Using Templates and Drawing Settings for Civil 3D Implementation


AutoCAD® Civil 3D® is complex software with many different and connecting parts working together to provide solutions to civil design projects. In this article we are going to explore how to use template files to capture feature and object settings that you can use to start your new drawing or reference into an existing drawing. For a successful implementation, the CAD manager or designer can create, update, and distribute template files to all users to ensure a standard and uniform approach to design work.


Any new drawing in Civil 3D starts with a default drawing template or a custom template you can create. Drawing template files are drawings that store styles, settings, layers, and layouts in a drawing including title blocks.

Standard Template Process

When you create a new drawing based on a drawing template, the new drawing gets a copy of the styles in the template, but it is a one-time copy. The connection is not maintained; therefore, if you update the template it will not update your drawing file. For example, if you update the surface styles in your template and you wanted your drawings to get those same updates, you needed to manually copy or import those changed styles into your drawings.  You can do this by dragging and dropping or selecting the import tab on the Ribbon as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Import styles

Templates are also listed under the Drawing Templates collection in the Prospector tree Master View as shown in Figure 2.  Notice the two Civil 3D templates supplied from Autodesk.

Figure 2:  Templates under the Master View in Prospector

Two templates are provided when you install Civil 3D.  The path for these templates can be found within the options dialog box under the Files > Templates folder.  We are going to open the _Autodesk Civil 3D (Imperial) NCS.dwt and save this to C3D_Standard.dwt. The two AutoCAD Civil 3D drawing templates are based on the United States National CAD Standard®.

  • _AutoCAD Civil 3D (Imperial) NCS
  • _AutoCAD Civil 3D (Metric) NCS

These templates contain an extended set of styles and settings. When you start a new drawing with the New command on the Application menu, you can choose which template you want to use.

The QNEW command, which is available on the Quick Access toolbar, automatically uses the template specified in the AutoCAD Options dialog box.

Figure 3: The main templates provided

We are now going to change the settings of our template file (Figure 4). Open the template file you created named C3D_Standard.dwt on the Home tab of the Ribbon > Palettes panel > Open Toolspace.

  1. On the palette, move to the Settings tab.
  2. Make sure you are in the Active Drawing Settings View and right-click C3D Standard as shown.
  3. Select Edit Drawing Settings.

Note: If you move up and down on this palette there are hundreds of different settings that can be applied to all types of Civil 3D object data.

Figure 4: Drawing settings

C3D Drawing Settings

Settings in Civil 3D control many preset values, such as drawing units, scale, and coordinate system. Civil 3D has drawing, feature, and command settings. All three levels of settings in AutoCAD Civil 3D are saved with the drawing, and they can be saved to a drawing template.

  1. Drawing settings: Establish values for the whole drawing.
  2. Feature settings: Control behavior for a feature, such as Surfaces or Parcels.
  3. Command settings: Apply to individual commands within a feature, such as the AddParcelAreaLabel command within the Parcels feature.

You modify each level of settings at a different location in the Settings tree, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Setting tree

Let’s focus on the main drawing Drawing-Level Settings and Feature Level Settings. To access drawing-level settings, right-click the drawing name C3D_Standard in the settings tree and click Edit Drawing Settings as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6:  Edit Drawing settings

At the drawing level, the Edit Settings dialog box contains general tabs for the drawing (or template) as shown in Figure 7.  We do not want to alter any of these settings except for the Object Layers. Ambient Settings can be altered, but will be overridden by the drawing and feature settings.

Figure 7: Drawing settings

To illustrate how this works, we will edit one of these settings in the Object Layers section.  Move to the Object Layers tab on the dialog box and scroll down to Tin Surface as shown in Figure 8. We are going to add a suffix to the default label using a wildcard to ensure that our surface is always on the C-Topo- layer with a suffix of the surface name (i.e., C-Topo-EG).

Figure 8: Object layers

  1. Move to the C-TOPO layer.
  2. Change the value to Suffix.
  3. Add a -* to the value field.  The hyphen will be added to C-TOPO and the surface name will be appended to the end of the layer (i.e., C-TOPO-EG).

You have now created a standard for Tin Surface layers in Civil 3D and can implement this process. Explore other options at the drawing settings level to ensure your template is ready to go.

Figure 9: Object Layer modifications

Feature-Level Settings

Use the object collection level in the Settings tree to control all settings that pertain to the object type. Access the object or feature-level settings by right-clicking the object collection in the Settings tree and clicking Edit Feature Settings.  For this example, we are going to select the Point Collection.

