Crazy for Management


The first thing that comes to mind when I think about AutoCAD ®Civil 3D ® is not the word Management, but it really should be. Using Civil 3D is all about management. From managing object styles to label style to managing data shortcuts on projects, Civil 3D really makes you work to bring a plan set together. Granted, it’s easier than with previous Autodesk software solutions, but it still takes some work to manage all of the components of a design. Before you start a project, you should really think how you are going to deliver it.

Civil 3D Object Styles

Civil 3D Object styles control how Civil 3D will show the object data. It’s a good idea to create a template for the project’s use, if you haven’t already. Take the time at the outset to make sure all the styles that are most likely going to be used work with the pen styles. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than cutting sheets for plan set only to have to go back through and modify the style for each and every drawing because the objects don’t print correctly. This is especially important if the client is requiring you to use their pens.

If you have a nitpicking engineer who likes to see the plans just so, take the time to do the first sheet, get approval, and then go through and cut the sheets. This way you know ahead of time what needs to be changed. Going back through the plan set certainly is possible, but I always seem to miss a sheet. With the new style management tools available in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012, it takes less time to apply the correct object styles, but it still a time waster that should be avoided.

Civil 3D Labels

Labels are probably the most important part of a project; they can also be the most troublesome to manage. In the past, I’ve worked in an area of the world where the information required to be shown on the plans took numerous label styles. It was always frustrating to copy the label style from drawing to drawing and try to remember where the correct style was located. The numerous label styles caused management problems because I really never wanted to hunt through a list of label styles.

If you have a long lists of label styles make sure you create names that convey what the label does. For instance, I always try to group surface spot elevations with what they are labeling. All of my finish surface labels start with FS and then convey the direction the label is facing (Up, Down, Right, Left).

A big component of my drawings is the presence of expressions. Expressions help me consolidate multiple label styles into one. For instance, in cross sections it is sometimes required to show link widths for corridor sections as dimension labels. While it is possible to manually place dimension labels on all of the links, I find that using dynamic Civil 3D labels works much better and reflects any changes in designs. The expressions are used to transform the dimension look when the dimension arrows overlap and require rotating 180 degrees. By using this method I’m able to reduce the number of expressions utilized. Another benefit is that someone doesn’t need to go in and manage the code set styles to assign a different style. The expressions do it for you.

Data Shortcuts

Data shortcuts are an important way to share data across different drawings. Before you start a project decide how you want to manage the data shortcuts by using Vault or another method. I’ve never used Vault in a production environment so I can only speak to using data shortcuts from Prospector. In deciding how to manage data shortcuts, one needs to decide how to break up the design elements. Do you put all of the Civil 3D objects in one file or does each Civil 3D object get its own drawing? This question is largely answered by how big the project is. For small projects you can probably get away with having lots of the design objects in one drawing. As the project gets bigger, drawing performance tends to degrade as the drawing side gets larger. It’s much easier to start with separate files than it is to split them up once you figure out that the delays are not worth it.

If you do ultimately split up the objects, make sure you know about the Data Shortcut Editor. Changing the drawing name and path is a quick and easy way to manage the new location of all of the relocated Civil 3D objects. If Civil 3D is having a difficult time finding the relocated objects, you may want to make sure the objects have the same name and set the ‘Use to match’ to Name. That way if you copied the object to a new drawing and it received a new Handle, it will be able to find the object by its name.


In the past Survey has been the area that I haven’t used to its full potential. I’ve never had the opportunity to work with a survey crew directly to get them to utilize survey codes. If I did, I can see this immensely helping out in my management of survey data. By using survey codes I could automate the creation of breaklines. This always seems to be a time killer in connecting the appropriate points together such as edge of pavement or toe and tops of slopes. Another benefit would be the ability to use Description Keys to assign the correct block to the points as they are imported and put them on the correct layers.

Yet another benefit would be the ability to automate the process of creating an existing surface. A while back I created a program that let the surveyor import his points, create point groups, create a surface, and assign the correct styles to the newly created surface. This would be a huge time saver in managing survey data because most of the steps would be taken care of automatically. The surveyor would be free to check the data rather than managing where the points should go.


Templates are a great way to help manage object, label styles, and survey-related items. The only problem is that it takes a collective effort on the part of all users. Everyone involved in the drawings needs to help out by making sure that commonly used styles make it into the template for the next project. This way, when starting a new project most of the setup will already be done and you can get to work designing and labeling rather than recreating styles used on the last project.

To help manage the styles in the templates it may be useful to split the templates based on what heavy lifting they will do. It doesn’t make much sense to have a drawing carry around the styles and settings for cross sections if the file is only going to contain an existing surface. So it may be advantageous to have more than one template.


In this article I’ve randomly presented some of the Civil 3D items that require management. I haven’t always been the best at following through in managing the data—I just find it so much fun to create label styles—but there is definitely a benefit of starting a project with a good idea of where it’s going. I recommend you go out and look for solutions to the management problem. There are some third-party applications that have created workflows to help manage the data and styles.

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