Using Layers for Collaboration

Collaborating effectively in a team can be defined as all of us being on the same page. Defining a layer standard in AutoCAD® can be a very effective way to maintain standards and have easy collaboration within the team. Layers are a fundamental feature of AutoCAD, used to apply colors, linetypes, lineweights, transparency, as well as control plotting characteristics. Not using layers efficiently or placing everything on layer 0 will only cause rework and headaches for the next person working on your drawing. It is critical to understand layers and use all the tools within AutoCAD to your full advantage. In this article we will review how you can use the features of layers to improve the process and set up a collaborative approach to complete the task or goal.

We All Want to Be First

Let’s start by examining how AutoCAD sorts layers. The best place to start is within the layer names themselves. On the Home tab of the ribbon you will find the layer panel located within the center of the ribbon tab as shown in Figure 1. Open a drawing, select Layer Properties, and examine how the layers are sorted within the file.

Figure 1

The name of the layer can be the first step in controlling layers. By default, layers are sorted by name. If you give layers logical names, it becomes easier as drawings become more complicated. From the image below you can see the layers are sorted alphabetically starting with an “A” as the main descriptor. I added B and C to show how the layer sorts. You can select the name column to reverse the order as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

The AutoCAD out-of-the-box template file does not include any layers, so you need to establish this standard on your own.  Have you ever looked at the layers provided within a AutoCAD® Civil 3D® drawing file? Figure 3 shows the layers that are provided within the Civil 3D Template.

Figure 3

The layers created in the Civil 3D templates follow the National CAD Standards Rules (NCS). For more information about the National CAD Standards layering settings, see

The layers follow the NCS standards as follows, with each element separated by a dash (Figure 4):

- - - -

Discipline Designator: Required; the AutoCAD Civil 3D templates use the C and V discipline designators, which stand for Civil and Survey/Mapping.  The discipline designator is one letter.

Major Group: Required; identifies elements such as roads, topographic elements, and storm sewers. To adhere to the standards, custom Major Group fields are not allowed.

Minor Group: Optional; identifies sub-elements such as road profiles. You can include up to two minor groups per layer name, and you can define your own custom Minor Groups. For example, the layer C-ANNO-TABL-TEXT has two Minor Groups: “TABL” and “TEXT,” both consisting of four letters.

Minor Group: Additional layer classes.

Status: There can also be a one letter status indicator on the end.

Figure 4

Your project discipline and company standards define how you create a collaborative layer approach that can be used for your company.  Using this system along with templates can prove to be a very effective implementation plan.  Architectural drawings follow a similar layer standard from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) published guidelines follow a similar layer convention:  The layers are more designed for architectural projects rather than civil.

The Template File

Open the acad.dwt as shown and add all the layers including their properties to the file and save as a standard template name (i.e., Layers.dwt). Creating a standard set of layers and saving them in a drawing template file makes those layers available for use when starting a new drawing with that template file.

Figure 5

All you need to do when you begin a new drawing is select that template file, then ADD the layers for your standard and save the file as shown in Figure 5. Next time you create a new drawing with this template all your standard layers will be imported and included within your drawing session. 

Next up, let’s talk about organizing our layers with filters.

Managing Your Layers with Filters

There are two kinds of layer filters in AutoCAD.  These filters allow you to create named sets of layer selections involving many different disciplines. The two buttons shown above the filter section will navigate you to the correct filter as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6

To create a group filter, select the New Group Filter button in the filters list as shown and the filter will be added. Follow the steps in Figure 7 to create your group filter.

  1. Rename the filter to a logical name.
  2. Highlight all the layers you want to be in that group (they do not have to have the same properties or a common name).
  3. Drag the layers to the filter.

Figure 7

A more detailed way to stay organized is with a properties filter. Upon selecting this button, you have more flexibility based on the layer names you choose. In this example we are going to give a simple criterion—including all the layers with a prefix of A and then we are going to add all the layers with a prefix of V. Keep in mind you can use wildcards (*) after the character to include all the layers with those features as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8

After you add the letters with the wildcard, select OK and you can now view the layers in your properties filter as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9

DesignCenter to the Rescue

Now what about those drawings you get from a surveyor, client, or the new person in the office who did not set up the file correctly? You can simply insert your template into the drawing file at 0,0 and all the layers will be added in.  How about using DesignCenter? From your problem drawing, type ADC at the command prompt and navigate to your template file as shown in Figure 10.

  1. Select the Layers Tree item and all your layers will be displayed in the window.
  2. You can select all the layers or just the ones you need and drag and drop into your drawing. All your standard layers will now be inside your new drawing.

Figure 10

Create a Macro to Force a Standard Layer

You can use macros to create standard layers within your file. Follow the sequence below to create a button macro that will set a current layer and its properties from a button. By selecting the button, the macro will force any current layer properties to the new properties in the macro.

