Carlson Civil Suite Part 4 – Creating a Surface

Wow – and here I was thinking that December would be a slow month for me. After the ever-hectic Autodesk University followed by a week of Civil 3D 101 class and annual staff meetings, I’m wiped out. However, some good did come from all that activity, and you’re about to learn some of it…

I’ve heard via email, comments, discussion group posts, and word of mouth that people are actually paying attention to this series of articles. This tells me that there are definitely some parties who believe that Civil 3D isn’t always the answer. Surprisingly, I’m beginning to believe that as well (is that a loud gasp that I just heard from Manchester???) Click more to find out why.

As Autodesk University was winding down to a close, James informed me that he had spoken to a few Carlson employees who were following my discussion with great interest. I initially got a little nervous, then remembered the true purpose of this series – I’m trying to do an unbiased comparison of both products and letting the chips fall where they may. I emailed two people from Carlson the night before I left – Gary Rosen, who had spoken with James, and Harry Ward, with whom I had spoken during the AUGI Beer Bash. I explained my mission to them, and was well received. As a matter of fact, Gary and I had a great web meeting on Friday to explore more of the functionality, and I was quite impressed. I’ve been given the tools to really dig deep into this program, and can’t wait until I can do it.

With that being said, my schedule is so hectic that I’m not revising my original proposal for completion. I’m still on schedule for this series lasting well into the year 2035 😉

Anyway, on with the show – you came here to see this stuff work, didn’t you? Well, I try to deliver…

When we last left our hero (sorry, only Dana and Nick will get that reference,) he had imported points into a drawing and was ready to create a surface from those points. We all know that surface creation is a true art, and I’m not going to dig into every single nook and cranny, but provide an overview of surface creation. I’ve already defined a point group that I’m going to create my surface from (it’s called Topo, and excludes any bad elevation points and known calculated points), I’ve drawn a polyline that defines my surface boundary and tagged it, and I’ve drawn one 3D polyline that defines a breakline for a bottom of bank.

If I go to the Surface menu in the Civil workspace, I can see that there are many options for creating a surface, as shown below:


We’ll explore quite a few of these, but for right now, the most important one that we want to use is the Triangulate and Contour command to create our initial surface. Selecting this brings up the following dialog box:


Time for a side note here…I noticed that I was in the Civil workspace in Carlson, so I switched over to the Survey workspace for no reason at all (other than the fact that I realized that my EG would typically be created by a surveyor…) I noticed something a bit strange – the menu for Surface under the Civil workspace doesn’t have the same options as the menu for Surface under the Survey workspace. Here’s the one for the Survey workspace:

I won’t take time yet to explore all the differences – just note that there ARE differences. Now, back to creating my surface.

As you can see in the image above, the Triangulate tab is the first one in the Triangulate and Contour dialog box. This is where we can set the defaults for the triangulation of our surface. I can chose to draw the triangulation (or TIN) as lines or faces (or not at all) and whether or not I want to write a TIN file. Since I consider the TIN file to be a backup of my data, I’m going to utilize this function and write a TIN file. I’ll call it EG for Existing Surface. I’m also going to select to Ignore Zero Elevations (even though that’s taken care of in my point group definition), and to do some surface interpolation. I also want to simplify my surface a bit. With those options set, I’ll go to the next tab, the Contour tab.


Since the typical result that we’re looking for when we draw a surface is contours, this is where we can set up those features. I’m definitely going to select to draw my contours, and I want to draw them by interval. I’m going to use an interval of 1′ for my minors and 5′ for my majors (or Index.) I want my major contours to stand out, so I’m going to assign a wider width to those polylines. I also want to smooth my contours, since they are pretty smooth in the real world. I can set the type of smoothing and the smoothing factor (vertices to add) in the bottom of this window, and it’s on to the Labels tab of the dialog box:


Now we’re getting into some options not available in Civil 3D – the ability to add contour labels as the contours are created. This was something that I was asked about by a company that I was training for, and I was surprised to learn that this could be done. I have two schools of thought on this – 1) I want to specify where I want my labels, not spend time moving them, and 2) In the event of a large open topo, I’d LOVE for my contours to be labeled automatically. So, for this illustration, we’re going to label them. I’m going to pick what layer and text style to use, what text size, and some other options – I do NOT want to break the contours at the label. There’s a reason for this – if I break the contours, I’ve trimmed a polyline, and now there’s a gap in my surface. I can make my label look nice by selecting the check box to Hide Drawing Under Labels (which provides a nice wipeout). I want to also chose to Align Text with Contour – when I pick and move these labels, they WILL stay aligned with the polyline and the wipeout will move as well – nice feature! I can choose to set up label intervals or distance intervals – I chose Label Intervals with Two Labels Per Contour as the option. Now, on to the selection tab:


For right now, I just want to include a point group (my Topo group) in the surface definition, so I’m going to make sure that Specify Selection Options is selected, and import my points from my CRD file. I’m doing this rather than point selection in the drawing window because my Point Group definition is included in the CRD file.

The above fact was discovered only after I consulted (or attempted to consult) the Help file. Here’s something that I didn’t realize – the help file wasn’t included in the program. Nowhere to be found. I clicked on “Help” and was informed that Help wasn’t installed. Well, help is pretty darned important, so I proceeded to navigate to the Carlson website and try and find the number for support. I found something called Carlson Manuals, so I navigated there and found the help file and a software manual. It’s a 70 MB download, +/-. No big deal.

Once I finish all these selections, I click OK and my contours are created and labeled, and I’ve got a surface that I can begin editing. And since this post is already as long as it is, I’m going to click “Save” and tell you how to edit the surface in the next installment.

Stay Tuned!


  1. governa says:

    This is all cool and everything, but I’m curious as to how this process compares to how you do it in Civil 3D. I realized its supposed to be unbiased, but some comparison and your opinion about which is better would be really beneficial. To me, this sounded like a lot of steps, but maybe its just because there are so many options….


  2. Jason Hickey says:

    You’re exactly right. The posts were getting very long (my typical project that I’m working through takes about an hour and a half to go through, much less document,) so I didn’t want to make them even longer if people already knew that.

    I’m working on assumptions that people already know these basics. So, I’m asking for input here from all my readers – should I document the SAME process with Civil 3D so you get a good comparison?

  3. mjwoodruff says:

    I would like to see the difference between Civil 3D and Carlson as well. I don’t have any experience with Carlson, so it would be very helpful.


  4. I don’t know that it is necessary to document every step, I seem to be more interested in the executive summary of your evaluation of each process.

    Was this too complicated, was that a little lean in the feature area. Can a chimp create a surface with this product?

  5. deanht says:

    I agree with John. I would like a summary of pros vs. cons. As you all know getting those directly from the developer tends to be one sided. We have Carlson in Survey already and I would like to know if we are headed in the right direction by having a handoff point from Survey in Carlson and then Design / Engineering in Civil 3D. Great posts so far!