Civil 3D Users – Maximize Your Productivity and Save Money

BricsCAD is a clear alternative to AutoCAD, allowing users to opt out of the AutoCAD rental program.  The alternatives for Civil 3D are less clear. Civil 3D is high end design software.  It has become a de facto civil design standard in North America. Engineering firms have invested heavily in:

  • Software including investments in suites/collections
  • Developing internal standards, styles and workflows
  • Staff training

Consequently, any decision to implement an alternative, regardless of software cost, has secondary impacts that may lock many users into the high costs of Civil 3D for the foreseeable future.

Civil Site Design, originally written as a Civil 3D add-on for automated road design, is the only option that provides immediate real benefits including stability and design automation to Civil 3D users while providing a path to independence from the Autodesk rental program.

Known Issues with Civil 3D

Although Civil 3D has become Autodesk’s civil design standard there has been a number of consistent complaints over the years that have not been resolved:


Civil 3D is notoriously unstable.  Users have learned to save their drawing frequently.  This stability issue is directly related to Autodesk’s decision to store all objects directly in the drawing.  The larger the project, the more unstable the software becomes.

Corridor Focused Design

Civil 3D has its roots in the CAiCE software acquired by Autodesk in 2002.  The primary objective was to provide a foundation product that would address the needs of the state DOT’s – a Bentley dominated market at the time.  By targeting this market, Civil 3D adopted a corridor focused design strategy. Subdivision design, which is more network based, suffered with users having to individually design each intersection (As another corridor!).


Extensive training is required to effectively use Civil 3D.  Sophisticated users have this behind them.  The most informed comment I have read about Civil 3D training is from Christian Barrett on LinkedIn:

“I love it (ie Civil 3D), I can use it, but still face all the issues listed. I stand by that out of all the users, 5% can actually use it, even after all these years. In the end, it costs everyone that tries to use it, more money than what they are doing already. I’ve made a living off of it being so difficult to use, only to be left tired of all the complaints and 2D usage of C3D!”

Autodesk Rental Program

Although large firms may derive benefits from the Autodesk rental program, small and mid-size firms are vehemently against it.  Don Broussard perhaps said it best:

“I’ve invested more than $20,000 in some of these licenses (Civil 3D/Design Suite)! Now that does not work for them any longer! It is clear that they do not want my business.

We’re moving to BricsCAD and Civil Site Design. It’s much better and faster than the junk Autodesk has been passing as software and enhancements for the past several years”.

Civil Site Design to the Rescue

Civil Site Design was initially developed as a significant extension to Autodesk’s Land Development Desktop and subsequently to Civil 3D. Consistently updated and improved since 2005, Civil Site Design automates road, curb return and cul-de-sac design saving hours of design time according to Autodesk evangelist Angel  Espinoza (March 5, 2007).

A few of the new features in Civil Site Design that extend functionality and productivity beyond traditional design include:

  • Point cloud support
  • Satellite to Surface – providing direct access to Google Elevation data and imagery. A real time saver for preliminary design and water shed modeling
  • Model Viewer – an integrated rendering application linked directly to your design
  • Pipes module for gravity pipes and services
  • A new North American focused plotting engine with intelligent labeling that remembers and stores all edits between design revisions

Civil Site Design is available in 3 versions:

  1. Civil 3D add-on (2016-2019) – Civil 3D
  2. AutoCAD/AutoCAD Map (2016-2019) –a Civil 3D replacement
  3. BricsCAD add-on (V18 – V19) –a Civil 3D replacement

A single license of Civil Site Design can be used for all 3 platforms on a single computer allowing users to select the CAD platform that best meets their skills and project needs.  The Civil 3D add-on is described briefly below.

About Civil Site Design for Civil 3D

If you think about it, Civil 3D is perfectly good software combining AutoCAD/MAP functionality in a civil design environment. The alignments are sophisticated, the surfacing and grading is excellent. The one area that has let folks down is the slowness and complexity of the corridors.

Civil Site Design for Civil 3D draws on the strengths of Civil 3D while addressing its weaknesses. It uses Civil 3D surfaces and alignments but takes control when designing roads networks and commercial sites.  Users can continue to use their Civil 3D plan/profile production standards or can migrate to Civil Site Design’s standards as needs change and styles are developed.

Civil Site Design does this by storing its objects in an external folder associated with the drawing – the same strategy used by Land Development Desktop and many other applications.  This reduces the size of the drawing, allows for rapid design and adds stability to Civil 3D

Some of the key benefits of Civil Site Design for Civil 3D include:

  • A significant improvement in performance and stability
  • Virtually instantaneous design of subdivision roads and curb returns
  • Specialized tools for cul-de-sacs, knuckles and roundabouts
  • Compatibility with your existing plan/profile production processes
  • Integrated design visualization with Model Viewer
  • Satellite to Surface access to Google Elevation data… just to name a few

Watch this brief video to see the key benefits of  Civil Site Design for Civil 3D here.

Strategies For Civil 3D Users

The best strategy for existing Civil 3D users depends on their specific goals and the status of their Civil 3D licenses.

Goals tend to fall into four categories:

  1. We want to increase the performance and stability of Civil 3D
  2. We want to minimize software costs but provide an effective solution that is compatible with employee skills
  3. We want to be productive but reduce or eliminate software maintenance costs
  4. We’re done with Autodesk, give us an alternative

Civil 3D 2014 and Earlier

Sorry – you are stuck.  You can either move to the AutoCAD rental program at $2,100 per year or consider Civil Site Design with BricsCAD.  This combination gives you modern, efficient design software with an upfront cost of $3,545 but your optional annual maintenance will be only $750 so the direct out of pocket payback is less than 2 years.

Civil 3D 2015+ Not on Maintenance

You have already banked your annual maintenance cost and can now invest in a solution tailored to your specific needs.

  • For your skilled Civil 3D users, consider adding a Civil Site Design for Civil 3D license at $2495. You will gain immediate stability and performance enhancements. The Civil site Design software will pay for itself on the first major subdivision design.
  • Basically, you keep all of the good parts of Civil 3D and fix the problem areas with the Civil Site Design application.
  • For new licenses, you should consider Civil Site Design and BricsCAD.

Civil 3D 2015-2020 on Maintenance

The latest 2020 version of Civil 3D will be applicable to the industry for the next 5 – 8 years.

  • By not renewing some of your Civil 3D software maintenance and implementing Civil Site Design for Civil 3D, you will significantly reduce or eliminate software maintenance costs while improving stability and increasing your design productivity.
  • For new licenses, you should consider Civil Site Design and BricsCAD.

Summary – Beating the Autodesk Rental Program

Depending on the status of your Civil 3D licenses, you do have options that will increase your productivity while minimizing or eliminating your Civil 3D maintenance costs:

First- DO NOT convert your perpetual licenses to subscription (rental)

If you have a recent version of Civil 3D (2015-2020) you can stop paying maintenance on some of your licenses. For compatibility issues, we recommend that you keep at least one license on maintenance

  • Autodesk annual upgrades have historically provided marginal benefits
  • Your existing Civil 3D licenses will be functional for 5-8 years
  • Try Civil Site Design for Civil 3D. Download a 30 day free evaluation here.

If you have had it with Civil 3D, try BricsCAD and Civil Site Design for BricsCAD



About the Author

A professional engineer and solution architect with direct experience in a wide range of industries including GIS, water, sewer, power, transportation and oil and gas. Currently focused on delivering software for the civil engineers, surveyors, utilities, local governments and their supporting organizations.

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