1.  Type CUI at the command prompt then layer in the command list to get the command as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11

2.  With your tool palette open,  left-click and drag the Layer Properties Command onto your palette. Note: we only want to get the image and the start of the command in there. Figure 12 shows the layer command added to a blank palette.

Figure 12

3.  Right-click your layer command in the palette (Figure 12) and select properties.


Follow the sequence as is on the command line. Notice the number of returns which are represented by a semicolon in the command string shown in Figure 13. Enter the command string and select OK. Your button is now ready to use—forcing a standard layer in your drawing.

Figure 13

For a video on creating or resetting a layer in AutoCAD with a macro, visit:

Renaming a Group of Layers

You can easily use the rename command to rename a group of layers using the same functionality with wildcards as you did in the layers properties filter. Type rename at the command prompt as shown in Figure 14 and follow the four steps to rename the layers.

  1. Select layers.
  2. Highlight all the layers you would like to change.
  3. Change the wildcard in the first box to C-* and in the second CIVIL-*. This will change all the prefixes of those layers from “C-“ to “CIVIL-“.
  4. Select Rename To:

Figure 14

The Layer Translator

For a video on this topic, please visit the AKN for a Screencast:

In the Layer Translator, you specify the layers in the current drawing that you want to change or translate, and the layers to translate them to. The translation maps the layers in the current drawing to different layer names and layer properties in a specified drawing or standards file, and then converts them using those mappings. The Layer Translator is one way to ensure these properties are corrected, and quickly. 


  1. Incorrect Layer Name (Our standard is to have a prefix of two letters).
  2. Color set to “white” and not to “Bylayer” (Bylayer is our standard).
  3. Linetype set independently of the layer  (Bylayer is our standard).

To solve this problem, I opened up one of our company standard detail drawings and checked all the properties and verified it was completed correctly and, more importantly, to our standard.  I then saved the file as an AutoCAD Standards file named MY_COMPANY_STANDARDS.dws. We are saving this to a standards file so we can use it again to check other details against our standard.

Next, open the detail drawing created by intern. Move over on the Ribbon > Manage tab and this time select Layer Translator as shown in Figure 15.

Figure 15

You also need to check the layer translate settings by selecting the settings button in the lower left portion of the window.  The settings button will control what we want forced onto each layer. This is important, as in some instances you may not want one of these items selected.

List of options described from AutoCAD Help:

  • Force Object Color to BYLAYER 
    Specifies whether every object translated takes on the color assigned to its layer.
  • Force Object Linetype to BYLAYER 
    Specifies whether every object translated takes on the linetype assigned to its layer.
  • Force Object Transparency to BYLAYER 
    Specifies whether every object translated takes on the transparency assigned to its layer.
  • Translate Objects in Blocks 
    Specifies whether objects nested within blocks are translated.
  • Write Transaction Log 
    Specifies whether a log file detailing the results of translation is created. If this option is selected, a log file is created in the same folder as the translated drawing. The log file is assigned the same name as the translated drawing, with a .log file name extension.
  • Show Layer Contents When Selected 
    Specifies which layers to display in the drawing area.

It’s time to map our layers. Figure 16 shows the layer Translator mapping setting.

Figure 16

  1. The “translate from” section. Take your time and look at the names and properties of the layer you are translating from and verify this is correct. This section shows the layers which are contained within your current drawing.
  2. The “translate to” list. This list shows the layers that you loaded from another file or created as part of your standard. You can use the Map Same button to quickly map layers with the same name (that may have different properties).
  3. Layer translator mappings.  In this area you can see the setting that will be converted after the translation is complete. As you define your layers to map, they are listed in the box at the bottom as shown. You can edit the properties on the new layers using the edit button, remove mapping with the remove button, and save mapping configurations with the Save button.
  4. When you are done, hit the translate button in the lower right of the window. Don’t worry if you make a mistake—you can save the mapping file and start over.

Your original drawing will be changed per the translations you mapped. I left the background black to visually show how the layers and colors change. Layers were purged and object settings were changed to match our standard.

For more information on the layer translator, visit CSI: CAD Standards Implementation from Autodesk University:


We have only scratched the surface of layers and the tools you need to develop a successful standard to help collaboration within your design team. Layers can help you turn on, off, filter, and display the objects you need to stay productive. Assign default properties to certain layers and lock those layers for better control. Layers help you stay organized within your drawing and provide clear communication to all regarding the purpose of the layer. All these factors play an important role within CAD standards and collaborating effectively at your company. If you start the drawing correctly you will have fewer problems during the later phases of the design process, which will provide a more collaborative approach to how we work.

Sam Lucido is a CAD Services Manager with Haley & Aldrich, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience involving design, user support, and customization. Sam is an AutoCAD certified professional and an Expert Elite Member. He uses his vast knowledge about AutoCAD and Civil 3D to help provide support to engineering and design teams by holding hands on workshops and online training. Sam is a top-rated Autodesk University Speaker and an AUGI Board Member. You can reach Sam at or by email at

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