Symbol Set Construction in Civil 3D

Tags symbol, Symbol Set, block, customization, implementation, CAD Standards, change management, spreadsheet, Style Management

Our preference of graphic symbols/blocks may become problematic in our Civil 3D customization. Managed systematically blocks can make your Civil 3D Standards more flexible and adaptive. These simple AutoCAD things can have a significant impact in our project work. Case in point - If I change all the block representations in a project drawing by refining the blocks, your all too familiar work can become unrecognizable.

Now That’s Uncomfortable

The symbolic visual representations sexpressed in our AutoCAD block libraries employed in Civil 3D is important to both our communal quality control processes and the final deliverable of our civil engineering and survey projects.

Don’t you love that word – sexpressed? It’s not a typo. Block instances tend to propagate like rabbits throughout our Civil 3D projects. The abstraction to Style in Civil 3D can make tracking down the parents difficult.

Sometimes when we try to talk about changing these standards it is a bit like the famous talk about sex with a child. Basic facts can become politically incorrect speech or unnatural acts for no apparent reason. If you’ve been in CAD Standards committee meetings, you know what I’m talking about.

In The Framework for Civil 3D and Less Effort post we discuss some challenges we face in Civil 3D customization and implementation as they relate to Preference.

In brief, we discussed the Pony Car Paradox – Because something was a classic and it worked great in the past doesn’t mean that the surrounding environment doesn’t require that we change things up today.

Too much, too little, and just right for me Goldilocks Decision Making is not always the way to the best critical path to successfully implement a tool.

A Faster Critical Path to Manage Civil 3D Symbology

The Framework for Civil 3D supplies a huge library of graphic symbols that we call a Symbol Set. From a System Management perspective the actual graphic content of a particular symbol/block is unimportant. What?
The Symbol Set’s Key-based naming convention establishes a consistent namespace that we can propagate into any Civil 3D Styles and Sets. More on that in a bit.

That said...

People do ask me,

How do I customize the blocks in the Framework products? I don’t like this or that.”

If it’s one or two blocks,

  • Edit them in the templates

  • Wblock out the edited blocks to a resource folder

    • You’ll need them later for updates

Create Multiple Sets as Easy as One

You might want to make many graphic changes.
The Framework products are designed to allow you to do this.
The Framework for Civil 3D is a Standard to Build Standards from.

The Civil 3D Symbol Exchange post covers the core technical details of swapping groups of block definitions by employing a script and multiple scripts with SCRIPTCALL. The Excel formula code discussed below are included and detailed there.

The Symbol Maintenance Spreadsheet Tool supplied with the Symbol Set and included with Jump Kit will generate all the scripts and command line semantics to modify a bunch of blocks at once as well. You can Register, login, and review the on-line Documentation and Help. A modified version of the bottom of this post can be found there.

We supply a ton of symbols in the Symbol Set. You’d be very hard pressed to find graphics and standardized graphic prototypes we don’t supply. If you want hexagonal meters, or filled light poles in multiple sizes no problem and on and on it goes. Lots of drag and drop and even pre-scripted load and update options are supplied.
You can see the Symbol Set pictures in PDF form here.

I already said that what a specific Symbol Set block looks like isn’t the critical path issue anyway.

The Civil 3D standards issue at hand is a matter of management perspective not preference or jurisdiction requirement.

The Concept is Upside Down

Our Symbol Set technology is based on the Power of Names. This is discussed in detail in the Civil 3D and the Power of Names post.

Most of us know that the Named Reference is a fundamental reality in all AutoCAD/Autodesk based products. You could argue the concept of named style is fundamental to all modern software.

The Internet in all it’s many forms and the frameworks behind modern websites including this web page rely on the principal.

This is probably not the common perspective that most AutoCAD folks approach the customization problem from – in our daily user experience our names must be unique to us. We focus on the more obvious errors that occur. You know the message – “blah blah name already in use”.

We advocate - Keep the names the same and replace the graphics underneath.

If you have a consistent block naming convention, you can technically convert the Framework resources to employ it. That is not the topic of this post.

Productivity Not Promises

You’re going to need a symbol legend result anyway. We can kill multiple birds at once.
Hey? Isn’t that nonlinear thinking?
You bet.
More output than input is exactly what we like.

More Skill = Less Work

Our Legends and Lists Spreadsheet Tool supplies simple Excel tools to make the process work. True. You do have to know Civil 3D fundamentals and a bit of Survey in Civil 3D to make it work. Anyone can learn…watch the instruction video on me…See the AddOn videos.

You do have to know how to copy Excel formulas around. True. You do have to know an ASCII editor like Notepad++. The stock Windows notepad won’t cut it.

I routinely tell principals and CAD Managers never to do this work. Test the process. Check the results. But leave the nuts and bolts to others who are accountable to complete the entire process in a reasonable amount of time of uninterrupted work. Concentration and attention to detail without making assumptions is important.