Figure 10: Point Feature settings

At the object level, this dialog box also contains object-specific settings, such as default point styles. In this section we can control how our point label styles are in our drawing as default. If we want all the points to be brought in as a particular style or maker, we can edit these values as our default within our template file. Figure 11 shows the Point Label Style and the dialog box to change the value within the object feature settings.

Figure 11: Edit Feature settings

Command-Level Settings

Use the Commands collection level in the Settings tree to override both the object-level settings and drawing ambient settings on a command-by-command basis. You can also specify command-specific settings. Access the command-level settings by expanding the Commands collection for an object type in the Settings tree, right-clicking the command, and clicking Edit Command Settings. Figure 12 shows us editing the command level settings for a surface.

Figure 12: Command-level setting

Layer Standards in Templates

Maintaining a standard for the use of layers in your drawing is easier if you have a drawing template with predefined layers, and styles that reference those layers when objects are created.

For consistency, save your template as an AutoCAD® standards file (.dws format). Then, in the template, enter the STANDARDS command and in the Configure Standards dialog box, link the standards file to the template. If you want to enforce the standards, you can click the Settings button and activate notifications of standards violations or override such violations. For additional information on the CAD Standards Manager see CSI: CAD Standards Implementation at Autodesk University 2017.

The layers created in the AutoCAD Civil 3D 2018 templates follow the National CAD Standard (NCS) rules. For more information about the National CAD Standard layering settings, see

Now that you have many of your standards in place for your template, we need to ensure that the template is used on new drawings.  From the application menu, select New and your open dialog box will be displayed as shown (Figure 13). Select the C3D_Standard.dwt and all your settings will be inside the new drawing.

Figure 13: New template

Note: To control the location of template files and QNEW, review the options under the FILES menu > template settings.

Reference Templates

New to Civil 3D 2018 is a process called reference templates. The command can be found on the Manage tab of the Ribbon > Styles palette > Reference, as shown in Figure 14

Figure 14: Import styles

When you attach a reference template to a drawing, the AutoCAD Civil 3D styles that are in that reference template are copied into the drawing, and the connection between the drawing and the reference templates is maintained. Drawings can be updated on an ongoing basis either automatically or manually with changes to the styles in the templates.  We are going to add a reference to our current drawing file (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Attach Reference Template

As we work on our project, changes to the reference templates are pushed to the drawing so it is kept up to date:

  • New or changed styles in reference templates are copied to the drawing.
  • Styles that are deleted from reference templates are removed from the drawing if the styles are not in use. If a style is in use, a local copy of the style is made in the drawing.

Select the update button for the template to be added to the drawing. In the Toolspace Settings tree, styles that have been referenced into the drawing are marked with a paper clip icon as shown in Figure 16.  Notice how the surface styles are now being controlled by the reference template and not the drawing settings.

Figure 16: The Paper Clip

As you continue to update and/or add new styles to the project standards template, those changes are pushed to the drawings that reference that template.

The following AutoCAD Civil 3D components can be imported and referenced by a reference template.

  • AutoCAD Layers
  • AutoCAD blocks, text styles, and linetypes
  • Settings
  • Drawing Settings
  • Abbreviations
  • Ambient Settings
  • Object Layers
  • Feature Settings
  • Label Style Defaults
  • Styles
  • Label Styles
  • Object Styles
  • Table Styles
  • Pipe and Structure Rules
  • Pressure Network Parts lists
  • Quantity Takeoff Criteria

If you try to edit a surface style (i.e., rename a layer color) you will get the following error indicating that your style is being controlled by a referenced template or a company standard. You do have options to override the setting as shown in Figure 17, but this is a good reminder to all of us while we work on drawings and maintain our company standards.

Figure 17: The warning


In a perfect world, your drawing templates and settings will have the perfect set of styles for your projects. This typically takes time to grow and can be considered a living template. Consider designing styles to reflect the information requirements at different times in the project.  The templates are there as a guide to provide you with the basic information needed to begin your design project efficiently. You can create styles and templates for many different disciplines and still follow your company standard. Keep the implementation process going and create your template to help guide your users and your company to a better, more standard approach to design 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 Autodesk 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 and Midwest University Speaker as well as being an AUGI Board Member. You can reach Sam at or by email

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