Top Ten Civil 3D Production Tips for 2024

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Let’s have a Happy New Year with Civil 3D. Should we wrap up the calendar year 2023 and unwrap a collection of the Top Ten Civil 3D Production Tips? Why not. Everyone loves a top ten list. I used the production word here not the productivity one even though both do apply in this context.

This post has a decided Civil 3D management and implementation bias over the classic Civil 3D user tips and tricks. We can bet the Autodesk University Online for 2023 content has a session or two with that theme.

We’ll play the best of the year game in the countdown format. Most of these are all tied together in the usual Civil 3D collected way. All you sequential thinkers out there in Civil 3D Land are encouraged to mess with the order and importance as you see fit. You will anyway. You know the drill.

You should not have to look too hard on this site to find the multiple post series available for each of the Top Ten Civil 3D Production Tips topics. Enjoy.

Collaboration and Cloud is Happening… Do the Work

Civil 3D Projects in the ACC cloud isn’t just an Autodesk marketing pitch. Whether we like it or not and maybe even if today Autodesk’s offerings seem to make no immediate financial sense to you, Managed Collaboration is more than hype. See the DWG Migration for Docs post and video.

The method and practice of managed collaboration is all about building and employing healthy and functional feedback loops into our regular Project Execution. The more numerous loops add value to multiple participants in the project food chain (aka the mission critical project path).

Most of the folks involved don’t employ the software that Civil 3D Users do. Every civil engineering firm or surveyor manages to do some file share collaboration to one degree or another. Organizations that do that work well internally manifest the benefits, increase the value add, and learn to manage the costs. They have few objections to playing well with others.

We learn the managed collaboration and external partner interop game best because we already practiced and proactively worked at it internally. Put another way – Those that get the rest of these tips benefit the most.

Operations Engineering Changes Forever

We all recognize what I like to call Operations Engineering is a mainstay and/or core business for a great deal of survey and civil engineering work. Many mid-sized commercial civil engineering firms are the public works departments for small towns and lots of pseudo/quasi departments and/or public agencies.

The joint Autodesk and ESRI Autodesk Connector for GIS product probably already deserves to be considered a separate Autodesk AEC Collection product. The project man-hours costs of conversions before the Connector for ArcInfo Online came into being are nothing to sneeze at.

We must learn to effectively manage, employ, and deliver these new forms of the Civil 3D data behind and execute successfully the interoperability the data exchange fosters.
Can we speak Property Set?

There are management and user skill sets and production workflows we must get our head around and work to lubricate. If our civil engineering concern deals with the operational and maintenance of infrastructure, we need to talk with our partners and our clients about it.

Even if we don’t do that direct Operations Engineering work specifically, the data interop and data exchange adaptability and flexibility are corporate and personal skills we all should embrace proactively.

We learn to lead with practiced skill or be chewed up by the bureaucracy.

Publish to DWF Basemaps and More

This proven production workflow means that we exchange classic XREF basemap collections for optimized and QAQC’d prepublished DWF IREF collections in our deliverable publication process.

This will initially appear counterintuitive. We want the latest and greatest and most dynamic. Right? Not in our deliverables. The publication drawings are not the same thing as the work-in-progress production drawings.

DWF publication is decidedly faster to plot at project deadlines than resolved XREF publication. DWF based publication is simultaneously both easier to do and far less prone to last minute human errors and omissions.

Know and Employ Batch Save a Lot

The Civil 3D Batch Save Utility is the best Autodesk managed production tool introduced for Civil 3D since DREFs and Data Shortcuts. This headless scripting environment of Civil 3D make us much more adaptive to changes in Civil 3D and to our own Civil 3D customization.

The Civil 3D Batch Save Utility is purpose built to help you update and upgrade, cope with, and see the effects of the latest Autodesk Civil 3D code on our work, our customizations, and our production environment. Batch Save works for all types of Civil 3D resource drawings and for entire Civil 3D projects. Batch Save only works if we know what we are doing, how the tool works, and what the tool can do.

Batch Save practice under pressure produces better execution and results.

Employ TREFs or Die Trying

The Civil 3D Reference Template Tool is your best hope to get managed Style consistency coupled with managed Style adaptability and flexibility into our workday in Civil 3D. Civil 3D Style is the visible front-end side of production projects we all depend on both to do the daily project production work and deliver acceptable and consistent published results.

The Civil 3D TREF Tool isn’t perfect. As is, the Reference Template tool is much better than the classic Civil 3D template and that sharp stick in the eye that we all know so well.

Our own Styles aren’t perfect. We may discover a few of our old Styles don’t perform as we expect from a TREF collection resource. TREF implementation requires us to clean up our act.

