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You know the drill. You get a job in a civil engineering and survey firm that hires you because you know AutoCAD Civil 3D. Heck. You passed the official Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D certification exam. In your hire day interview the firm owners even promise to upgrade to the latest release before you start.
That’s great. Opportunity knocks. Congrats.

The Plans of Mice and Men

On day one you sit down and go to work. In a few days or maybe even in a few hours you recognize no one working around you actually uses AutoCAD Civil 3D much. They do surface builds and make basic alignments and parcels from AutoCAD polylines and that’s it. The folks sitting around you in this respected civil engineering and survey firm “have all been using AutoCAD civil 3d for years”?

“We don’t use that Civil 3D stuff. Everyone knows it’s broken.”
“We only use what we have to.”
“Civil 3D is too complicated for the simple survey and civil subdivision jobs we do.”

Sound Familiar? Lord. I hope not.

AutoCAD Civil 3D from Hell

  • Every drawing you open is a weird mix of old school AutoCAD labels and Civil 3D style junk.
  • Civil 3D stuff’s been exploded sometimes and other times not.
  • People seem to think the Standard style for everything exists to make changes to it.
  • People make up new Style names in every drawing and seem to think Style edits are a necessary and even a major part of the Civil 3D user’s workday.
  • Only a few seem to really know the difference between an XREF and a DREF (data reference).
  • Projects, when they exist, include drawings that are full of copies of copies of stuff.
  • Projects are standard collections of folders some with multiple data shortcut sites in them.
  • People around you complain that Civil 3D crashes every day.
  • The mandatory CAD meeting on week one “about the new Civil 3D 2016 install” is actually about how to use the AutoCAD Layer Manager to overcome “known” Civil 3D shortcomings and issues.
  • Since you’re the new kid on the block (and now the resident Civil 3D expert), the owners daily ask you to fix this and that in their on-going project work.
    That should be easy. It never is.

You Want to Get Work Done

“Do we have a company Civil 3 template?”
“Nah. No one has time to waste doing that. They fired the guy who built the last one for wasting company resources on non-project work. It was trash anyway.”
“Do we use the stock Civil 3D template?”
“Are you crazy? I use this old company one from before they killed Land Desktop. It works fine. At least it includes our CAD Standards. There are too many useless NCS layers in the Autodesk one.”

“Do we have a company block library?”
“Stupid Autodesk went and killed the Symbol Manager too. Just open any old drawing in the project. The company blocks are all in there. Copy Paste away. It’s what we all do.”

AutoCAD Resistance is Futile

OK. This might be a funny Saturday Night Live type skit made for AutoCAD Civil 3D application engineers to shown at Autodesk University parties for fun. Unfortunately, it pretty much documents a phone call I recently received. I get them all too often. I know it’s totally my fault for selling affordable Production Solutions for Civil 3D that actually work.

Disparate Times for the Desperate

The Problem is I get similar calls from people working in both mid-sized and in large firms as well who still can’t seem to get a company template that works for what they do in the Civil 3D version they have installed. Some of those firms and agencies spent years and many thousands of dollars to have a company template that will be ready…
and I am quoting real people…actual skilled Civil 3D users…
Wait for it…

“Any Day Now”

I blogged this post The Dirty Little Secret all the way back in 2011. It’s sadly a true story. I had a similar reprise of it in December 2015.

If annual upgrade releases of Civil 3D, Civil 3D service packs, and project upgrades are a problem, maybe you are missing things about AutoCAD Civil 3D that are mission critical?

Folks. This isn’t rocket science.

Civil 3D Environments Must Be Managed


People don’t learn this complex product well if they can’t get consistent results while they perform the daily work that they have to do. Making it on the fly is self-destructive or at least counter-productive. Completeness, integrated resources, and robust Style performance is necessary to Civil 3D implementation and production success.

This is not specifically the fault of poor programming in AutoCAD Civil 3D. Style management is a fundamental part of the nature of model-based software. Style standards means more consistent and better communication. A lack of them demonstrably creates chaos.

The simplistic Autodesk myth is to create a Civil 3D template. To many long-time AutoCAD product users this means an AutoCAD template with some Civil 3D Style stuff thrown in. What? All the other templates supplied and required to employ Civil 3D are extraneous?
Never mind the idea of one template is patently false in the first place.

  • Every civil engineering or survey project is the same and requires the same resources and tools?
  • Engineering design and survey data quality control is exactly the same as publishing?

Productive Civil 3D users learn the list of reasons to have multiple and somehow consistent Civil 3D templates is much longer and more complex in the real world.

Good or Bad

Repetition matters. People self-train to either good habits or bad habits. We all know that bad habits are easier to form than good ones. All Civil 3D experts recognize that some old AutoCAD habits are not particularly well-suited to Civil 3D. The above mentioned reliance on Layers to manage production information (data) is the classic example. The fact that Civil 3D Features don’t care about Layer assignments is befuddling, isn’t it?

The information and object management paradigm of Civil 3D is completely different from AutoCAD in spite of the similar names of the products and Autodesk somewhat vain attempts to make it seem the same.

All of ACAD classic Styles: Layer, Block, Textstyle, Linetype, and Plotstyle do not have a formal relationship with one another unless we create one by specific named reference – like a textstyle reference in a linetype or a layer employed in a block. In ACAD most relationships exist only in our own minds and how we use the software. This is what we often refer to as CAD Standards.

Civil 3D Features and their Styles and Label Style etc. do have formal, structured, and model linked relationships. CAD Standards for Civil 3D (and any model-based software) are demonstrably more complex and more nuanced. Deal with it.

Where’s the Plan?

OMG! Are AutoCAD tips and tricks for Civil 3D are still the most popular thing on the forums?