The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Drawing Types

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Maybe you noticed? There is a big difference between your Civil 3D model building drawings and your Civil 3D publication drawings. Are there are some other types and stages of Civil 3D drawings in between these two? Civil 3D Drawings have states or even phases. If we have phases in projects, then our critical path will probably include drawings that change type and state too. How we handle this makes all the difference.

The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Drawing Types

Aside from the newbies to Civil 3D Land, everyone gets the basic fact that we don't have just one kind of drawing in Autodesk Civil 3D. Long ago we had to accept there are Civil 3D Templates and drawings spawned from them. You know that Civil 3D has a multiplicity of (maybe useless) example kinds of Templates too. Bad examples or not, this collection should give us a clue that the templates we ignore might be helpful in ways that are difficult to see initially?

We talked about the Civil 3D templates in the The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Templates post.

We learned about the multiplicity of Civil 3D drawing types the hard way – often painfully. Is it safe to say that the old school CAD Basemap publishing concept needs some adjustment to really improve our practical productivity Civil 3D? The question speaks to that age-old problem of putting the new wine into old wineskins. Things ferment. The process goes along fine for a bit and then may create an explosive mess. Talk about a carbon footprint.

Can we ferment an evolution in Civil 3D productivity and better deliverables? We need our brain engaged from the get-go to create productive iPOD (Intelligent Publish On Demand) in Civil 3D. There are practical structures and processes required to optimize this daily work. The Key point being we need to make our design capacity as flexible as possible to allow for employment of iterative options.

We must balance that increase in design and QAQC freedom with an equal and balanced focus on the published production output that we all get paid for.

Employ Your Civil 3D Options

We do have options to reconsider.

Sorry, I recognize I am on a sort of a rant about the importance of the pursuit of low risk and high-yield optionality these days. Why? This decision methodology works if we can consider and identify a better balance point. The safe way to do things, isn’t always all that safe in the long term. Time matters.

We discovered in the We See in Civil 3D and Can Be Blind post the we are all subject to Sustained Inattentional Blindness – the Man in the Gorilla Suit problem. We figure out a way to address a problem; get caught up in the process or workflow; and we overlook the not-so-obvious consequences the we created for ourselves in the first place. The practical take-away? The Civil 3D tools we dismiss are often there for a good reason we don’t yet appreciate.

Back for a moment to drawing types in Civil 3D. In the recent Better Civil 3D Assembly Management post, I proposed that we need Assembly Set resource drawings. Is this a new type of drawing we can learn to employ to help us benefit from the way Civil 3D is designed and Multi-Baseline Corridor models are practically built and maintained?

The How to See More in Civil 3D Tools post addressed the importance of our design heuristics. The Civil 3D programmers can implement some but not all heuristics for a reason. Odd as it may appear, some heuristics can’t be coded by logic or math. The rules of thumb, and not a dependence on the programmed software tools, can help us see and evaluate the supplied Civil 3D tools differently. We then learn to use those tools more productively.

The practical point - We do the work every day yet fail sometimes to establish the benchmarks we need to identify the important changes of state in our drawings and in our projects. Do our Civil 3D Project Templates structures and resources reflect these important details?

Civil 3D Drawings Are Like Water

The day will come when every Civil 3D drawing changes State.
Water freezes and becomes ice. The ice melts and you get a flood.
When you can identify those changes of Civil 3D drawing State, you’re well on the way to a good set of benchmarks that help systematize a functional workflow within a project in Civil 3D.

You have probably noticed that it is possible to build a design in Civil 3D that effectively freezes up like ice and locks you in? Typically, this happens when we try to put too many live Civil 3D Features into a drawing. Usually, we don’t want this frozen state to happen. While not the subject of this post, this reality makes the point that paying attention to and managing the state of drawings in Civil 3D matters a lot.

Sadly, many want to believe and assume that their old CAD definitions of drawing State still apply in Civil 3D. That expectation can become a serious obstacle to our productivity. Lord knows, it can make the work in Civil 3D frustrating.

Let’s keep it simple. Simple is good. If the drawing changes Type, it changes State. This test works the other way around, but not always. Can we both identify and explain the difference?

Since someone recently asked about it, below is my Civil 3D Drawing Types list.
I hope the common acronyms employed below make sense.
You’ll see references to these terms in our free Civil 3D training videos on this website. If you become a Member, even more are available in a more organized form.
Register here.

Civil 3D Drawing Types

Civil 3D Drawing Types are intimately connected to our design professional business model. This practical reality often gets lost in the technical, workflow, and/or management requirements Civil 3D itself.

