An exercise to introduce digitizing in Microstation

These materials were developed by Kenneth E. Foote and Katrin E. Molch, Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin, 1995. These materials may be used for study, research, and education in not-for-profit applications. If you link to or cite these materials, please credit the authors, Kenneth E. Foote and Katrin E. Molch, The Geographer's Craft Project, Department of Geography, The University of Colorado at Boulder. These materials may not be copied to or issued from another Web server without the authors' express permission. Copyright 1995. All commercial rights are reserved. If you have comments or suggestions, please contact the authors or Kenneth E. Foote at

This page is available in a framed version. For convenience, a Full Table of Contents is provided.


Microstation is a CAD package that offers all the features necessary for e.g. architectural design. As many features are similar to those of mapping software, it can also be used for cartographic purposes.

In this exercise you will learn how to digitize in Microstation by tracing from a digital file. The goal is to familiarize you with the basic features of this CAD program.


This digitizing exercise is based on the seventeen episode British TV series The Prisoner, first aired during the winter of 1967/68. It was a remarkable one for various reasons. For a TV show to follow Danger Man (Secret Agent in the U.S.) the director, Patrick McGoohan, had in mind an unconventional and very different type of plot that was far ahead of its time.

The Series

Being full of mystery and unanswered questions, The Prisoner is essentially a spy story. The narrative is set in a rather idyllic village the location of which is never revealed during the course of the series. As the protagonist and the invisible leader of the village everybody is addressed by a number instead of his or her name. Number Six, the main character, resigns from his job as secret agent and is subsequently abducted from his London home to the village which is ruled by a certain Number One, who is never seen. Second in charge is Number Two, who continuously presses Number Six to reveal information. During the course of the series Number six meets several former colleagues and the village turns out to be a place where people who had access to top secret information are kept locked away. The leaders, which political side they are on remains unclear, try to make the former agents reveal information gathered in their previous job. Upon successfully doing so, they are retired to the old people's home. The village is set up to where each villager is under twenty-four hour surveillance, making escape impossible. Order is enforced by so-called rovers, huge white balloons that travel easily both on land and water.

The Prisoner launched a considerable amount of strongly emotional reactions among its audience. To some the series was simply a hardly understandable spy story, but interpreted on another level, it addressed interesting issues pertaining to real life. Will, for instance, former agents, with access to top secret information be left to live a normal life when they resign their job. Does not the complexity of the narrative very well represent real life situations that most often are not simple and straightforward and might lack a final answer to each question posed? These and other issues the viewer was left to contemplate as each of the seventeen episodes left behind a feeling of uneasiness and unrest. The village is like a microcosm and has been described by the director himself as "a social commentary" on society in general.

The Village

While the interior shooting was done at the M-G-M Borehamwood studio in England, the exterior set is the village of Portmeirion which is located on a peninsula in Northern Wales.

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis bought the site, then called Aber Iâ, in 1925 and built a village essentially as a collection of various architectural styles. After The Prisoner had been shot in Portmeirion the village turned into a tourist sight. Today people can rent the buildings and spend their vacation on The Prisoner's tracks.

The Exercise

1. Preliminaries

Download village.dgn and village.jpg from the Austin server onto a floppy disk.

2. Getting started on the project

Open Microstation by double clicking on its icon. Your screen should look somewhat like this:

Change to the a: drive, if necessary set Type to Design Files (.dgn) and Style to Command Window. Select village.dgn from your disk, and click ok to open. You will see a black screen with only the outline (blue dashed line) of an 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper. If not, click on the Fit View.

The frame you see is in level, or layer, 63. As you would do with cartographic software or in a GIS, you will separate the map features out into several different levels.

This is what your layers or levels should contain eventually:

3. Level 1: The Imported Map

Importing the digital map


Drafting in Microstation

To get familiar with the most commonly used features you might want to consult chapter 4 of the manual: MicroStation 95, Academic Suite: User's Guide.

There are a few main features you should know about before you start tracing:

1. The Main Tool Box

The Main Tool Box under Tools|Main contains all the tools you need for drawing, placing text and manipulating elements afterwards. To open the Main Tool Box click on Main under Tools|Main. To get into one of its submenus from the tool box, click on one tool and, while holding down the left mouse button, drag the submenu bar out and away from the toolbox and release left button to drop.

2. The Delete Element Tool

This is probably one of the most important tools. You can always delete elements that you do not like. There are two ways of doing this. Click on the Delete Element tool, then on the outline of the element you want to delete. It turns light gray and you are prompted to accept/reject delete. Accept delete by pressing the yellow button (#1) or the left mouse button; reject delete (i.e. do not delete highlighted element) with the red button (#4) or the right mouse button. You can also click on thearrow first, then select the element and press the delete element tool to delete it, or click on Undo under Edit to reject deletion .

3. Changing Element Attributes

There are several different ways you can change the active element. Only one way will be presented here, you will probably stumble onto others as you go. Always remember that your new line or other element is going to have the same line style, weight, color and level that you specified for the previous one. Pull out the Change Element Attributes dialog box from the Main Tool Box (the palette icon). If the active element is set as the example to the right, the next thing that you will draw will be a thin, white, solid line, and it will go into level, or layer, 3. You can make changes either before you start your new element (either in Change Element Attributes or in the Primary Tool Box chosen from Tools in the Menu Bar at top) or afterwards by selecting it, changing the settings in the change element settings box and accepting when prompted to do so. The colors might print out differently from what you see on the screen! White (0) becomes black. There should be a list posted in the lab with the color numbers (the way they print out), line types, and line thicknesses.

