Nanocellulose is a promising new membrane material for fuel cells, with much lower cost and environmental impact compared with Nafion or Aquivion. It is mechanically strong, is an excellent hydrogen barrier and has reasonable proton conductivity. Here, sulfonation of cellulose nanofibers is performed to enhance the conductivity (up to 2 × 10^− 3 S/ cm) without compromising the membrane integrity, and fuel cells are fabricated with 30 µm-thick “paper” membranes. The hydrogen crossover current is two orders of magnitude lower than for Nafion fuel cells with equivalent thickness, but the power density is rather low. Spray-coating is used to deposit 8 µm-thick membranes directly onto the electrocatalyst layer, in a process analogous to 3D printing or additive manufacturing. The resulting paper fuel cell has high current density (> 0.8 A/cm 2) and power density (156 mW/cm2) under standard measurement conditions (H2/air; 80°C; 95% RH; 0.1 MPa), attributed to decreased membrane resistance. The cost of the spray-painted cellulose membranes is calculated to be ~ 50$/m 2, which is much lower than that of Nafion, even without taking into consideration economies of scale. This new concept in electrochemical energy conversion paves the way for the mass production of affordable, recyclable fuel cells.