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Editor's Note: - This article is intended to help the thousands of early Cricut owners who would like to cut out original or third-party designs and fonts without continuing to invest in cartridges that may, to a large extent, be worthless when their old Cricut finally dies.

Cricut History (So Far) provides detailed information on how some first-generation Cricuts lost manufacturer support but continue to be useful, while new machines have improved features that are also worth considering. Click to go to article.Legacy Cricut Frequently Asked Questions - Though ProvoCraft has abandoned support for their first eight models, five of them are still usable for many purposes.  Click to see an article that answers common questions about using those going forward without manufacturer support.This article is also a supplement to our articles "Legacy Cricut Frequently Asked Questions" and Cricut(r) History (So Far)

Unlike lots of bloggers, I like to make certain I am not causing readers new and bigger problems by anything I document, so I've been careful to give you more, and more detailed information than you probably need or want. But I've discovered that having all of these details written down somewhere helps people who run into snags trying something that everyone else seems to accomplish easily. (Sorry, forty years as a technical writer speaking . . . . )

While writing and revising this article, I experimented with several different platforms and combinations of equipment to make certain I hadn't overlooked anything that was likely to be a problem. I learned that Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 5 ("SCAL5") is a very stable and reliable program, but that the anonymous 3rd-party "add-on" that allows it to talk to Cricut does not have anyone's direct support.

That said, most of the problems I encountered while trying this with multiple PCs and Cricuts had to do with things that are outside the control of SCAL or of the "add-on" developers. So, to make this work, you may need to update your Cricut's firmware (twice, to be sure) or to update your USB drivers. Instructions for both those issues and other potential "gotcha's" are listed where appropriate.

Finally, I prominently listed the month and year of this article's publication, so if you stumble across it in five years and I haven't kept it updated, you'll know it is likely obsolete.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Using Sure-Cuts-A-Lot With Legacy Cricuts

Sure-Cuts-A-Lot Logo.If you want to use first-generation Cricuts to cut images and fonts that aren't on your cartridges, your best bet currently seems to be Sure-Cuts-A-Lot release 5. That only works with an anonymously developed driver and a technically illegal minor hack, but neither ProvoCraft (makers of Cricut) nor CrafEdge (makers of Sure-Cuts-A-Lot ("SCAL") seem to mind.

In fact, members of discussion forums hosted by both companies have referred to this workaround without any apparent repercussions, so I assume I'm safe talking about it here. (Don't laugh - the company that makes Cricut has been known to sue other companies out of existence.)

SCAL2 is No Longer the "Go-To" Solution

Most owners of first-gen Cricuts have at least heard about using Sure-Cuts-A-Lot release 2 ("SCAL2") with their ancient Cricuts, but it's no longer necessary to use bootleg copies of ten-year-old, unsupported software.

We describe the current and - to my mind - best solution a few paragraphs down, but first we tell you what machines SCAL worked/works with and why so many Cricut users are still talking about the cumbersome and outdated SCAL2 solution.

This Article is True as of March, 2021

I wrote this article and several others because most of the information about SCAL, legacy Cricuts, and related topics on the internet right now is seriously outdated. Much of it is flat-out wrong, though it may have been correct when it was originally penned as long as twelve years ago.

I'm embedding the month and year of publication here in case for some reason I can't keep this article updated, and someone comes across it five years from now, when everything has changed again.

Which Cricuts Could/Can SCAL Drive Directly?

These are the only Cricuts that SCAL ever drove directly (or is ever likely to). The firmware versions that have been proven to work with SCAL are also listed.

  • Cricut Personal Cutter (CRV001) - Firmware version 1.1 or 1.3x

  • Cricut Create (CRV002) - Firmware version 1.51-1.54

  • Cricut Expression (CRX001) - Firmware version 2.3x

  • Cricut Cake - Firmware version 2.3x

  • Cricut Cake Mini - Firmware version 1.51-1.54

Should You Replace or Upgrade Your Cricut Instead?

This article is only intended for folks who own one of the above in good working condition. I hate to say this because I love my first-gen Expression, and used but working first-gen Cricuts are widely available cheap.

But if you don't already own one of these, don't get inspired by this article and rush out and buy one for my sake. Everything I talk about doing with SCAL and first-gen Cricuts in this article can be done with a lot less hassle just by picking up any version of a used Silhouette Cameo.

Also, if you have a bunch of cartridges that aren't linked to anyone else's account, an Explore or Maker will also let you cut third-party fonts and images AND use your cartridges at the same time - as long as you're the original owner of both the Explore and the cartridges. Spending $250 or more to replace a working Expression may sound extreme, but if you are sitting on $400 worth of cartridges, and you could stand to have something that cuts through thicker materials at any rate, it might be worth considering.

