Civil 3D Tips & Tricks

There are a lot of little things that go unnoticed in AutoCAD® Civil 3D®—probably due to the fact that there are a million icons and commands!  Whether they are hidden away within your Toolbox, or several layers deep within the ribbon, there are some really good tools that are often overlooked.  Here are some of my favorite little tasks, some new, and some oldies but goodies!

Profile Crossing Tool (New in 2019)

This is a great tool added to 2019.2.  You can add crossings to profile views to identify where linear objects cross the profile relative to the parent alignment (Figure 1).  This takes the Project Objects tool just a step further.

You can use the profile crossing tool to add crossings and labels to profile views for the following types of objects:

  • Alignments
  • Profiles
  • Feature lines
  • Survey figures
  • 3D polylines

When you add crossings to a profile view, you specify which marker and label styles to apply to the crossings. You can set up unique styles for each type of crossing object so you can display and label them differently.

I’ve been using this often for intersection/crossing alignments.  Crossing alignments are shown as vertical lines in the profile view because they do not have elevations, but you can specify an elevation value for the crossing alignment labels.

Figure 1

Select your profile view and now on the ribbon, under the Launch Pad panel, you will find the Add Crossings To Profile View command.

You then select the object(s) you wish to project, evoke the command, and you get the dialog box shown in Figure 2. For example, the alignment can be projected, and crossing markers, label styles, and auto or user set elevations assign!

Figure 2

Project Objects to Profiles

This has been around awhile, but don’t forget about this tool.  You can select a profile view, from the Launch Pad panel of the ribbon, select Project Objects to Profile View and pretty much add any object to your profile (Figure 3).

Figure 3

This is especially helpful when needing to see the elevation of a feature line, for example (I use feature lines for dry utilities), or when you want to project a test pit/bore hole info into profile.  You can also use this for projecting 2D objects.  For example, if you have a streetlight, sign, or fire hydrant block, you can select your view, launch the command, and project the block, along with customized label, into your profile (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Transparent Commands (Now in Ribbon)

I don’t see transparent commands used as much as I once did. Maybe when Civil 3D introduced the ribbon, people turned off the toolbar?  Not sure, but now the transparent commands are located on the ribbon (Figure 5), making them easier to read and simple to use.  A few I use often are:

Figure 5

  1. POINT OBJECT – When drawing breaklines, feature lines or for any reason you want to snap to the node of the point and pick up the elevation, USE THIS!  You don’t have to snap on the actual node—just select any part of the point label or point marker and it knows what to do from there.
  2. POINT NUMBER – Want to draw a line snapping from point to point in sequential order?  Just evoke the command and key in the numbers (i.e., 212-272).
  3. PROFILE Tools – There are several great commands for laying out items in plan or profile. Give some of them a shot sometime!

Compare Drawings

Compare two revisions of a drawing!

I think this is a fantastic addition to AutoCAD-based products such AutoCAD Civil 3D.  You can now quickly review changes to drawing features such as 2D linework, Civil 3D objects (pipes, surfaces, etc), text, and pretty much anything within your drawings.  It’s available in the main Application menu when no drawing is active or under Drawing Utilities when there is a drawing active. You can also access it from the new Collaborate ribbon tab (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Once you select DWG Compare, the dialog box will ask you to select which two drawings to compare. It will then create a third drawing with the two overlaid.  Prior to selecting Compare, you can modify the color choices if you wish (Figure 7).

Figure 7

The results of the comparison are displayed in an automatically created third drawing. Three categories of objects, or parts of objects, are displayed—those which are located only in the first drawing (GREEN), those which are located only in the second drawing (RED), and those which are identical in the two drawings (GREY). See Figure 8.

A contextual Compare ribbon tab lets you to control the appearance of results. This tab has three groups of controls: Comparison, Compare Filter, and Change Set.

Figure 8

Again, this may seem like a simple task, but for quick reviews, client/city meetings, and simple clashes, this tool is a great addition for 2019!

Export Linetypes to .lin file

Why is this not a built-in function of AutoCAD, you ask?  WHO KNOWS?? Many times you have linetypes in a file but not the associated linetype file (.lin)  But there is a fantastic FREE tool from CAD Studio ( that allows you to export linetype definitions (incl. shape + text info) from an AutoCAD DWG drawing back to .lin file.  This tool is called LinOut and is a simple LISP to install and use.


We are working with larger data than ever before.  Drone data and aerial imagery is now at the tips of our fingers anytime we want them.  Some raster images can be many GB in size and resolution that Civil 3D can’t handle.  If you have ever tried to import a GeoTiff (or other image types), and you get the “Invalid Image” warning, then QGIS is exactly what you need (Figure 9). 

This is a FREE open source software tool that allows you to quickly and easily reduce the size of large images, and even translate to other coordinate systems if you’d like.  Just go to and download it.

You simply drag and drop your image into the QGIS desktop, right-click on your layer (image), and export to a new rendered image.

Figure 9

Stage Storage Analysis

Need a quick volume analysis from a pond, for example?  Need that analysis every 0.25’ within the pond?  The Stage Storage Tool in Civil 3D is your new best friend! 

First, you need to decide what interval you need to report on.  Your surface style will control the results/interval within the report.  For example, if I want the following pond volumes in 0.50’ intervals, I simply edit the surface style to display the correct interval prior to running the analysis.

After you have edited your style, select the surface you wish to analyze, and from the Analyze panel of the ribbon, choose Stage Storage (Figure 10).

Figure 10

This will launch the report dialog box, fill in the blanks as needed and select Define Basin. You want to then select Define Basin from Polylines, and select the Extract Objects from Surface button (Figure 11).

Figure 11

Select the surface, select Define back on the dialog box and select up to the polyline you wish to analyze.  The dialog box should reappear with your results (Figure 12). You can save this report to a text file, or even better, save it as a file to be used within SSA!

Figure 12

A few more hidden GEMS!

Export Legal Description

Explore the toolbox for many reports that you can export.  You can customize these reports as well.  One that I use almost daily is the legal description writer.  This saves me a ton of time!

Drag & Drop Shapefiles (or other GIS data)

Did you know you can just drag and drop a Shapefile (and other GIS data) right onto your model space screen and it imports and even reprojects?  Simple, huh? Give it a shot—just grab the shapefile, throw it in there, and see what happens!

Quick Profile/Section

I use a quick profile almost daily. Draw a line, select the line, right-click and choose Quick Profile. This is a simple way to see a profile or section with creating an alignment.  However, it is a temporary graphic, so this would be the one and only time I tell you to explode it!  I typically do some annotation, then window the entire profile view and explode.

There is also a Quick Cross Section creator (Figure 13).  It is found on the Toolbox tab of Prospector, under Misc Utilities and within the surface options.

Figure 13


As you know, Civil 3D can be like fishing with dynamite!  There are so many commands, icons, ribbons, and settings that you can’t conceivably know where everything is, especially items you use only once or twice a year.  Hopefully, this article helped refresh your memory on some old tools and/or introduced you to some new ones.

As always, I am interested to hear what you think and see how we can improve upon this topic.  I always enjoy the feedback on what tips or tricks you use in your workflow.

Shawn Herring has been a part of the design engineering community for roughly 14 years in all aspects of design, construction, and software implementations.  He has implemented and trained companies across the country on Civil 3D and other infrastructure tools and their best practice workflows including many reality capture workflows. Shawn can be reached for comments or questions at

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