April 2012

Note from Brian: There’s some new functionality in the 2015 release regarding images. Check it out HERE.

I’m constantly amazed at how many people import data from Google Earth into Civil 3D and then complain about how horrible the data is. There are two primary issues that I’ve seen when importing data from Google Earth. First of all, the imagery isĀ inconsistentĀ at best. The guys over at Being Civil wrote up a nice post about this issue HERE if you are interested (also, the images come in black and white). The surface data that you bring in is very limited. Sure, you can pick anywhere you want but you are limited to importing 5,000 points and, if you have a large area, that’s not very much data at all (I recently downloaded a DEM file with over 2.5 million points, now THAT’S data!). So, instead of relying on Google Earth, go out and get the data yourself! You’ll be much happier with the results.

For those of you with projects in the United States there is an amazing resource that I was familiar with but never really investigated much, the USGS Seamless Data Warehouse (I was playing around with the Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler and looking for data). You can find it at seamless.usgs.gov. Here you can browse a map to find your project location and download orthoimagery (i.e. aerial images) as well as surfaces (DEM files). You’ll need to create an account to download the data but it’s free.

Using the Seamless Viewer

When you get to seamless.usgs.gov, on the left hand side, there is a panel and on this panel, is a link to the Seamless Viewer (you can access it HERE if you like). It looks a little something like this:

Seamless Viewer Link

Once you click on this, it will take you to a map showing the entire United States (well, most of North America actually). Draw a rectangle around where your project is (you’ll see the state boundaries so use that as a guide and zoom in on the state the project is in). Once at the state level, you’ll probably need some assistance locating your project area. On the right hand side of the map, you can change what is being displayed in the map. By default (at least for me) all it showed was the digital elevation data. That really didn’t help me find the area I was looking for (Colorado is a big state, not as big as Texas of course, but still big) so I toggled on a few options to help me locate my project. The ones that seemed to help me the most were the Orthoimagery, the Transportation, and the Places (Names). As you can see in the following images, it makes a huge difference.

Before Editing the Display Options

After Editing the Display Options

Once you get zoomed in on the area of interest, you need to tell the Seamless servers what it is you want to download. On the right side of the map where the Display options are located, switch from Display to Download.

Download Options

In this case, I chose to download the NAIP (National Agriculture Imagery Program) Orthoimagery as well as the 1/3 second DEM from the National /Elevation Dataset. Once you’ve set what it is you want to download, you need to specify what part of the map that you want the data for. To do this, use the tools on the left side. I chose the “Define Rectangular Download Area” option.

Download Selections

A new window will pop up with links to download each file. The files you’ll get are simple .zip files. Once you unzip them you’ll get a ton of data. For the DEM, the files you need are the ones that end in .adf. Just keep all these files in one location and you can then create a surface from them in Civil 3D. The images will have a lot of files as well but really the only ones you need are the .tif file and the .tfw file. The .tif file is the actual image itself and the .tfw file is the world file. The world file lets Civil 3D properly locate it in your drawing. And honestly, I don’t think you really need the .tfw file as .tif files can have coordinate information embedded into them (aka GeoTIFF). I would still just leave them together to be safe.

Download Files

Using the Data in Civil 3D

Once you have the data, you need to add it into Civil 3D. First thing you want to do before adding in this data is to make sure your drawing has a coordinate system assigned to it. If you aren’t familiar with this, simply right click on the drawing name on the settings tab of the Prospector and choose Edit Drawing Settings. On the Units and Zone tab, assign an appropriate coordinate system to your drawing. If you aren’t sure what to use here, check with your surveyor on the project.

Coordinate System in Civil 3D

To bring the DEM file into Civil 3D, create a surface and add the DEM file as data. I’m not going to get into the details in the post as I’ve already talked about how to bring DEM files in to Civil 3D. You can read it HERE if you like. When you add the DEM file, use the coordinate system code LL83. Also make sure you read the comments as you’ll need create the surface in a metric drawing and use LandXML to bring it into a drawing that is in imperial units.

To bring the images into Civil 3D, use the Map Image Insert command MAPIINSERT (yes, two I’s in there). This will bring the images in georeferenced.


Sure this process takes longer then importing from Google Earth but think of it this way, “You get what you pay for”. In this case, you’re paying with time. Importing from Google Earth is fast but you get very poor data. Getting the data yourself takes a bit longer but you get MUCH better results. Check out this example, in the following image you can see where four of the images downloaded from the Seamless server line up and it’s REALLY close to being exactly matched up (I can’t see any offset or other error personally). Compare that with what you get out of Google Earth.

Image Overlap

If anyone has data sources similar to this for other countries, comment here so others can find them.

With the new release, some tools are added, some are updated, and some tools are replaced. Here’s an example of tools that have been replaced, sort of.

Civil 3D 2012 Subscription Extension introduced us to the Volumes Dashboard Extension (you can read about it HERE if you aren’t familiar with it). It has a lot of the same functionality, plus a LOT more, as the old volumes tools from the Analysis tab of the ribbon. Now, I love the new Volumes Dashboard but the problem is, in order to calculate volumes with it, you need to create a volume surface. Sometimes it’s nice to do a quick volume without having to create the volume surface.

