File Naming Conventions: How do you name your CAD files?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE File Naming Conventions: How do you name your CAD files?

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    Andrew Spiering

    I am aware that there are a ton of different file naming methods.  I am used to a simple naming convention:

    L-Base.dwg : Landscape Base
    L-Grading.dwg: Grading
    L-Planting.dwg: Planting

    How do you name your CAD files?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I try to stay away from xrefs and manage single drawings through layers, paperspace layout tabs, and viewports. The later ACAD releases allow different color and linetypes in different viewports which adds a great deal to this method.

    I get very frustrated when I deal with relatively small site plans from some of the “big boys” which are xrefed between surveyors, engineers, architects and LAs into (not kidding) hundreds of dwgs with many non matching redundancies and/or poor layer management thrown in as well. I had to set up a survey crew to stake out pavement patterns on a small recreation facility last year that had four different (although only slightly) building footprints in it. The patterns were to relate to the building. These were all very well known firms in Boston/Cambridge that most of you have heard of. This could have easily been done all in one dwg, but some people are a bit paranoid playing with others, I guess. I can not for the life of me figure out why there were over 100 dwg files.

    I certainly see clear reasons to xref huge sites or between different professionals working on the same site, but until there is a huge level of complexity I just don’t see introducing the additional conflicts that can occur by breaking up a single plan into multiple drawings.

    When it is necessary: job number -page number-description.


    If we’re working with an architect, we usually take their building footprint, put in our layers under our naming convention and trace and poche it. The output we’ve been getting from revit is certainly not perfect. It looks like really bad drafting, so it can be difficult to discern what to trace, etc.

    Then the civil does the same thing, but a little differently–neither of us are ‘right’ but we usually just pick one (usually the civil because they carry more liability) and go with that.

    We separate our site linework from our landscape, etc in separate dwg’s and xref them all into a ‘plot sheets’dwg.. It took me a while to get used to this way of working but I think its areally clean way to hand off files to other consultants without all kinds of extraneous information. We have gotten really, REALLY bad dwg’s from consultants and it really makes life suck–like having grading and utilities, or existing surrounding and site linework in the same dwg.

    I dont know if this is bad habit, but my boss has got me in the habit now of naming our layers starting with 0- to keep them on top when possible.

    Mostly just curious to hear if this is how everyone else is doing things?

    Andrew Spiering

    Wow, Andrew G. That actually seems more complicated. It sounds like it works for you though…

    Andrew Spiering


    I knew I could count on you to pitch in! What do you name your base file?



    It depends where it comes from for the office I’m working at now. We save the original as a record and rename a working copy with our firm name in front, ie ‘TBG_surrounding base.dwg’. We usually keep the name as recieved it from the consultant unless its a really convoluted name. I’ve found that civils and surveyors in particular around here have a tendency to name their files really aweful cryptic names like 0001xgrad2 or whatever.

    One thing I think we are really good about (due to my boss impressing this on me) is handing off clean files. We keep the site separate from the planting, grading, and sheets because the civil only wants/needs to see our site linework, ie concrete, scoring, walls, paving, etc. I have gotten in the habit of turning all layers on and deleting any outlying objects before I save and send a file to a consultant. Some consultants will just etrnsmit their entire xrefs and sheets to us when all we need is a utility plan.

    I’ve tried renaming base files, but it can get more confusing–for example if we have three or more ’tiled’ bases to create our site base, which isnt unusual where we are and the type of work we do alot (master planning).

    Is that what you mean?

    Jason T. Radice

    Modified National CAD Standard…

    For small jobs, I like to block in the base files (because I generally have to modify and correct them anyway) in order to get proper line weights and to actually close all of the shapes properly. I also dump the 3D data as it becomes just too cumbersome to deal with when you add a few hundred other blocks for plants and solid fills.