Finally, if you had and loved one of the machines above and would like to replace it, consider the original Expression (CREX001). If you want a small-format unit, the Create has a few more features than the original Personal Cutter.

Used Cricuts to NEVER Buy

ProvoCraft's Imagine, Expression 2, and Mini were expressly designed to operate only with Cricut Craft Room software, which has now been discontinued. This turned the Imagine and the Expression 2 into cartridge-only machines and turned the Mini into a doorstop. No third-party software has ever worked with these or is ever likely to work with them.

Why Was SCAL2 the "Go-To" Hack for So Many Years?

This section is just to give you the background on why SCAL2 hacks were so popular for so long and why they're not necessary or even preferable any more.

Sure-Cuts-A-Lot 2, which has long been the most popular bootleg software in craftcutter circles.In 2011, ProvoCraft (makers of Cricut) sued CraftEdge (makers of Sure-Cuts-A-Lot, AKA "SCAL") because SCAL software allowed Cricut owners to print images and fonts without buying extra cartridges.

ProvoCraft's legal team forced CraftEdge to discontinue their current release ("SCAL2") and to "boobytrap" any installed copies. During what was a standard check for updates, they would access CraftEdge's home page and "auto-update" themselves to a version that wouldn't talk to their Cricuts any more.

But clever Cricut-owners figured out how to hack the "host" file on their computers so SCAL2 wouldn't update itself and they could keep using their Cricuts for the purpose for which they purchased them in the first place. (The nerve of those folks!)

Of course you couldn't buy SCAL2 legally anymore, so every copy of SCAL2 that was sold since 2012 was bootleg.

And because SCAL2's features were clunky by modern standards, many users of the hack have been designing complex cuts with other programs and importing them into SCAL2, a cumbersome 2-step process that is no longer necessary.

Ten Years After

Finally giving in to customer pressure, ProvoCraft has introduced three lines of Cricuts that can cut fonts and images from third-party sources through their Design Space software (Explore, Maker, and Joy). So the pressure on the SCAL folks to make certain their software is never used for such "nefarious" purpose seems to be reduced.

In the meantime, SCAL has been supporting about a dozen other cutters, and continuing to improve their product. They have modernized their user interface and added countless features to make designing easier and cutting more predictable. With SCAL5, and a few "add-ons" described in the next section, you really can design and cut on first-gen Cricuts in the same program.

What About Modern Cricuts? SCAL can not cut directly to Maker, Explore, or Joy. However, lots of folks who have upgraded to modern Cricuts still use SCAL4 or SCAL5 to design their cuts. For those folks, SCAL has added a "Cricut-compatible" export option. That allows SVG files you create in SCAL and import to Cricut Design Space to cut without resizing or reorienting. And you don't need the "add-ons" for that.

Why SCAL?

The fun part is that if you get this working for any of the Cricuts on the bulleted list above, it will automatically work for the rest (firmware and driver requirements being met). Although you will have to watch the "mat size" if you're using a Create or Personal cutter.

Also, since I began writing this article, I've been pleased to learn how useful SCAL5 is, not only for kidding along ancient Cricuts, but also for driving Silhouette Cameos directly, and producing cut-ready files for modern Cricuts to import and cut without the need for tweaking.

Once you've licensed SCAL5, you can use it on two computers at once. If you have to change computers, you can "de-license" it on the old computer and re-relicense it on the new one. Or add another computer just by paying an additional small fee.

If you buy a Silhouette later, you can use SCAL5 to drive that as well. And most other brands.

True, Cricut's and Silhouette's current software includes features that aren't supported by SCAL5 (mostly related to hardware differences like the double tool carriage, "autoblades," etc.). But there's a lot to be said for having one program you can learn inside and out, then easily port to the manufacturer's system. Or in most cases outside of Cricut products, use to cut directly.

There is one caveat that I'll make regardless of whose technology you're using: save all of your files in .svg format as well as SCAL and manufacturer's formats. They generally take up very little space, and having that backup will be invaluable if something in the marketplace changes radically again.

The Current SCAL Solution for Legacy Cricuts

SCAL5 is very reasonable in price, and their support is very good. Also, you can download it and run it in trial mode to see if the hack described below will work before you pay for the SCAL5 software.

What allows SCAL5 to talk to your legacy Cricut is an "add-on" piece of software based on a project based on a project called "libcutter." That was developed as an experiment in controlling machines like plotters, signcutters, and craftcutters that use X/Y coordinates to draw shapes. The versions we're interested in have been customized to communicate with first-generation Cricuts.