Drawing Type and Business Goals

Our clients demand more. We want to deliver above those expectations in less time for sound business reasons. Put another way, we want a richer set of potential deliverables that we can produce in fewer man-hours that produces a better financial return to us that our client will agree to.

Civil 3D continues to get more complicated over time because the software addresses more kinds of civil engineering and survey design functionality. Hence our workflows and those change of drawing state benchmarks can be expected to change. In effect our adaptability becomes a competitive advantage, or our lack of adaptability becomes a negative. Everyone else may be giving away the store, or making money delivering it.

With purposed intent below, I use the term “collector” – a drawing that exists to collect other resources. Of course, most Civil 3D Features (the things in the Toolspace >> Prospector tab) are another form of collector all together.

Resource Collectors

I consider that the Resource Collectors are the potentially most lucrative adaptive set of Drawing Type options available to organizations that employ Civil 3D today. In retrospect, these didn’t even appear in my old Drawing Types lists. They were there. We/I just didn’t see our projects and drawings that way.

  • All the Civil 3D template construction drawings listed in
    The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Templates post.
  • Civil 3D Style Library resources – Civil 3D working or publish templates are assembled from separate collections of a known good.
  • Adaptive Template Building Blocks – task-based Feature Style, Label Style, and Set collections.
    Most design tasks in Civil 3D seem to want/require multiple Features with Sets of Styles and Labels that work together.
  • Assembly Set Resources – task-based collections of Corridor Assemblies used to standardize and improve Corridor design performance. In effect we want standardized resources to make our Corridors more adaptive to options in less time.
  • Project Placeholders – drawing resources that get completed, filled up, or exchanged during the project

Monolithic (One Ring to Rule Them) Civil 3D templates camouflage the potential optionality available in Adaptive Template Building Blocks. The management inadequacies of the Tool Palette interface disguise the potential of Assembly Set resources. Project Placeholders make no sense until you work hard on your Civil 3D Project Template(s).

Create and Construct – Civil 3D Feature collectors

I have yet to find a Civil 3D model building drawing that does not change state. The tough call is to determine when they do.

  • Model Building Drawings
  • Model QA Drawings
  • Model Option Drawings

DREF publication – Data reference publication or collectors

The data behind in Civil 3D which is best left with as little custom Style as possible in a project.

  • Shared Feature Data in the Project
  • Temporary Shared Feature Data in the Project
  • Shared Feature Options
  • Shared Corridors – listed separately because they often include other DREFs and have publish dependency requirements that appear down the road to a deliverable result.

XREF and IREF publication – External and Image reference publication and collection

At publication time dynamic and immediate can kill performance and complicate the QA.

  • Shared background Drawing Data in the Project
  • Publish ready DWF Collectors

XREFs & DREFs – External reference and Data reference collectors

Why are these different from above? Generally, we want live and dynamic while we create, edit, and QAQC the design. Then we don’t.

  • Design Option DREFs
  • Plan and Profile
  • Pages of Sections
  • DWF publication collectors


If you employ individual drawings to plot, this is fine by me for published and check DWFs.
Why you would endure the individual publication pain out of paperspace otherwise is a bit difficult for me to understand. The test is impersonal. Can someone else publish the Sheets?

  • What we produce to Plot in Sheet Sets

We sometimes tend to think of these as Civil 3D Plan Production Tool and/or Sheet Set requirements not what they actually are – parts of deliverables.

The comments for Published Digital Deliverables (below) also apply.

Published Digital Deliverables

This is the one-off result of deliverable production day(s). From a both business practice and project management perspective each of these is phase-based. All the benchmark state changes above are checked off the list for a particular/specific phase.

  • What we publish and/or export to others

From a design perspective and business perspective, did the client pay for the right number of iterative trips around or up and down the mountain?

What’s the Point?

There’s obviously a bunch of Civil 3D Drawing Types even if you think some of the above may be duplicates or unnecessary for your current project's complexity.

Yes. Ok. I didn’t mention Details and details collectors nor Keynote and/or revision collectors, and ad nausea. To me these are placeholder resources in your Civil 3D Project Template(s). Maybe they deserve a completed Drawing Type themselves.

All the Civil 3D Drawing Types come to more healthy life in the Civil 3D Project Template context.

Autodesk says, “Civil 3D doesn’t require a project.

A drawing in Civil 3D is always a project…
A project that is under construction.

We Labor for What Works
Get the Framework for Civil 3D Release 8


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We See in Civil 3D and Can Be Blind

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How to See More in Civil 3D Tools

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The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Templates

  • How the effective use of the multiplicity of Civil 3D Templates enables a productive difference

The Multiplicity of Civil 3D Drawing Types

  • How the relationship of Drawing Type, State change, and Benchmarks help us employ better options in our Civil 3D tools usage, method, and practice