Nick Carrick is not happy with his tattoos.

When the rising cost of rent and groceries forced the sales consultant from Frankston, in Melbourne’s south-east, to cut back on expenses, designs on his arm and leg had to be left unfinished.

“If I knew the cost of living was gonna get like this, I probably wouldn’t have started,” Nick told triple j Hack.

“The leg, I’m feeling, could just be an unfinished tattoo, but I kind of want to finish my whole arm piece.”

“I’ve got a bit of a broken tattoo.”

Nick Carrick’s hopes of completing his tattoo sleeve have been shelved as cost-of-living pressure bites.(ABC: Simon Tucci)

Nick used to rely on trips to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to find apprentice tattooists with affordable rates.

He said that was no longer an option, so he and his friends were looking further afield or dropping their tattoo ambitions entirely.

“Dromana had a really good apprentice that was quite reasonable in price. Now their prices have gone up because they’re kind of the only people down that way,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of mates saying that they’re looking at getting tattoos removed if they can’t finish sleeves.”

Artists feel a pinch

Beth Kirk has tattooed in Wollongong, Melbourne, and now works in the Adelaide CBD, where she said cost-of-living pressure had seriously impacted her business.

“It’s not just me or just our shop specifically — some of my other friends have also noticed that their more regular clients are spacing their appointments out a fair bit.”

Beth Kirk has tattooed in Wollongong, Melbourne, and now in the Adelaide CBD.(ABC: Brant Cumming)

However, pressure on tattooists is not just coming from a lack of clients, but also from skyrocketing business costs.

ABS data shows that in the year up to March 2024, the cost of “hairdressing and personal grooming” services like tattooing has spiked 7.1 per cent, nearly double the 3.6 per cent average inflation.

Compounding Beth’s trouble is the longstanding trend of Australians travelling internationally for a cheaper tattoo.

“It’s hard to argue with getting a full back piece in four days for maybe half the amount it would cost you here, but that doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of the tattoos that you’re getting,” Beth said.

Regional ink holiday

According to Mildura tattooist Shiva Dass, Australians in capital cities do not need to leave the country to save money on their tattoos.

“We regularly have people fly up from Melbourne,” he told Hack.

Shiva said his business was doing well and with the lower cost of living in the town of around 34,000, he had able to keep his prices down.

“They either used to live here or maybe they met someone from Mildura and they’ve seen that it’s quite cheap to fly up here,” he said.

Shiva Dass works in Mildura, over 500 kilometres from Melbourne, but says he regularly gets tattoo clients from the city.(ABC: Tamara Clark)

“They can stay for the weekend, get tattooed, and it’s going to cost them less than getting tattooed in the city.”

Shiva charges around the same as Beth for his work — around $1,200 dollars a day — and only gets Melbourne customers “every couple of weeks”, so it’s not the only reason his business is thriving while others like Beth’s struggle.

‘A lot of football and beer’

Despite the increased competition, Beth said city tattooing appealed to her for the artistic freedom it offered.

“There may be people who specialise in certain types of script or Japanese [art] or something a bit more abstract — I feel like there’s a bit more freedom to be a bit more creative with your city tattooing and the way you express your art,” she said.

Shiva laughed when asked about the kinds of pieces he does regularly in Mildura.

“A lot of football tattoos and beer, lots of beer bottles,” he said.

He also hinted an older tattoo trend was making a comeback in Mildura.

“We’re definitely going back to the 90s, like tribal barbed wire — like that Pamela Anderson chic.”

Nick is still looking for a tattooist to complete his arm piece but says he did does expect to find anyone he can afford, even as he searches well outside Melbourne. 

Nick Carrick says he expects to pay between $2,500 and $3,000 to finish his “broken and patchy” tattoo sleeve.(ABC: Simon Tucci)

“To finish it off, I’m probably looking at maybe an extra $2,500 into it, maybe $3,000,” he lamented.

Nick said he could not afford that price as he grappled with the rising cost of living, and had made peace with his unfinished tattoo.

“I’ll live with a patchy tattoo and areas where it looks a bit funny. It sounds bad, but it’s not a top priority,” he said.