Well, fear not my friends! The old tool remains in Civil 3D 2013, it just isn’t exposed on the ribbon anywhere, you need to type the command. The command is ReportSurfaceVolume. If you want the old bounded volumes tool (don’t see ANY advantage using this tool over the Volumes Dashboard) you can use the command ReportSurfBoundedVolume.

Type the Commands

Classic Volume Tool in 2013

Please, whatever you do, don’t discard the Volumes Dashboard because it really does rock!

Note from Brian: I wrote up an article showing an alternative way to bring in free surface and image data (at least for those in the United States) HERE. Go take a look at it and tell me what you think.

More new information: Check out Project Basejump now available from Autodesk Labs. “With Project Basejump, AutoCAD Map 3D and AutoCAD Civil 3D software users can access Microsoft Bing data including aerial imagery, road, traffic, and other information within an AutoCAD environment.”

Even more new information: Project Basejump is no longer available but in AutoCAD 2015, you can bring in the Bing imagery and plot it too. Read about it HERE.

So, there is a lot of talk about the cool new features in Civil 3D 2013 but, there is something I’m very bummed about. Do you like to have access to free data for preliminary design? Do you like to show your client where you project is in relationship to the world? How do you do this? Well, you use Google Earth. Unfortunately, in Civil 3D 2013 there is no longer the option to import from or export to Google Earth.

Here’s an image showing not only the ribbon where the import command should exist but also the surface settings showing where the command settings for these tools would be. As you can see, they are not there:

No Option to Import From Google Earth

On the Output tab, you’ll also so that the commands to export to Google Earth are missing as well:

No Option to Export to Google Earth

Why were these tools removed from Civil 3D? I honestly have no idea why they were removed. Perhaps someone in the know will comment and let us know why. Here’s my guess and yes, this is truly a guess; Autodesk was contacted by the Google legal team and was told not to include the functionality.

Anyways, I hate talking about the bad but if you use Google Earth regularly, you might want to hang onto Civil 3D 2012 a little longer.

:Authors note:
I’m going to close comments on this topic. Also, I’m going to remove all approved comments with the exception of Dave’s. If you would like to discuss it, head over to the discussion forum where there is a thread with this topic. You can find it HERE.


Looks like it’s not limited to just Civil 3D. The Google Earth extension for AutoCAD in labs has “graduated”. Not sure what that means. Thanks to Juan Soto @Civil3d_Jedi for this info.

Google Earth extension “Graduates”

I’ve finally gotten a bit of time to test the performance gains of Civil 3D 2013 over Civil 3D 2012. I spent about 3 weeks testing every possible configuration of every situation of every…

Ok, I lied. I worked on it for about an hour this morning. Here’s what I did.

  1. Restart my computer.
  2. Launch C3D 2012 and time it.
  3. Close C3D.
  4. Relaunch C3D12 and time it.
  5. Open a drawing containing a large corridor and about a dozen datareferenced surfaces and time it.
  6. Rebuild the corridor and time it.
  7. Close the drawing.
  8. Open a drawing containing a large grading object and time it.
  9. Grip edit the featureline creating the grading object and time it.
  10. Repeat the entire process (including restarting my computer) with C3D 2013.

Here are my results:

Initial Launch:

4:46 – 2012
2:43 – 2013


0:24 – 2012
0:16 – 2013

Open Corridor:

0:24 – 2012
0:12 – 2013

Rebuild Corridor:

0:19 – 2012
0:20 – 2013

Open Grading:

0:11 – 2012
0:08 – 2013

Rebuild Grading

0:25 – 2012
0:20 – 2013

This truely was not a very scientific study. My Civil 3D 2012 has a lot of add-ins installed such as the Interactive Terrain Shaping, the Bridge Modeler, Trimble Link, etc. (that’s why I think it took so long to do the initial launch). I also went through and upgraded the files to 2013 prior to running the test on 2013.

Anyways, I hope this helps someone in someway. What do your tests show?

So last night I installed Civil 3D 2013 (you can download it from subscription if you want). I was in a hurry to get to bed and I almost did it. I almost installed Civil 3D without installing all the functionality of it! When you install, make sure you toggle on the option to install Design Review 2013 (it’s one of the two options, the other option being Civil 3D).

Now, expand out the option for Civil 3D and you’ll have two more things you can install, Autodesk Storm and Sanitary Analysis and the Subassembly Composer. You need to make sure you toggle these on if you want to use them. If you installed the software without these, it’s not the end of the world, you can run the install again, expand out Civil 3D, and then toggle them on again.

Install Sub-Components

After you install C3D, a dialog box will pop up showing what was installed. This is a good place to make sure you installed everything you needed.

Install Completed

Now get out there and find out if this is the release to end all releases!

That’s right! All you bleeding edge fans out there. You can go download the software from the Autodesk Subscription website and get going finding out if this is really going to be a “13” release or not!

Make sure you grab the right version for your system (you are using 64 bit Windows 7, aren’t you?).