Tips and Tricks - Working with Microstation DGN Files

This post is worth reading if you ever have to work with Microstation DGN files containing Cross Sections for a Corridor project. The tips here will save you a lot of time and heartache!

Microstation DGN Files have the concept of Models. You can have multiple Models in a single DGN file. If you drag and drop a DGN file into TBC you will typically only import the Model that is set to active in the Microstation file, all the other models will be left unimported. If you want to import all of the models from a DGN file, you have to use the Import command and then set the import settings for the selected DGN files to read all models = Yes. When you do that you will get all of the data out of the DGN file (Hooray!) and in the case of sections data as shown in the video below, the section data is all drawn on top of each other for multiple Roads in the same project (Booo!). So how do you handle this?

As TBC imports each Model, it creates a Selection Set of the data extracted from each model. You can then use the Selection Explorer to select all of the data for each selection set and then move it into a new location, so that in TBC you can graphically separate each of the model data sets and then work on them individually. The video shows a few tips on how to do that. You can also use the View filter Manager - Selection Set functions to hide all but one of the selection sets so that you can work on or review that independent of all the other data in the file.

Secondly, this demonstration shows a great example of a CAD file where there is a lot of True Type Text in the file. TBC works with True Types, however when there is a lot of True Type Text in the file, TBC Graphics slow down significantly and make it hard to work with (Booo!). If you use the RPS Text Style Manager to set all of the Text to Stroke Font text styles, the CAD file becomes much faster and easier to work with (Hooray!). While it can take a short time to convert all the text from true type to stroke fonts (Booo!), that time comes back to you in terms of savings in graphics speed and selection times thereafter (Hooray!).

Once you have the data segregated, you can use RPS Copy and RPS Paste to copy the data from this project into a second TBC project as needed to minimize the data that you are working with for the Takeoff or Model that you are working on.


Thanks Alan, this is the tip of the year for me…so far!!!

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Good to hear Cliff


I ran into an issue today where the imported DGN files was not visible. I could select the data through custom selection queries but it was not visible. I couldn’t zome extent or view in 3D. I was using the import command to import the DGN and XML (alignments) files. I created a new project and used the drag and drop feature to import the files and the data was visible. Have you seen this issue before?

I would have to see the file Josh to comment - not visible can mean several things

  1. Not imported
  2. Imported but you cannot see it
  3. Failed for some reason during import

(2) is pretty common - if the data is on layers that are turned off in the CAD - TBC opens the file with the same layers turned off - use the All View Filter and Zoom Extents to see what you get. If when you zoom extents you have a large geographic area then it is likely that there are two patches of data miles apart - this is also not uncommon - makes the data hard to see / find but it is there. If you do a CTRL A (Select All) it often reveals itself as a pink (or selection color) spot and also as a number of selected objects - this tells you that there is some data there - you can use selection explorer to see what you are working with and navigate to the data from there - CAD Cleanup does a good job of helping you find imported objects that you “cannot see” and then you can select data at typically 0,0 that is making the extents really large and exploding it and then deleting it.

When you import Microstation files, you can tell the importer to import all model spaces that you cannot do when you Drag and Drop the data. If the engineer happened to save the DGN file with the current active model space as an empty one, then you will get no data when you drag and drop the file, if you Import the file and select all Model Space import you will get whatever data is in the file - that may / may not be pretty - however TBC creates a Selection Set to separate the model spaces and you can isolate those one at a time using the Selection function in View Filter Manager.

1 and 3 are not common - 1) happens sometimes with Drag and Drop for the above reasons. 3 is always possible that a file is corrupted or the engineer did not select any data when they exported the files and never checked their Export or that they sent you the wrong file etc.

Data never ceases to “not surprise” me - if you want us to take a look I can open the file in Civil 3D or Bentley View to see what you have and can take a look at what TBC did with the information and let you know.

We really cannot help more without a data file to look at and comment on.



Yes, I used the importer and selected all model space before importing. The data was imported but you couldn’t see it. I could see four points in 3D, but TBC would not zoom to any of the data in 3D view. And there was no visible data in Plan View. I could use selection sets to select the data in Plan View, and I could see on the properties tab that data was selected.

I closed and restarted TBC and used the drag/drop feature for the files and the data was visible. I will send the files over for review.

of the 4 files you shared - 3 of them after I imported the data the data was visible to me and while there was the customary point at 0,0 and the data where the project resides you could still see and locate the project data. The most problematic file was the Oregon Corridor Container file - that had 2 Models - a 2D Linework Model and the Solids Model once I found the data - however there is something screwy in that file that AutoCAD also struggled with that placed data in numerous places all totally disconnected to the Project Area. I am downloading the latest Bentley Viewing product to see what Bentley does with its own data file.

The video below shows you how to find the project data in the DGN file

The process involves using the RPS CAD Cleanup Tool - this is the easiest way to find your CAD data when you get a file like this. Once you find the data you can create a Defined View of the Project Data so you can easily get back to it, you can also then Explode the Blocks in the Project and then select all the project data and then deselect the data for the Project area and delete or export the selected data to an external file (e.g. a VCL file) so that you can review the “other data” later - once exported you can delete the Other Data from the project so that yo now have clean project area data to work with.

There are some objects in the DGN file that AutoCAD choked on and it is likely something to do with those that causes the zoom to infinity type behavior of TBC - it is however something you can work through to get what you need out of the files.

Hope the video helps - sorry for the ramblings…


Alan, on the dataset you exported to VCL, all the polyline’s in that dataset was set to visible: No.
Wouldn’t that cause the behavior of a line appearing when clicking edit because it converts it to linestring when you do that?


This was a good spot Danny - I am going to get a change Visibility Status function in CAD Cleanup because this was a silly thing in my view that Hidden Objects are turned off in TBC after import - partly because Circles, Points and Splines don’t have a visibility status property today so you cannot turn them on if they are set to non visible - but also because how do you know if there are hidden objects or not in a file that you import. Because not all object types have a Visibility Property, if you globally select stuff, you cannot globally change the vis state because it is not displayed because some objects don’t have that property.


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