    For a project where the engineering is constantly in flux, I would x-ref the base files in to expidite the changes. I also use paper space for sheet layout, so the drawing actually contains all the sheets.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    It is very easy and each sheet is ready to plot every time you open the tab. I also viewport the titleblock information so that it only needs to be updated in one place and shows up on all of them. This method evolved from taking different practices from different offices that I worked at to make it as easy as possible to manage drawings. Viewport freezing is very easy and setting layer isolate to turning layers off instead of freezing makes it very easy to limit conflicts while excercising some modifications. The trick is to have every layer on and thawed in model space. We use an underscore as a prefix for layers with images to keep them at the top so that we can freeze those and thaw those in model space so that madel space can be somewhat clean if you have to duck into it. There are so many little improvements that directly support this method in the last few ACAD releases that are clearly responses to input from people doing this.

    The instrument survey existing conditions plan is the mother of the base plan, but we get xrefs, arch drawings, and LA drawings that for some reason have decided that existing buildings are a diffent size or perfectly aligned with other features and then proceed to put additions on them and base all proposed work on an inaccurate reinvention of existing conditions. I have one on my desk top that I opened last night. I can not xref it because the proposed work will not be lining up with the existing building (car dealership addition). I will have to block out their addition and fit it on the existing building in our surveyed dwg (we will be staking the addition ncluding anchor bolts for the steel framing – civil office). The only thing worse than people moving existing things is if you can’t fix it because it is an xref.


    so you have a site dwg with a site sheet in paper space?

    We xref:

    site.dwg >

    to plot sheets.dwg (with ttb.dwg xref’ed to paperspace)

    Wow, I feel like a geek now.

    Todd W

    First, I will warn you all that I am a Civil/Site Engineer that stumbled upon this site while looking for discussions on CAD layers. I have found this site to be very informative on the thought processes of LA’s and just wanted to return the favor but letting you know some of the thoughts behind CE’s madness.

    We do name our files in the “cryptic” method, which I honestly didn’t question until I read this forum. On the outside looking in, I can definitly see how it appears as almost a random assortment of numbers and letters. A typical file for us could read “10-146.C3.0.GP.dwg” which is basically “project number.sheet number.sheet description.dwg”. We see no need for project name in the file because the names are typically large and the projects are organized in the server by folders titled with project number and project name. I have always assumed that if I am sending you a file that I would reference what project it is associated with in the e-mail.

    Nick, I would actually prefer that you send me the planting and grading design because if I have to come back and add a lightpole or a sanitary lateral I would rather choose a path that doesn’t interfere with your design. In the same sense, typically I send the LA all the utilites (existing and proposed) and storm sewer info so they don’t put a tree directly above a storm inlet, water line, etc. It just cuts down on the revisions that each party would need to do, which keeps your costs and my costs down.

    There were a few comments on xrefs and sending files out. My thoughts are that if I had nothing to do with the design, I dont send it out. Which means that if you receive a drawing from me it will not have the proposed building xrefd into it. It may have a single line outline of the building but that will be on a layer that doesn’t print.

    I think almost all civils will be using xrefs. In my experience, I typically have at least 4 separate dwg files that we work in because they either have different data (i.e. demo plan requires a different base than the site plan) or have so much data it doesn’t make sense to load a single huge drawing for a small change. Also having a basic xref of the curbs, sidewalks, islands, etc. makes it easy for us to change plans if a client tells us they want to slightly change a curb line.

    Sorry for the lengthy response.

    Daniel Miller

    I find it crazy that people don’t use Xrefs. Even for small jobs that you do on your own — it just makes sense to have a site plan referencing into all of your drawings. Plus it’s just good practice, right?



    I’m glad that you joined and responded. It’s great to get a civils perspective.

    On drawing the building–We’ve done it a number of ways. It gets complicated when we have site issues to work with. Like I said, most times we go with the civils plan in the end, but we work back and forth.

    On separating files–I find it most efficient when the civil sends me separate site lineowrk and utilities and grading, so I/we keep planting and site separate. Again, we work back and forth with the civil and both react to eachothers work as appropriate.

