stamped concrete and the other of pavers, on properly prepared bases, and exposed to the same climatic conditions, can last the same length of time. However, while the stamped concrete requires minimal maintenance, the pavers need regular attention. The life expectancy of the stamped concrete is much longer if left alone than that of an unmaintained paver surface.
Slip resistance of dry surfaces, wet surfaces, and icy surfaces depends to some extent on the footwear worn, but to a greater extent the finish of the floor. Leather soles are more prone to slips than rubber soles, and high heels can slip or catch on almost any surface. Polished surfaces, whether concrete or paver, have no slip resistance, even to bare feet! You’ll notice most unstamped concrete sidewalks have a brushed surface to prevent slips.
The slip potential of polished concrete is very high. However, the embossed pattern of stamped concrete creates a similar texture to that of pavers, making them much less prone to slips than smooth or polished concrete. Stamped concrete dries smooth within the stamped pattern, so the application of a slip-resistant coating will help minimize slips.
The type of pavers used, and their finish affects slip resistance. Surfaces with granular finishes are less prone to slips than stamped concrete. However, pavers with smooth or polished finishes are as prone to slips as stamped concrete. It is just as possible to slip on a 3” square surface as a 3’ square surface.
Doing any job properly will cost more initially but will save money in the long run while cutting corners to save money today will cost more in the future. Doing the task yourself can save up to 60% of the cost of a professional doing the job. It just takes time, ability, tools, and knowledge – which is what you’re paying for when you hire a pro.
For both stamped concrete and pavers, the initial cost includes the removal of ground cover and soil, replacing it with the proper sub-base and base layers, and compacting the layers. A proper base is key to the lifespan of the finished product. Cost for the prepared base depends on size, layout, materials, labor, and machines. For stamped concrete or pavers, the cost is similar due to material costs.
The size and complexity of the design affect the cost. The larger the surface, the more materials and labor required. The cost of concrete varies with the distance from the plant and where you’re located. In my area, colored concrete is approximately $2.50 a square foot for a 4” thick slab. Rebar or mesh add to the cost but also add to the lifespan of the concrete.
Embossing with one pattern and one color works out between $8 to $12 a square foot. Adding a border pattern bumps the cost per square foot between $12 to $18. Custom designs start at $18 and climb depending on complexity and additional coloring. The costs include the concrete, placing, and stamping, not the base or steel.
Individual paving stones run from $0.50 each to $20 or more and the paver size determines the cost per square foot. The $0.50 may sound good, but when you need 9 per square foot, that works out to $4.50, plus more labor costs.
The complexity of the design adds to the labor cost as each stone is placed by hand. The initial cost is determined by the costs of the pavers plus installation labor. Expect to pay between $8 and $18 a square foot for labor depending on the pattern complexity.
Cleaning the surface of stamped concrete or pavers annually with a power washer or hose and broom have minimal costs unless you hire someone to do the task. Sealant, color boost, and slip-resistant coatings are regular costs every two to five years. The surface area determines the cost but expect to pay about $0.40 a square foot if doing it yourself, or between $10 and $15 per square foot if hiring.
An additional cost for pavers is replacing eroded sand between the stones. A 50-pound bag costs between $20 and $40, so again, the surface area determines the cost. Most work doesn’t require a professional, but they may be required to honor warranty conditions.
Stamped concrete on a properly prepared base and reinforced with steel may still crack, but the cracks typically occur within the embossed pattern, so they don’t show. Damage that causes breakage or extensive cracking – usually caused by heavy-weight loads – may necessitate the resurfacing or removal and replacement of the slab. The costs could exceed the initial installation costs.
Paving stones on a proper base may settle or crack. The repair cost is usually minimal as it only requires the removal of the affected stones, re-leveling, and relaying of the original pieces. Any damaged pavers would have to be replaced, which is much cheaper than replacing a full slab.
Stamped concrete installation is between $6 and $10 a square foot, while pavers are between $10 and $20. The cost of installing the properly compacted base is in addition to that, as is reinforcing steel.
