The Educational Plot Stamp

Most of you will read this post and think that it has nothing to do with Civil 3D. Here’s my teaser – wait for the bottom of the post.

Now, at one time or another, some of you may have seen a drawing come out of your plotter with this nasty watermark along the edges that talk about the drawing being created with an educational version of the software. This is bad – if we send this out to clients or other engineering firms, they’re going to know that we’ve been doing less-than-ethical things with our software. However, you may be thinking “How did that get there? We don’t even OWN an educational copy of the software!” How do you get rid of the stamp?

First of all, a little about “educational versions”–these are versions sold (cheaply) to students who need practice with the software. They may be doing their senior design project in Civil 3D, or just have things that they’d like to learn in order to be proficient with the software upon graduation, thereby making themselves more valuable to prospective employers. Since they’re not making any money with the software, Autodesk provides them with a cheaper version, called the Educational Version of the software. You get full functionality, but a nice “value-add” (that’s a little reseller humor there….) is the big honkin’ watermark that this puts on every one of your drawings, proclaiming to the world that you are, indeed, using the educational version. No problem for students, it’s expected. Big problem for companies, though, because the software is not supposed to be used to make a profit with – i.e. for production work.

Now, there are unscrupulous users out there who try to get by “on the cheap” and use the educational version of the software. Even worse, they don’t care if the watermark is there. However, if they send that drawing to a firm using legal software, the watermark starts showing up in inexplicable places. Let’s draw an example here:

Joe Surveyor can’t afford a full seat of Civil 3D. However, he can afford the educational version, and somehow gets his hands on a copy of it (I’m not sure what the requirements for purchasing are, but let’s assume that Joe met the requirements.) So he goes about his merry way doing his survey jobs, not caring that his software is illegal. Now, one of his survey jobs is for Bob Engineer, who is developing a large subdivision. He sends his survey to Bob, who either inserts it into his plans as a block, or XREFS it into his drawing for a base. Now, suddenly, Bob’s drawings are beginning to plot with this hideous watermark. Even worse, Frank Architect sees Bob’s drawings, realizes that he’s not using legal software, and reports him to Autodesk (it’s been done, folks.) Autodesk comes down on Bob with the full wrath of a team of lawyers and Hapless Bob (we’ve changed names here on the fly) is in for it–all because Joe tried to get by on the cheap.

See, this watermark that we’re talking about is a very well-designed virus. Once it gets in a drawing, nothing you can do will get rid of it. If you XREF that drawing into a clean one, the watermark is there. If you detach that XREF, the watermark remains. Doesn’t matter – you can’t get rid of it. I’ve seen entire projects get infected because of one small detail drawing that came from an outside source…not good.

Remember me saying that you couldn’t get rid of it? You should, it was only a few sentences ago. Well, the good news is that it CAN go away, with the help of your reseller. Like ’em or not, believe me, your reseller is the ONLY source that can help you with this particular problem. What we will do is go to Autodesk on your behalf. They have a little program that will strip the drawings of the offending watermark. They will send you this program (through your reseller) with a 90 day license. After that 90 days, the little stripping program goes *POOF* and you can’t use it anymore. The real catch here–you only get once. Once Autodesk sends you that 90 day program, they’ll never do it again for your company. That’s it, you’re done. So use your token wisely.

Now, since this IS, and the words “Civil 3D” are in the title of the web site, you are likely wondering how this really affects you. This is the important part…

The little “stripper program” wasn’t developed past the 2000 drawing format. That means that any drawing “stripped” by this program has to be in the 2000 drawing format. Well, Civil 3D wasn’t around for that format. So how do I get it stripped off my drawings if I’m using Civil 3D?


No, not your head (although mine almost did this past week.) You’ll have to explode your drawings back to lines, arcs, and text, send them to Autodesk (through your reseller) and get them stripped. Doing this loses any and all Civil 3D (or Land Desktop, if that’s your flavor) objects. You’ve now got a dumb drawing that you can’t do much with in Civil 3D. But, the plot stamp is gone.