    File naming–I was wrong to say that civils and surveyors are the only ones that seem to name their files ‘cryptically.’ Archs and other LA’s do it as well. Sometimes it makes sense like you mentioned–project number, sheet number, …but many times we get stuff that must only be completely is to us anyway.

    Little things like naming the files we send out and rotating pdf’s so they open right side up for cinsultants is good practice in my opinion, but certainly not a deal breaker.

    Lynn Wilhelm

    I work on small (residential) jobs and never found the need to use x-refs. Actually, at first I didn’t understand them, but now that I do I find layer management and paper space layouts far more helpful.

    I create one dwg for a project and use the project name (yes I do keep them in files with the same name, but it’s handy when creating pdfs to send out). Everything is in model space–I turn layers on and off if they get in my way.
    I’m so excited about learning to use paper space layouts, I tell everyone (especially those I used to work with). I create layouts as needed–planting plan, lighting plan, hardscape concepts, drainage, etc. Sometimes, I’ll indicate which size the paper is in the name for each layout. Freeze layers in viewports as needed and lock each one.
    I’ve found it easy to include things in my tool palettes that I might have used x-refs for.

    Daniel, I do most of my work using plats provided by the client, so I have no site plan to work from. Next time I get a dwg for a base map, I might try using an x-ref, but hasn’t happened yet. Cutting and pasting might still be my fallback. I’d like to keep everything in one neat package.

    I just have to say how it was done at the company where I used to work. We did everything from model space. Title blocks were in model space. We had multiple copies of the model for lighting, planting, drainage, irrigation. It was a pain if you made changes to one thing because you might have to change it in each title block. We printed from model space and had to set up the printing all the time. With this “organization”, x-refs would have been very helpful. An LA who left us tried telling us how to use them after he left, but we didn’t get it.

    One more thing I discoverd after leaving was that we always worked in inches in model space. I mean inches, thinking we were using feet. It didn’t really matter (we used decimals for entering and reading dimensions; 10.5 works in inches or feet), except I always wondered why I could never get dimensions to show up correctly when I tried to make it say feet and inches. It was so funny to find out that I’d been making all of my models so tiny! I had only learned AutoCad on the job and didn’t really understand it all.

    Lynn Wilhelm

    “I also viewport the titleblock information so that it only needs to be updated in one place and shows up on all of them.”

    I love this idea. So, you put the info in your model and set up the viewports to catch it in all your layouts?
    I describe my use of layouts below (in reply to Daniel Miller’s comment) and I get tired of putting the info in each one I use. Right now I have my titleblock on each layout page in paper space.

    Because I use different paper sizes, I need to size the title block info appropriately. I’m still having some trouble getting annotated text right so it may be hard to keep the size correct.

    Jason T. Radice

    I know that some of the cyptic code comes from the early days of CAD when Microstation did not support layer names…only numbers. Those numbers would be a universal set for an office where, lets say “26” referred to a gas line easment and the specific line type showed red on the screen, .05 pen weight, and was dashed.

    Some architecture firms used a similar setup using only numbers (sometimes with a a minus in front) and about six or seven layers that were color dependant. The colors related to pen weights. The problem is that your window block would appear on the same later as wall insulation. You could not isolate anything. A vast majority have switched to the National Cad Standard now that all the software available allows the use of text layer names. Most is not ALL work for the government requires the use of the NCS. It can also be applied in Revit.

    The NCS in a nutshell, the first letter of the layer name refers to the discipline (‘A’ for arch, ‘C’ for civil”, “L” for landscape). Then the subject (L-WALL), then the modifier(L-WALL-STON) That is a dedicated layer to a stone wall. You can have multiples of this layer by adding yet another four letter modifier. You can get a detailed as you want, or as simple as you want. You can modify this to your needs, but need to keep to the framework and conventions. This way the whole team knows who did what and what layer something is on. Great system.

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