Productivity-Boosting CADD “Nuggets”

As a Senior CADD Manager and roadway designer, I am always trying to find a faster, easier, more productive way to accomplish tasks in AutoCAD® and AutoCAD® Civil 3D®. And I enjoy sharing those things in the form of little tips and tricks I call CADD nuggets. This article spotlights some nuggets to boost productivity and highlight new uses for old commands. These are some of my favorites and I hope you learn something along the way.

Assembly Name Label

As a corridor model progresses, I end up with several assemblies in my file. As this list grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a specific assembly to edit. This nugget highlights the use of fields and large text to help quickly navigate to my desired assembly.

Do the following:

  1. Begin a large piece of center-justified text above your assembly. Any size that will be visible with zoom extents will work.
  2. Instead of typing text, right-click and select “Insert Field.”
  3. Select “Objects” in the Field category.
  4. Under Field Names, select “Object.”
  5. Under Object type, select the little marker symbol to the right and pick your assembly, select Name from the Property column. (Note the other options for properties you can select here.)
  6. Change the Format to Uppercase to increase visibility (see Figure 1).

When you create this label on your first assembly and copy them together, the copied text will be linked to the copied assembly, reducing the amount of work by not repeating this process (see Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

After copying these two parts together, type REGEN to see the name update.

A Simple UCS Nugget

I work on long roadway projects and as luck would have it, not many of those roads are straight. As I work my way down the corridor model I use UCS to align my views and set the alignments horizontal on my screen. To execute this, type UCS, 3point, select three points, and hit Enter. Normally, you would type the dreaded PLAN ENTER ENTER. This executes a Zoom Extents command requiring you to spend time finding your location again. I use EXPLAN to simplify this tedious and time-consuming task.

Next time you change your UCS, type EXPLAN instead. This command allows us to select a line and Civil 3D will rotate the view to show us our new UCS, but will center the location on the selected line without executing a Zoom Extents command simultaneously.

To set this up, you need a line (other objects work too, but I prefer line) near your center of view.

Do the following:

  1. After setting your UCS to the desired rotation, type EXPLAN. 
  2. Select the line that is near your center of view.
  3. Hit Enter twice.

See that your file is now zoomed up near the same location you were just looking at, AND it is rotated to your new desired UCS (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Fields in Construction Note Bubbles

I have to say that of all the tips I have written about, this one gives me the biggest satisfaction when I get to explain it to users. I think of my 2D linework as an extension of my corridor model. Our drawing is a database of information, right? Why not get as much out of it as possible with as little effort as we can?

I draw construction note bubbles for all of my construction projects. These bubbles are the little attributed circle blocks and leaders that tell contractors what to build, where to build it, and how long it is. I have taken this one step further and added an additional attribute beside the number that I link to a field value from the objects the leader is pointing to (Figure 4).

Figure 4

Do the following to add a dynamic length measurement to your otherwise static construction notes.

In this example, we are removing a section of waterline. We have drawn a “delete” line over the section of waterline we want to remove. We will use a field value of “length” from that line to dynamically populate our construction note.

A.  Create the block with attributes (see Figure 4).
B.  Place the block in your file.
C.  Once the block is in your file and pointing to the object, you can now edit the block to fill in the value with a field (Figure 5):

  1. Right click in the attribute editor window.
  2. Select objects in the Field Category column.
  3. Select object.
  4. Select the marker to select the “delete” line in your file.
  5. Select length.
  6. Select desired units.
  7. Select desired precision.

Figure 5

Add “LF” after the field is in the dialog and hit OK (Figure 6).

Figure 6

IF and WHEN the length of the “delete” line is updated by your design team, this note will automatically update to show the new length of removal. I hope this little nugget makes you think of the hundreds of other uses that AutoCAD fields provide us.

Dataextraction for Quantities

I have to admit that the DATAEXTRACTION command seemed very intimidating at first. I spent a great amount of time watching videos, reading blogs, and attempting to make it work. I finally decided one day to just buckle up and dive in. I am glad I did! I ended up creating a new workflow for my roadway design group that has saved many hours of manual counting and measuring.

For this nugget, I will have you start a new drawing, draw some closed polyline shapes, draw a few lines, and insert a couple of blocks. Let’s keep our first try simple…

Do the following:

  1. Start a new drawing using acad.dwt.
  2. Make a few layers (see Figure 7).
  3. Insert some tree blocks and mailbox blocks.
  4. Draw the stripe lines.
  5. And lastly, draw a couple of closed polylines.
  6. Take a deep breath and type DATAEXTRACTION.
  7. Select Create a new data extraction, then hit Next.
  8. Save the DXE file to the same location as your dwg. This file saves the selection set, and some settings of this extraction.
  9. Click on Select objects in the current drawing and hit the button to then select all the linework and blocks you just drew (Figure 8).
  10. Click on settings and uncheck the top three squares, then hit OK. This is page 3 of 8 in the wizard and it should show the objects you selected (see Figure 8).
  11. Hit next and take another deep breath… We are only interested in a few of these properties.
  12. In the category filter column, uncheck all but General and Geometry.
  13. In the Property column, uncheck all but Area, Layer, and Length. Hit Next.
  14. This is the data that is available for your quantity table, hit next now, but come back here later and play with sorting columns, combining identical rows, and linking to external data sources. Hit Next.
  15. You should be on page 6 of 8 now in the dialog box. Check Insert data extraction table into drawing.
  16. Again for this first attempt, just hit Next to insert a generic table with standard style. Hit Finish to insert the table (see Figure 9).

NOTE: This table is static at this point. It will not update if you add/subtract objects. You can now right-click on this table and export to a CSV file and open in Excel.

This method for quantities is not as powerful as using the QTO manager, but it is a great way to start your team thinking about easier ways to get quantities out of their files.

Figure 7

Figure 8

Figure 9

Quick Nuggets

Here are a few quick drafting nuggets I find useful.

  1. Select an object, then right-click “Add Selected.” AutoCAD will start whatever command is needed to draw the item selected and match its properties. Polyline on that same layer, insert a block, or draw text on that same style/layer/height.
  2. Right-click “Isolate Objects,” which has three options: isolate objects, hide objects, and end isolation. This command is amazing! The objects temporarily go away until you bring them back, or leave the file and open again.
  3. LINEWORKSPACEEVENLY – this command is used to take randomly (or inaccurately) spaced lines and distribute them evenly between two points or along an axis.
  4. LINEWORKDIVIDE – use this command to cut lines along a single plane to make two lines.
  5. LINEWORKCROP – use this command to crop lines (both ends) without having to draw construction lines or trim lines.
  6. LINEWORKTRIM – use this command to trim lines (single end) without defining the cutting plane object.


Hopefully you can use a couple of these nuggets to improve your workflow and boost productivity in your office.  I realize there are many ways of doing the same thing in AutoCAD/Civil 3D and I have only scratched the surface on the power of some of the above. I really believe that EVERY CLICK COSTS MONEY and I do my best to help users eliminate un-needed clicks.

I would love to hear from you on any tips and tricks you use, so feel free to contact me anytime.

Appears in these Categories