What’s the moral of this story? Whenever you get a drawing in from an outside source (a drawing that wasn’t 100% created and produced in your own shop), open it up and look at it–even print it to a PDF to look at it. Make sure that it doesn’t have this watermark, because if you attach it to any of your drawings, you’re hosed. And don’t always blame Joe Surveyor–he may have gotten “infected” from someone he does work with.

Have fun!


  1. MReagan says:

    You’re kidding right? Please tell me you are joking and its April 1. They do realize how many hours of legitimate work on a licensed machine they potentially can destroy, don’t they? Especially now with civil 3d and everything is being linked and associated.

    I’m no lawyer but by making this virus “contagious” to un-suspecting legitimate AutoCAD users it sounds to me like Autodesk has left itself wide open to law suits. Assuming the virus is spread like you said. Not to mention I would assume they, Autodesk, have broken some of the latest anti-terrorism laws in particular those related to viruses especially if looked at stringently to the letter of the law. If the virus were truly well designed it would be able to distinguish between a production/legal dwg and one that is not. I won’t say what I really think about this “virus” you have informed me of.

    We have worked on many and are currently working on more high tech campuses with overall price tags in the hundreds of millions to Billions. Most of these projects are on fast track design build time lines. If your scenario were to happen to, me or anyone on the design team, or better yet spread to all of us that are legitimate user of civil 3d on one of these fast paced projects the results would be horrible, it could potentially affect hundreds if not thousands of drawings. This Bug/Virus would bring the project to its knees. We could get fired and possibly face financial damages from our clients. My first inclination would be to tell my boss to file suit against Autodesk, and have the clients (that are larger than Autodesk btw) file for damages against Autodesk as well. It’s one thing to corrupt the file that was created with a student version and make it unusable but its another thing to spread it to legitimately created files that may have been linked at one time and any other file now associated with the legally created dwg. If it stayed contained all you have to do is eliminate the Illegal drawing, problem solved, the student dwg is useless anyway since it is infected. Autodesk has protected itself, its rights and its legitimate client’s problem solved. But to make the virus spread, in my opinion, is nothing more than terrorism and not to mention lack of fiduciary responsibility on Autodesk’s part. Talk about being obtuse and short sighted.

    It’s my thought that because Autodesk that created the virus that infects legitimate users, they should be liable for any and all damages to legitimate, legally created drawings. Should the illegal user face damages? Of course, string them up. But for Autodesk to be so reckless as to spread the infection to legitimate users is beyond my comprehension and makes them just as guilty of illegal and possibly terrorist activities. Not to mention, the way you describe it, it sounds like the way it spreads makes it harder to track it back to the source drawing or illegal user. Which could be some handy information right there my friend.

    In fact please forward this response to Autodesk I’d like to hear how they justify corrupting legally created drawings and how anti-terrorism laws don’t apply to them. Sounds like this bug/virus has been out there for a while, one long over looked and ripe for something really bad to happen.

    I hope your client, the legal user, sues Autodesk, I would.


    Mark Reagan

    Ed: I was tempted to edit this, but I think Mark has some valid questions. Terrorism might be a bit of hyperbole, but there is a real issue in destroying valid data files even after the offending source file has been removed. -JW

  2. JoshNelson says:

    Jason – I have never received the warning but according to this post:

    ..anyone using 2004 and newer gets a warning notification, so it would appear as long as you head the warning you shouldn’t have to plot a file to check it out. I am hoping the warning works through an xref and not just by opening the file directly. If you have an educational tagged file let me know if Civil 3D detects it and gives you a warning. Because Civil 3D started with 2004, no one should ever have to explode as long as they head the notification warning. So it appears we can call off homeland security as it appears Autodesk has taken decent steps to protect us…..Josh

  3. KirkNoonan says:

    There is a way around this. if you don’t have too many lines to import. Export the linework to a shape file using map. The line work can then be imported into the drawing without the cursed plot stamp. The downside is that each layer will have to be done seperately, or all of the enities will be placed on the same layer when you import.
    I had to use this on a boundary and some building footprints, so it wasn’t too much work to make two seperate exports.