TREFs implementation also means we think differently and seriously about Style management and resources.

Design and Deliver with Corridors

In this blog I kid around about the design by Feature Lines Only Crowd from time to time. Feature Lines are a great productivity grading design tool for Civil 3D.

It just so happens to be true that Managed Feature Lines are even more productive, flexible, and consistent.

Managed Feature Lines come from learning how to better employ Alignments (the Design Control Managers for Civil 3D), their many children, and employ the full depth and detail of the Corridor design tools in Civil 3D. I always like to remind folks that this code is where Autodesk put the big bucks.

The Design with Corridors learning curve is admittedly steep with some unfamiliar parts, pieces, and nuanced mechanics. The real benefits don’t really begin to show up until we’re skilled and practiced in the Corridor design workflows. There are more carefully tuned Civil 3D resources and Style tools required to perform faster and better Design with Corridors work.

If we can execute a site design with Feature Lines, we can do the same with Corridors. When done, we will end up with a more manageable result. we can maintain more potential options and deliver more potential change with less effort. Documenting the results for deliverables can become much more automated as well.

Practice The Arts of The Separation of Powers

Civil 3D isn’t about projects. Civil 3D is the project. The Project is all about management. Good management practice isn’t about control but rather healthy governance. Control and governance are not the same thing. Governance is about managing the mutual efforts of people with their willful consent. Many of these people think and behave differently for good reasons.

The Managed Separation of the Civil 3D data behind (aka the Dynamic Project Model) produced in the multiple production drawings is a mission critical set of project tasks.
This work is an accountability performed by individual Civil 3D users.
The work includes planned storage structures, Civil 3D Feature naming conventions, and agreed upon corporate production project workflows.

The Power of Names (the unique name property of objects) underlies all Style and Model-based software functionality. We learn to employ consistent name rules to separate, replace, and collect all the resources we must deal with inside and outside Civil 3D or not.

To me the application of the Arts of The Separation of Powers to Civil 3D Template and Civil 3D Style tool resources is reasonably self-evident.

Invest in Civil 3D Project Templates

The oldest published post in this blog from way back in 2011 happens to be on this very topic.

Everyone wants and needs higher performing production projects in Civil 3D.

The best Civil 3D production folks I know all work repetitively on the structure and improving the specific contents of their multiple Civil 3D Project Templates. Their Civil 3D users, Project Managers, and senior managers actively collaborate on the structures and variable contents. Their personal daily work is buried in there too. We need to recognize and address this.

Most people don’t and won’t walk away from a somewhat myopic Civil 3D mindset.

Why Civil 3D Project Template development remains in the top three of this list.

Learn and Burn a Little Each Day

As Walt Kelly famously said in his Pogo cartoons way back in the day,
We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Oliver Hazard Perry whom Kelly paraphrased from 1813 said,
We have met the enemy and he is ours.”
We want to attest to both the end of our personal denial about expertise and our unexpected and hard-won victories in the present tense.
We need to play at both on a regular basis.

What we know (our current expertise and skill) often gets is the way of doing things differently. Daily, we should proactively search for and actively try new methods to do what we already do. We should attempt to perform tasks we never did before.
This is easy to say and very hard to do.
The practiced and regular discipline always pays off in improved skills and more expertise.

Every day read something/anything for a few minutes in the help files before you perform any work. Understanding is not a requirement. A random approach works as well as systematic study. You will be pleasantly surprised when you recall that the something is in there when an unrelated problem presents itself later.

The human mind is an insatiable beast that is best fed a diet of the impossible and incomprehensible.

Get the Framework for Civil 3D Release 8

Well, that’s a bit self-serving. It is safe to say that the Framework for Civil 3D as product proactively attempts to address all of these interrelated issues. A Managed System for Civil 3D is a production necessity.

We get there on our own and/or take advantage of all the affordable help that is offered.


I tossed preliminary versions of this post out to a few Civil 3D CAD Manager folks. Surprise. All of them considered tip #4 - Practice the Arts of the Separation Powers to produce the most immediate Civil 3D bang for the buck.

Most agreed the practice was also the most problematic to sell to Civil 3D users and management alike. Why we need to separate so many things in Civil 3D is counterintuitive to the collecting them all together on which Civil 3D production use depends.

I consider that tip #3 - Invest in Civil 3D Project Templates the not-so-obvious practical path to clarify the separation realities and benefits to more folks. I know and agree it is hard to get people who think and work differently to see why this matters…

That is…until together we try to do the template development work.

Make Civil 3D Work
Get the Framework for Civil 3D Release 8