Custom Symbols in Civil 3D - How It Is Done

List It

  1. Create a list of all the blocks you use – from drawings that you actually plot from real projects

    • Use –INSERT>>? To display a list of all the blocks in the ACAD text window

    • Copy paste the listing into an ASCII file and clean it up – only block names in quotes allowed

    • Create a worksheet in Excel that generates a prototype script to wblock them all out to a folder

    • Copy the calculated cells into another ASCII file – this will not generate a functional script

    • Search and replace to get a functional AutoCAD Script

    • The Quote (“) characters must be moved around

  1. You already have a folder of standard blocks – I bet this is not the same as the above.

    • Resolve the conflicts, omissions, etc. and have ONE folder of block drawings.

  2. Create an ASCII version of the directory listing – print to file from the command line in Windows works and there are free tools

    • This is practice for doing making directory lists later

Make Sets

This folder of blocks is your existing Symbol Set.

  • You don’t care about the block names

  • You don’t care about the graphic content of these blocks – Keep your hands off

  • You will need graphics in Civil 3D that you DO NOT HAVE in a block list if you are upgrading from an ACAD legacy application

  1. Repeat this process using one of the supplied InstantOn templates

    • The resultant ASCII list is pretty much what you have to match your list to.

Since you are practicing…

  • Repeat this process with the project done for significant clients who REQUIRE standardized graphic output and maybe even specific block/cell names

  • You can work in the consistent Framework Names, publish and then rename to anyone’s name list

Minimal Windows and Office Skills Required

No ACAD or Civil 3D skills are required to perform the next step.
The skills:

  • Only basic Windows Explorer skills

  • Ability to visually match pictures

  • Keep accurate book in your spreadsheet while you do the matching

  1. Create your NEW Symbol Set in Windows Explorer – No ACAD or Civil 3D skills required.

  • Create a folder for New blocks

    • Optionally create folders for client’s symbols

  1. In OUR Symbol Set find the blocks that exactly/closely match your existing graphic content

  • Drag and drop matching symbols from the library to YOUR NEW Symbol Set folder

  • Note down

    • Old to NEW block name and graphic changes in the list

    • Missing NEW blocks - Can you find a generic prototype in the ASYM folder

    • Remove Duplicate old blocks

    • Etc

  1. In raw AutoCAD (not Civil 3D) modify the NEW blocks

  • Use the block proto.dwg we supply at the root of the Symbol Set

  • Use ONLY supplied textstyles – no Annotative textstyles are necessary

  • Every graphic thing (primitive) on Layer 0

  • Force graphics by plotstyle as needed.

  • Invisible Ink works great for masking solid fills

  1. Create Missing blocks for YOURS and/or Client lists

  • The ASYM folder in the supplied Symbol Set includes prototype graphics

  • Use the NCS-like Key-based naming rules for Missing blocks

  • Create symbols in a one generic unit format

  • See rules in the step above

Now you have matched and completed list(s) of the symbols with the Names you will use connected by drawings in a Symbol Set folder to the “right” graphics.

  1. Create an INSERT script formula column in the spreadsheet – we supply that formula in our Symbol Maintenance Spreadsheet Tool supplied in Jump Kit.

  • Copy the column

  • Paste to an ASCII file

  • Clean up as before – you are rearranging Quote Characters again

If you employ the Legend builder script and method it will generate a points file to location the symbols as COGO points for you to wrap a Civil 3D Points table around.

  • This is a good QAQC test to make sure you got it all right

  • Now you have the basics of a Legend

  1. Create a template with the new symbols.

    • Create a drawing from the NoStyles template

    • Run the script in AutoCAD to insert the symbols

      • If you’re cute you can build the ERASE ALL into the script

    • Erase the inserted blocks (or C3D COGO point objects)– you don’t need them

By now you also recognize that you have a list of symbols that are not in the Legend but you KNOW you need in the template.

  1. Insert that list – this is the only way to change the look and feel of some “built-in” Civil 3D blocks/markers

  • INSERT EXPLODED either stock InstantOn template

  • Symbols you did not replace remain the same

  • Carefully check the Styles collection for blown and broken label Styles – assume this ALWAYS happens

  • Mostly this happens with new Label Styles added in the release you are working in.

  • You can use Style Import and Drag and drop to fix broken Styles

  • All Design Criteria Styles usually need to be redone – includes Grading ones

  • Description Key Sets may need to be manually added back in in some releases

  1. In Drawing Settings reset the Design (Proposed) or Survey (Existing) Object Settings per the values supplied in the documentation or from the templates themselves.

You won’t get everything perfect the first time through.

That leaves you something to improve upon – Civil 3D customization and implementation is really like a 12 step program after all.

If this seems like a lot of work for something that seems simple on the surface, you’re correct.

  • First, the process only seems complex because you haven’t done it.

  • Second it’s a repeatable manufacturing process that constructs assemblies of reusable parts.

  • Experientially there is also nuance in the process.

  • The results are often extra ordinary – Freedom to do more in Civil 3D.

Is this a publishing template? Or a working production template?

Do you recognize that you also built a Tool Palette constructor at the same time as a Legend and a brand new customized set of templates?

Totally Nonlinear, dude.”

Release the Power Beyond the Code
Get the Framework for Civil 3D Release 8