The cost of doing the work yourself is essentially the material costs. Labor is commonly 60% of concrete or paver installation. If you know what you’re doing and have the time, tools, and help, then you’re good-to-go.
Stamped concrete requires forms, concrete, rebar, rental of stamping mats, and any tool rentals. The cost in my area ranges from $3 to $5 a square foot, however, unless you know what you are doing and can get it done in less than an hour, leave it to the pros. – concrete isn’t forgiving.
Installing pavers requires the pavers and minimal tools, so the cost is essentially the pavers. Expect to pay between $1 and $20 a square foot. If you place something in the wrong location, it’s fixable. If it starts to rain you can take a break. It’s not going to harden or damage like concrete.
Stamped concrete is completed within a day. The size of the area being covered with pavers and the number of workers determines the installation time. It is common to take two to three days, but large intricate pattern surfaces can take a week or more.
Maintenance & Repairs
Regular maintenance for both stamped concrete and pavers extends their lifetime. Cleaning off dirt, leaves, mold, and even oil stains can be done with a pressure washer or bucket and brush. Applying a sealant every two to three years to each type of surface protects from moisture damage, UV, pitting and cracking, color loss or fading, and stains.
Color boosts and slip-resistant coatings may also be required. Pavers also often require the sand between stones to be replenished every two to three years due to erosion. Most work doesn’t require a professional, but they may be required to honor the warranty.
Concrete pavers and stamped concrete both add to the return on investment when selling a home. The age, quality of workmanship, and design aesthetics are factors, as are the preferences of the prospective buyer. Both stamped concrete and pavers commonly carry transferable warranties and will last for decades if properly maintained. Many people have difficulty telling professionally stamped concrete apart from pavers too.
|Stamped Concrete vs Concrete Pavers: Comparison|
|Stamped Concrete||Concrete Pavers|
|Description||Pour in place, often of colored concrete, and then stamped to resemble different materials.||Prefabricated blocks of colored or natural concrete in 100s of interlocking or placed shapes.|
|Appearance||Stamped, textured, and even colored to look like cobblestone, stone, bricks, flagstone, tile, pavers, wood, and other materials. Patterns are limited to available stamped mats.||Manufactured in numerous colors and hundreds of shapes, including cobblestone, stone, bricks, flagstone, tile, pavers, wood, and other materials. Can be arranged in thousands of patterns.|
|Durability||Typically, 4” thick reinforced slab of 3000 to 4000 psi concrete poured over a 4” to 12” thick prepared base. Single slab is stronger and more durable.||Pavers are commonly made of 1-1/4” to 3-1/8” 4000 to 8000 psi (or greater) concrete, placed on a 4” to 6” thick prepared base. Individual strength is limited to the paver, not spread over the paved structure.|
|Color Durability||Stamped concrete made from colored concrete holds color well, color added after the placement tends to wear quickly.||Concrete pavers made of colored concrete retain color well, color added after the mixing tends to wear. Pavers made of colored sand or granules hold color longer.|
|Life Expectancy||50+ years with minimal maintenance.||50+ years with regular maintenance and periodic lifting, leveling, realignment, and relaying of pavers.|
|Slip Resistance||Stamped concrete dries smooth within the stamped pattern, so the application of a slip-resistant coating will help minimize slips||Granular finishes are less prone to slips and good for pool decks but pavers with smooth or polished finishes are as prone to slips as stamped concrete|
|Initial Cost||One-color concrete stamped is $8 to $12 a square foot. Adding a border pattern bumps the cost to $12 to $18, and custom designs start at $18. The prepared base and rebar are additional expenses.||Individual paving stones run from $0.50 each to $20 or more. Installation is between $8 and $18 a square foot for labor depending on the pattern complexity, plus the prepared base layer.|