Why Hasn't "Libcutter" Been Sued Out of Existence? - Because the source code has been published, even if ProvoCraft or somebody managed to track down and destroy all copies on the internet, any intermediate coder could restore it in a matter of hours.

Why Nobody in the Craftcutter Community Is Willing to Host the Files You Need - Some elements of the "add-on" solution involve a very minor copyright infringement. No one will come after you for copying the files you need to your hard drive, or for installing them. But publicly hosting them on your own site is another issue.

Consequently, folks who recommend this solution post instructions and tell you where you can go to download the missing pieces. Generally, the links take you to third-party file upload/download sites. If ProvoCraft ever shuts those sites down, the files will migrate somewhere else. But as of the month and year listed further up the page, the links I've provided to those files still work.

Steps That You Will or May Need

For some people, getting SCAL5 to talk to their Cricut will be a two-step process:

  • Downloading and installing SCAL5 as a trial version.

  • Downloading and running the self-installing version of Libcutter.

So it's not surprising that there are YouTube videos that show this working like a breeze the first time, made by people who have no idea why it doesn't work quite the same for the rest of us. Most people need at least one more step, if not two or three.

This is just a quick explanation of the steps you will or may need to perform to get this to work. The instructions I link to near the bottom of this page have details you need, but, unfortunately, very little explanation - which is why I may seem to be going overboard here.

  1. Firmware Check - Determine the firmware release number of your Cricut. When you first turn your Cricut on, you will see the firmware version displayed. All of the solutions I have tried work better if it aligns with the firmware version number in the list of legacy Cricuts further up the page.

    If your Cricut's number is lower than the numbers listed, you may have to update the firmware before any version of SCAL will work with it. Refer to the "How Can I Update My Cricut's Firmware?" section of our Legacy Cricut FAQ page. (Hint: It requires installing Design Studio temporarily and running it in Trial Mode.)

    It's also possible that the firmware version listed when your Cricut powers up may not be fully installed. If you do everything else, including updating your drivers, and your Cricut still refuses to listen to SCAL4 or 5, go through the firmware update again.

  2. Downloading and Installing SCAL5 - You can do this in trial mode so you you don't pay for it until you're sure it's going to work for you.

  3. Downloading and Installing Libcutter Software - The detailed instruction pages I link to below provide links to various versions of the Libcutter software (as of this publication, at least). The software may move around, if ProvoCraft or somebody decides they don't like it being easily available. Also, the software may have slightly different names on different servers.

    Also, one popular version is essentially self-installing (see below). That's the one I recommend.

  4. Editing and Saving a "keys.h" File - This is the "hinky" part of the installation - installing a "key" that convinces your Cricut this software has a "right" to talk to it. You copy a string of numbers from a "keys" file and save it onto your hard drive in a file called "keys.h," As far as I know, using these keys is technically a violation of copyright. For that reason, some folks who are willing to host the "add-on" instructions, and even the Libcutter software, are unwilling to host the keys themselves.

    Recommended - As of this writing (check the date above), the self-installing version of Libcutter has an option for automatically creating a working keys.h file for you.

  5. The automatic installation option for updating your USB port drivers. Click to go to the site.Driver Update (Maybe) - Depending on your computer, you may need to update your USB/COM port drivers. If you want, you can wait until you've done everything else and tested your setup. If it doesn't work (and the firmware on your Cricut is good), your drivers may be the problem. For me the http://www.ftdichip.com/Drivers/VCP.htm site worked.

    If you don't want to fiddle with installing the new drivers manually, choose the self-installing option. As of this writing, that is in the right margin across from the Windows 32 and 64 line.

Detailed Instruction Links

  • Self-Installing Version - The instructions I've found easiest to use were posted once on a SCAL discussion forum by a poster only known as "bluegrass," who only made one other post. Though the origin of these instructions are "shrouded in mystery," they are by far the most popular. I've reformatted the contents to make them easier to read and provided additional details here.

  • Earlier and More Technical - This set of instructions is provided for documentation purposes and for the use of folks who want to get "down and dirty" with the technology. This approach was older than the approach above, but it includes links to information about what makes Libcutter work and to "key" files you may need to use to update or create your h.keys file.

    To make them easier to access and read, I have copied both the announcement and the instructions to this page. Again, the instructions point to third-party sites for the actual software downloads.

Conclusion

When I say this works for most people who follow all of the instructions, I'm telling you all I know about this at this time. That said, I'm open to updates or corrections. But I haven't been a coder since COBOL went away. . . .

Watch this page: more articles are in the works.

As always, we want to hear your suggestions, criticisms, additions, etc. Enjoy your hobbies, and especially any time you can spend with your family in the coming months!

Paul


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