Basic AutoCAD Civil 3D Setup Planning and Preparation

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Civil 3D Help

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This Premium Members Post is part of a the Beginners AutoCAD Civil 3D Setup for Land Surveyors series.

Today, let's begin the real work in the Beginners AutoCAD Civil 3D Setup for Land Surveyors series with some preliminary planning and preparation. While this may not sound sexy, too many land surveyors and designers overlook or skip this step, resulting in unnecessary frustration with AutoCAD Civil 3D.

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Plan for Time

Before you do anything with AutoCAD Civil 3D, plan out when you will work on setting it up. It's important that you plan a schedule for setup time where you can regularly focus dedicated effort.

For those of you seeking innovation and a complete overhaul of your systems and procedures, you should hold a few preliminary meetings where you and your teams, if you have any, brainstorm what it is that you actually do. Or put better, what is it that you should be doing.

While this isn't a strictly AutoCAD Civil 3D issue, one example of innovation and overhauling your existing systems and procedures is to update and improve your library of Point Codes. Improving your Point Code systems can improve your overall productivity. If you've even a little familiarity with the AutoCAD Civil 3D feature set, you'll have a good starting point for planning how to use AutoCAD Civil 3D. If not, don't worry, because you can always tweak your setup as you get to know and understand how AutoCAD Civil 3D works.

As many users work more with AutoCAD Civil 3D, and understand it better, they often go back to the beginning steps to make adjustments. I did, and you probably will, too. Being methodical and organized helps.

So, how much time should you spend on planning alone? That's a tough question, and depends on how "good" your current systems are. If the systems you now use are not complex, and are organic to the data or process, then planning will be quick. If, however, you've used overly complex systems (or lack of any systems) that defy sensible correlation to either the data or the process, then it will take longer for you to plan an effective AutoCAD Civil 3D setup.

Plan for Using AutoCAD Civil 3D

Working with AutoCAD Civil 3D is somewhat different from working with, say, AutoCAD Land Desktop. And, this is where many land surveyors and designers either shy away from using AutoCAD Civil 3D altogether, or get frustrated.

But, I think much of what you do when using AutoCAD Civil 3D is not very different from what you're already familiar with doing. Sure, there is more stuff that needs setting up first, you need to know where to find commands, and there are some new workflows, however, you will find much the same as it was before (with improvements!).

That being said, you do need to plan for at least a few aspects of using AutoCAD Civil 3D, like:

  • Point Management - Unlike AutoCAD Land Desktop, AutoCAD Civil 3D does not centrally coordinate points across all your project drawings. In fact, AutoCAD Civil 3D doesn't even know what your project drawings are! Yes, you might have all your project points in a Survey Database, but if you create a new point in a drawing, that point is not automatically added to the database. Worse, is that you can all too easily create multiple points with the same point number across multiple drawings! So, it is important for you to plan for how you will manage points when working with AutoCAD Civil 3D.
  • Project Management - You need to plan for a folder structure that you will use for your AutoCAD Civil 3D projects. Like all things AutoCAD Civil 3D, there is no straightforward answer here. In a later article we'll discuss using Data Shortcuts and how that can automate project folder setup. Templates for projects need defining either by reviewing your most typical project files setup or by crafting a new folder structure.
  • Drawing Usage - Develop a plan for drawing usage. What you should decide is whether to keep everything in one drawing, or to separate and segment your drawings into smaller, workable, pieces of the project. If your projects are very small and not complex, then the all-in-one drawing approach can simplify using AutoCAD Civil 3D a lot. BUT, the all-in-one drawing use is not what I recommend for most users. For your work, for example, you might consider one drawing each for Points, Parcels, Surfaces, and Alignments. Then, build your plans and designs from those drawings and data.

Plan your Drawing Templates

Once you have a structure for your project folders and your drawing usage, then you can plan for templates. Make a Drawing Templates List of each drawing template you need to create along with a short description of its key features. From this list and description, you can begin to plan the key elements required for that template.

Let's use a drawing template for points as an example. This Points template, then, will need standardized Layers, blocks for Point nodes, Point Styles, Point Label Styles, Point Codes, Description Keys File, and Point Groups.

You'll also want your Drawing Templates List to document where to file each drawing template.

Layer Preparations

As alluded to above, there are some basic preparations needed when setting up any drawing template. There are many software dependent settings which you have little choice in setup. But, the layer structure and use in your project and drawing workflows needs organization.

You must plan a structure and strategy for layer usage. While it's possible to largely ignore layers when working with AutoCAD Civil 3D objects, you'll be so much more effective and organized when using a defined layer structure.

Evaluate every project object you work with, and define a layer structure for those elements. Make a list, chart, or diagram (or all three) of the major layer "families". From these major layer categories, we'll be adding many sub-layers and structure as needed within AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Choosing a major layer category each for AutoCAD Civil 3D objects like Parcels, Surfaces, and Alignments is simple enough, but for Points it's another matter. Not to get ahead of ourselves, because I'll write about Point layers in much more detail later in this series, but you should start to think about the major point categories you work with and what layer categories might be right to organize your points by.

You also should consider that how to differentiate AutoCAD Civil 3D objects, and layers, between surveyed/existing objects and proposed/design objects. In default AutoCAD Civil 3D setup, you can use the provided "C-" prefix for design objects and the "V-" prefix for surveyed or existing objects.


Even a little planning goes a long way towards a smooth AutoCAD Civil 3D implementation and setup. When using any software package, you often need to do things in a way that the software requires, and not by what "makes sense" or by how you're used to working. AutoCAD Civil 3D is no different in this regard.

However, the structure and data oriented AutoCAD Civil 3D approach lends itself to being structured and organized. And, implementing all this into a repeatedly used template creates uniform and consisting results while saving time!

Having  a plan is great. Having a written plan is better! So, write a plan and document your process. Make it a plan that grows with your AutoCAD Civil 3D implementation. The more you learn, the more you might tweak your setup. Document changes and review often.

And, when your initial setup is complete, turn this planning document into a learning tool. This way, at the end of the day, your plan becomes your training manual.

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Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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