Carlson Civil Suite Part Two – The Overview

I know that I promised a comprehensive comparison of the Carlson Civil Suite and Civil 3D a few weeks ago. OK, it was around 4 weeks ago. Due to some technical difficulties (not related to the program itself – rather licensing issues), I had put that project on hold. Well, the issues have been resolved, and I’m in full review mode. In order to be as unbiased as possible, I’m going to work through one project with both pieces of software, pointing out pros and cons of each. I’m going to attempt to be as open-minded as possible, but someone has mentioned that it would be hard to do on this website. If I get out of line with the bias, someone give me a nudge back in the right direction.

Now, let the games begin…

As I stated last time, Carlson Civil Suite needs a license of AutoCAD, Map 3D, Land Desktop, or Civil 3D to run. People who think this is a less expensive option may be surprised to find this out. Sure, looks cheap when you see the price, but when you factor in the price of a seat of the background software of your choosing, you’re getting into roughly the same price range as you’ve always been in. Let’s take a moment to look at the choices here:

Carlson on Civil 3D – For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to do this. Since Carlson doesn’t use native Civil 3D objects, this seems like a strange choice for anyone to make. Not to mention, the price tag that hovers near $10,000 per seat makes me cringe.  ed. note – the $10,000-ish price tag includes the cost of 1 seat of Civil 3D along with one seat of Carlson Civil Suite.   The web price of Civil Suite is $3500, and then you have to absorb the cost of a seat of whatever AutoCAD platform you put underneath it.

Carlson on Land Desktop – with Civil Design and Survey on Land Desktop, you already have the same types of functionality, so why bother? True – there are some added features that Carlson provides you with, but not enough to justify the cost. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Carlson on Map 3D – we’re making a bit more sense here, but since the Civil Suite includes Carlson GIS 2007, I don’t see why. Although, there are some functions in Map 3D that make it a very powerful addition to AutoCAD (all GIS discussions aside), so I can almost see this.

Carlson on AutoCAD – now we’re talking. Being the least expensive option, plus the sheer addition of functionality (instead of overwritten/side by side functionality) makes this the best choice overall. This is my chosen setup for this comparison, for two reasons – 1) It allows me to test Carlson functionality against Civil 3D – with nothing that may skew the results. And 2) There’s no way I’m doing ANYTHING that could hose my Civil 3D, Land Desktop, or Map 3D installations…
As I open the program, it pulls up a Startup Wizard that allows me to open an existing file or to create a new file. The first time I did this, I made the mistake of creating a new file…not that this is a bad thing, but there were many, many choices offered to me that I was not prepared to make at that time.

Upon first look, this program just isn’t as “smooth” as Civil 3D. I don’t know how to explain it, but it looks like an add-on. Not that this is a bad thing at all – if it provides a good Civil Engineering solution, I could care less how it looks. Upon further review, though, I discover that we’ve left the Civil 3D theory that all data is stored in the drawing, and have gone back to the project database/external file structure that Land Desktop users will be familiar with.

Another feature that Land Desktop users will be familiar with is the concept of “Menu Palettes” – that is, we select the area of the program that we want to work with. Similar to the concept of Workspaces in AutoCAD, this changes the menus based on our choices.


As you can see, I have several options available here – Survey, Civil Design, Hydrology, GIS, Takeoff, Field, Natural Regrade, Point Clouds, Basic Mining, Geology, Underground Mining, Surface Mining, Blasting, and AutoCAD. It should be noted that everything listed after GIS (with the exception of AutoCAD) is an extra purchase. If you work in the mining industry, it’s pretty clear that Carlson offers choices that you can’t find with Civil 3D, Land Desktop, Map3D, or plain AutoCAD.

In the next topic, we’ll go through creating a new drawing, which includes importing a point file.

Have fun!


  1. cadtag says:

    Jason, you say that as though it’s a bad thing, when separating the alignment, surface, point, etc data from the dwg and storing it externally to the drawing file avoids the single largest architectural fiasco in Civil3D. The software design decision to store everything in the DWG as an ‘object’ is a poor choice, because it creates many more problems than it solves, and results in kludgey, fragile work-arounds such as Data Shortcuts in XML, and Great Chthulhu save us – Vault as a data sharing repository for alignements.

    External data on a network is inherently more useful and accessible to members of a workgroup. While LDT’s implementation could have been improved in numerouse ways, thowing it out in favor of the C3D model is thwoing the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. Jason Hickey says:

    cadtag – to each his own, but there are issues with the “external database” theory as well. What happens when two people try to edit that database at the same time in Land Desktop? If you’re able to do it, it creates really bad problems, sometimes corrupting the database and forcing a recreation of all the data in the process.

    I happen to be a fan of the object in Civil 3D, and with data shortcuts *or* Vault, have had no problems sharing that data to members of a workgroup. Once you get a workflow implemented that has been proven to work (as James is documenting right now), you’ll have no problems with the objects being shared.

    Many people are using this with great success now – like what you will, but it’s what we’re going to. There are many advantages to this model, and things are only going to get better from here.