|Maintenance Cost||$0.40 a square foot if doing it yourself, or between $10 and $15 per square foot if hiring.||$0.40 a square foot if doing it yourself, or between $10 and $15 per square foot if hiring.|
|Repair Costs||Sealing cracks is inexpensive. Broken or severe damage could exceed the initial installation costs.||The repair cost is limited to the removal of the affected stones, re-leveling, and relaying of the original pieces.|
|Installation Costs||Installation is between $6 and $10 a square foot.||Installation ranges from $10 to $20|
|DIY Cost||Cost of forms, concrete/square foot, rebar, stamping mats and tool rental, commonly between $3 to $5 a square foot.||Cost of pavers/square foot plus tools if needed, usually between $1 and $20 a square foot.|
|Installation Time||10 to 16 hours.||2 to 3 days or up to a week.|
|Maintenance & Repairs||Easy – clean and seal every 2 to 5 years.||More complex – clean and seal every 2 to 3 years, refill sand between pavers as necessary, and remove, relevel, and relay as needed.|
Example: How Much Does a 20×20 Patio Cost
The cost of a 20’x20’ patio should include the excavation for the base plus the materials to make the base. Some contractors include the base as part of their quote, others do not. The same is true for rebar or steel mesh, it should be part of any quote for stamped concrete. There are on-line project calculators that may help estimate the cost but a written quote breaking down the costs is more accurate, binding, and useful.
A 4” thick 20’x20’ one color stamped concrete patio including concrete will cost $8 to $12 a square foot ($3,200 to $4,800), plus rebar and base. A more complex pattern can easily jump the price up to between $18 and $30.
The base will require around 15 yards of gravel or between $900 and $1,125 for a finished compacted base. An 18” rebar grid pattern will require 546 feet of #4 steel (1/2”), between $0.60 and $0.80 per foot installed, or between $327.60 and $436.80.
The project cost ranges from $4,427.60 to $6,361.80, but it is advisable to add 10% to 15% to be safe.
Pavers cost between $10 and $20 per square foot to install and the average cost of pavers is $5 to $10 a square foot. The gravel and sand layers for the base range from $200 to $700 depending on location.
Using our cost values, a 400 square foot paver patio would cost between $4,000 and $8,000 for labor, $2,000 and $4,000 for pavers plus 10% for cuts and waste, and $200 to $700 for the base.
The total project cost ranges from $6,400 to $13,100 using our prices.
Pros and Cons of Pavers vs Stamped Concrete
The pros and cons for pavers depend on the product being viewed. Pavers may be thin or thick, concrete or natural material, smooth or patterned, large or small, or regular or irregular in shape. In general, here are the pros and cons:
- Diverse selection of paver colors, shapes, and sizes
- Versatile design options
- Durable coloring
- Made of 8,000psi concrete
- Won’t crack
- Easy to repair
- More maintenance
- Can settle, separate, or sink into a groove where vehicles traverse
- Weeds grow between pavers
Stamped concrete has many pros and cons too. Whether used for drives, walkways, patios, or decks, it is an alternative to pavers or regular concrete.
- Wide selection of colors and patterns
- Less expensive than pavers
- Looks like pavers
- Low maintenance
- Long life span
- Single, solid, uniform 3,000 or 4,000psi concrete slab
- Not DIY friendly
- May crack due to freeze-thaw action
- Difficult or expensive to repair
Pavers vs Stamped Concrete: Which Is Better?
The choice of which is better comes down to personal preference, budget, climate concerns, and purpose. Pavers will provide a durable, colorful pattern but require maintenance to keep weeds out, plus periodic re-leveling of blocks. Stamped concrete is a uniform slab that can be colored to give it a less monotone look.
Pavers and concrete both require a properly prepared base, or they won’t last. Pavers do require more maintenance than the stamped concrete. Stamped concrete may crack, but it usually occurs along one of the embossed lines and the steel keeps it together. Pavers don’t usually crack, but what can crack concrete will cause pavers to lift, sink, or separate.
If you’re looking for a patterned finish that requires little to no maintenance and will last decades, stamped concrete is the choice. If you want more color tones within the patterns and you don’t mind more frequent maintenance and repairs, go with the pavers.