Australia is a nation of ink-addicts, and as demand has soared and social taboo waned, the number of tattoo studios across the country has exploded. In Sydney, there are a dizzying number of establishments ready to etch your latest (or first) piece of body-art, but since you'll be wearing this doodle for the rest of your days, it's worth shopping around before going under the needle.
We’ve scoured the city to compile a list of the very best in the business, based on the calibre of their work, quality of design, and the overall level of customer experience. Below are our picks of the best tattooists in Sydney, from walk-in friendly studios to highly-sought, by-appointment artists.
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In an unassuming warehouse conversion on a Surry Hills sidestreet is one of the world's most respected purveyors of Japanese ink. Established in 2013 by revered Irezumi master, Kian ‘Horisumi’ Forreal, Authentink is at once a great general-purpose studio for first-time tattoo seekers and veterans alike, catering to a range of aesthetics, and also a leading light in the most traditionally informed Japanese styles for true connoisseurs of the art form. Forreal is one of only a handful of Australian tattooists to use the hand-poked technique known as ‘tebori’.
Sydney’s busiest and best-known tattoo factory boasts a team of 15 full-time artists turning out fresh ink, seven days a week. Trade is always brisk here, so anywhere up to 20 local and international guest artists bolster Little Tokyo’s talented ranks every year, led by studio founder (and all-around tattoo legend) Rhys Gordon.
Located in the heritage-listed Hibernian House, this spacious studio is a by-appointment-only outfit; those who come here do so in pursuit of major pieces of bespoke body art, created in collaboration with a specific tattooist, rather than mere cookie-cutter flash designs from a catalogue. When clients engage one of Hibernia’s team, it’s a process of close consultation and refinement, ensuring the final concept is a piece that the punter will be proud to wear for life, while also playing to the particular artist’s strengths.
Most famous for their large-scale, detailed traditional Japanese pieces, Lighthouse Tattoo make a point of recruiting specialists rather than all-rounders to their team. As a result, they currently utilise a large collective of ten artists to cover the full range of modern and traditional tattooing styles. Their purpose-built art studio has been crafted from a renovated warehouse, incorporating stylish industrial elements, filled with vibrant art and flash. You can also purchase limited edition art prints created by their team, directly from the studio.
Boasting seven in-house tattooists and a constant flow of prized guest artists, the Darling Parlour caters for a wide-range of styles including traditional American and Japanese, fine line and dot work. Set over two storeys with polished wooden floors, the interior features classic flash and art prints on the walls which are also sold in-store and online. The family-owned business is known for its friendly, approachable staff, making it an ideal spot to discuss your first tattoo (or your 20th). Business partners Fade Laser also offer a laser tattoo removal service on site. Walk-ins are welcome.
This colourful, street-front space is an easy ten-minute walk from Town Hall Station and it’s open seven days week. The current roster of world-renowned artists tackles everything from traditional American tattooing to racy, modern comic-style pieces. Stoneheart also have three piercers on staff, offering top-to-bottom piercing options from $35, plus detailed after-care advice. Laser tattoo removal is available with an easy-to-follow price guide on their website, starting at $70. There's a $50 deposit for all appointments, but consultations are free.
Hunter & Fox have built their incredible word-of-mouth reputation from housing distinct local artists with a flair for traditional styles in a vibrant colour palette. The shop has a retro barber shop fitout, featuring plenty of eye candy in the way of art-pieces and taxidermy. Walks-ins are always encouraged; you can peruse detailed galleries online, and all of their artists have a large international following on Instagram. Walk-ins are welcome.
Conveniently located near the popular shoptropolis of Broadway Shopping Centre, this is a classic streetside studio that offers quality custom work in a laidback, clean setting – making it a hub for first-timers and inked veterans alike. They’re buzzing away eight hours a day, seven days a week, with a mixture of male and female tattooists to choose from. You can also book in for laser tattoo removal, lightening services and body piercing using top quality jewellery from Industrial Strength. They prefer to work by appointment but gladly accept walk-ins.
Sure, it’s probably the best known custom tattoo parlour in Australia thanks to the hit reality TV series filmed on location there since 2015 and aired around the globe, but the Bondi Ink tattoo crew boast serious skills with the needle to match their engaging on-screen personalities. With the likes of Ronan Keating, Zayn Malik and Guy Sebastian lining up to get a taste of their ink, you know you’re in good hands. When visiting this stunning beachside location, it’s important to remember you can hit the water before your tattoo – but never directly afterwards. It's best to book in advance for this busy studio.
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Little Dutch courage?
Not only is the Inner West home to many of the eccentric, creative and proudly rainbow tribes of Sydney, it's also where you'll find some of the best small bar action. Tiny little haunts slinging great drinks and keeping the vibes lively and local. If you don't have one already, your home-away-from-home is probably on this list.