How to Organize Your AutoCAD Layers for Buildings

organize autocad layers

Without a plan for how to organize your AutoCAD layers, CAD drawings can get messy quick.  Luckily, the United States National CAD Standard (NCS) has put together guidelines for how layers should be organized for the architecture and engineering (A&E) industry.  The bad news is that they also tack on a hefty fee to acquire them.  A student license for the fifth version 5 of the standard released in 2011 is running for $100.00.  The good news is that I’m here to share what I know for free!

Layer Standards in the A&E Industry

Naming layers

naming autocad layers

There are four data fields as a CAD standard when creating AutoCAD layer names: discipline, major group, minor groups, and phase.



Discipline: Architecture
Major Group: Wall
Minor Group 1: Full (height wall)
Minor Group 2: Dimensions
Phase: New construction


Discipline defines what kind of subject matter the layer contains. The first character is predetermined by the below list.  The second character is optional and can be used to further define the discipline.

Discipline Designators

G – General
H – Hazardous Materials
V – Survey / Mapping
B – Geotechnical
W – Civil Works
C – Civil
L – Landscape
S – Structural
A – Architectural
I – Interiors
Q – Equipment
F – Fire Protection
P – Plumbing
D – Process
M – Mechanical
E – Electrical
T – Telecommunications
R – Resource
X – Other Disciplines
Z – Contractor / Shop Drawings
O – Operations

Major Group

The major group defines what over-arching building system the layer falls into.  This field is required and it’s four characters are predetermined.  Some of the most common major group indicators have been listed below but there are many.  If what you need doesn’t seem to fit into any of these major groups, send a
and we’ll find one for you.

ANNO- Annotation
BEAM – Beam
BLDG – Buildings
BNDY – Boundary
BRDG – Bridge
CLNG – Ceiling
CODE – Code compliance plan
COLS – Column
CURB – Curb
DOOR – Door
ELEV – Elevation
EQPM – Equipment
FLOR – Floor
FNDN – Foundation
FURN – Furniture
GRID – Grid
GLAZ – Glazing
PLNT – Plantings and Landscape
PRKG – Parking
PROP – Property
ROAD – Roadways
SECT – Section
SITE – Site Improvements
TOPO – Topography
WALL – Wall

Minor Groups

Minor groups are optional and are intended to help you further define what is contained within each layer.  Per the standard, you’re permitted to use what ever names you deem necessary to help define what’s on the layer.  Just keep in mind that if you decide to make your own you only have two minor groups at four characters each to use.


Phase defines what construction status the items on your AutoCAD layers have.  This is an optional single character that is predetermined in the list below.

N – New work
E – Existing to remain
D – Existing to demolish
F – Future work
T – Temporary work
M – Items to be moved
X – Not in contract
1-9 – Phase numbers

General Tips When Creating AutoCAD Layers

I’ll get more into how to really refine your AutoCAD layers later but for now follow these tips to ensure you’re on the right track.

  • Keep all of your major groups the same color.  When you’re searching around a drawing it can be insanely difficult to know what’s what if there’s no order to the way things are colored.
  • When defining your layer colors use the index colors. The colors you’re using to designate layers are meant to be symbolic.  When you print, you’re not going to want to see yellow, pink, or blue lines.  You can use your plot styles to have the index color to define lineweight instead of color.
  • Use the default lineweight for all of your layers. To get varying line weights it’s best to set-up plot styles for each of your index colors.  This way you can ensure that no matter if you’re printing at 8.5×11 or at 24×36 your drawing reads well.
  • Create a NPLT (No plot) layer. Sometimes you’ll want to keep information in your drawing for your reference but won’t want it to print.  Create a layer that won’t print.

Have questions regarding AutoCAD layers for A&E?  Feel free to leave a comment below or tweet us @designerhacks!



  1. allstarcarpetandtiles June 24, 2019 at 10:31 am #

    Great tips. I’m bookmarking this page. Its a great resource to keep. Thanks for sharing.

  2. hamzakhan17826 May 19, 2019 at 7:16 am #

    Ok sure, I will follow your steps before going to do exams. I hope your article will help me more.

  3. karlmistos May 14, 2019 at 10:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll definitely share this with my classmates at de la salle zobel.

  4. classboat01 October 17, 2018 at 7:37 am #

    Hello there and thanks for your information, I have certainly picked up allot new info from right your post. You are also provided information about best tips for exam,Which is very helpful to me and other people also.

  5. mikemoreno September 5, 2018 at 3:48 am #

    thank you very much, verry helpfull…

  6. jogesh12345 August 14, 2018 at 1:55 am #

    Very effective and informative article.Thanks for sharing such an important tutorial.

  7. FLMIMA August 11, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

    Really helpful website

  8. Rumi July 15, 2018 at 7:16 am #

    I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it.

  9. RJennings April 28, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

    Thank you for this website. The practice questions are helpful.

  10. Scott March 22, 2018 at 1:50 pm #

    Taking this test on Saturday. Last 4.0 exam to complete for the trio, then on to 5.0. This site is my go-to place when organizing what materials I’ll be studying

  11. shozab January 30, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi , very good article.

    thanks for sharing, keep up the good work

  12. dyba January 27, 2018 at 1:08 am #

    Good advice. Best of luck to all!

  13. KendraShirley January 16, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

    This is my favorite site for practicing for my tests! Great advise and super helpful.

  14. reximagetrim January 16, 2018 at 10:37 am #

    Nice post to read. A complete guide that can help all of us.

  15. tylerstockholm December 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

    Nice one… very helpful! Thanks!!!

  16. Aartiwalvekar November 21, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    Nice post

  17. Aartiwalvekar October 9, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    Great post!

  18. Tony August 30, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    In the NCARB ARE 5.0 handbook they reference Fundamentals of Building Construction: Materials and Methods in both of their example questions for cost estimating. Unfortunately there isn’t a specific chapter on cost estimating, it’s woven throughout the content.

  19. Spencer August 30, 2017 at 1:15 am #

    What is the best reference for cost estimating for PDD.

  20. Amy July 26, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks! Great advice

  21. Tony June 29, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Deciduous trees should only be used for shade (especially in temperate climates). Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and will have little protection against wind in the winter when it is most needed. Likewise, the leafless trees allow solar heat gain in the winter when it is desired, and shade in the summer.

    Coniferous trees are only to be used to block wind and views. Since they don’t lose their needles, they work great for these two items year-round.

  22. Shahid Logan June 28, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    Hello. My name is Shahid. This comment is for anyone who would like to reply. On the Siteplanning test. To block the wind, can you use a Deciduous tree or must you use a Coniferous tree?

  23. Mike January 4, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Hi Tony,

    I need to take 5.0 PPD & PDD. Do you plan on posting notes such as “Caroline’s Notes” that you had posted for the various 4.0 exams for either of those sections? I found those notes to be some of the best resources in studying for the 4.0 sections. If so any idea when? Thanks

  24. Stephen October 17, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Hi Tony,
    Any updates on the SS exam ? If there’s an expected release date ? Thanks

  25. DesignerHacks October 4, 2016 at 12:11 pm #


    We are releasing practice exams for the SS exam later this fall.


  26. Paige October 4, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Will you have SS questions on here at some point?

  27. Daniel September 9, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Great post, very helpful with the lists of suggested materials, I just passed CDs in July and am taking PPP in November so I definitely needed the list.

Leave a Reply