4. Viewing and Activating Levels

The View Levels dialog box under Settings|Level|Display allows you to select the levels to view. The currently active level will be displayed as a black circle, whereas the other visible (but not active!) levels are surrounded by a black square. Click on a level number to toggle between visible and not visible, double click to activate a level. Watch out! -Your changes do not become effective unless you press Apply!

5. The View Control Menu.

The View Control Menu should appear in the bottom left of the Microstation work area. If it doesn't choose Tools from the Menu Bar at top and select View Control. A window called 2D View Control will appear.
You will find different viewing options in this dialog box. Before panicking when your drawing looks messed up after you deleted something or made other changes, try doing an Update View. Click on the paint brush, and the screen area should be refreshed.
Check the manual for more instructions as to how to use these features.

4. Level 2: Mapframe

Since you do not want to trace features in the same level that your picture is in, change the active level to 2 by double-clicking on 2 (black circle around 2) in the View Levels dialog box, level 1must be visible too (black square). Be sure to press Apply! In the Primary Tool Box change color to white (0), style to solid line (0), weight to 3. Select the Rectangle Tool and drag a rectangle around the map itself.

Notice that some lines on the map are thicker than others or dashed instead of solid and also the use of different colors. You will see the different line weights on the screen, but they may not show up on the printed map. With the colors you are limited to numbers 0 to 8 which is the first line of the palette that you see when changing colors.

But, can you see the mapframe you drafted? Because you are drafting over a jpeg graphic, this image sometimes makes it difficult to see what you have drawn. To see what you have drafted, go to View Levels and turn off level 1 (the one containing the jpeg), then use the Update View icon to refresh the screen. To complete this exercise you will turn level 1 off and on periodically to view your work.

5. Level 3: Coastline, Cliffs, Mountains

Change the Active Level to 3.

For the COASTLINE up to the cliffs, use either the Line tool in the pull-out menu or the Place Point or Stream Curve. Change your settings to Color: 0, Style: 0 (solid line), Weight: 2, Tool: line or curve and digitize the coastline up to the cliffs. To end a line, press the red button (#4) or the right mouse button.
Now digitize the CLIFFS. Remember that, if you are planning on filling an object (such as the cliffs) with a color, you need to make it a closed polygon feature, i.e. use the Place Shape tool instead of the line tool.


Pull out the polygon dialog box from the toolbox and specify the settings for the cliffs: Color: 0, Style: 0 (solid line), Weight: does not matter, as it is a filled polygon with the outline the same color as the fill, Area: Solid, Fill Type: Opaque, Fill Color: 8 (gray), Tool: Place Shape. Trace the cliffs and close the polygon by pressing the yellow button (#1) or the left mouse button close to the first node of the polygon. If your fill does not show up go to Settings|View Attributes and click on Fill to make it visible, then press Apply. You might have to do a Redraw.

For the MOUNTAINS change the settings to: Tool: Place Shape, Color: 0, Style: 0 (solid line), Weight: does not matter, Area: Solid, Fill Type: Opaque, Fill Color: a different one for each elevation. Remember that your selection of colors is limited to the first line of the color palette.

Oops, I made a mistake!!!

If you make a mistake while drafting, go immediately to Edit | Undo and remove the mistake from your drawing.

However, if don't realize you've made a mistake until a few steps later, you need to delete it using the Delete Element Tool described above. Be sure to turn off level 1 (the one containing the jpeg image) using the View Levels menu before you select the mistake you want to delete. If you don't turn off level 1, you are likely to select and delete the jpeg image accidentally! If you accidentally delete the jpeg image, just Edit | Undo or reload it into level 1.

To prevent the accidental selection and deletion of the jpeg image, you can also type the command "Lock Level On" in the Microstation command line. This command can also be accessed from the menus Settings | Locks | Grid. The "Lock Level" command tells Microstation that you want to confine your drafting and deletions SOLELY to the active level. If "Lock Level Off" is used, you can make changes to any visible feature in your design file.

6. Level 4: Pond, Lawn, and Chess Field

Change Active Level to 4.

As the mountains and the cliffs the POND is a closed polygon. Choose Color: 7, Style: line, Weight: does not matter, Area: solid, Fill: opaque. Trace the outline of the pond.

You will deal with the LAWN later under the Assigning Patterns section, as it has no outline.

The CHESS FIELD is a rectangle with a pattern assigned to it. For now just draw the rectangle. Use the settings, Tool: Place Block, Color: 0, Weight: 0, Style: solid line, Method: orthogonal, Area: solid, Fill type: none.


Assigning patterns

Assigning patterns involves three separate steps.

  1. There are several sets of patterns in microstation. To use the patterns in one of the sets, you need to attach a cell library. Click on Element|Cells. The Cell Library window will appear; select File|Attach to open the Attach Cell Library window. From the dialog box select areapat.cel (a set of many different patterns related to areas). You may need to search for the cell library directory using follwing path: win32app/ustation/wsmod/default/cell/. If clicking on the cell does not open up a list of patterns in the Cell Library window, the file may be read only, in which case, you will need to make a copy of the ?.cel file to your own directory and reattach the copied file.



  3. View the patterns and select one in the Cell Library window. The one you highlight will be displayed in the panel to the right in the Cell Library window. The patterns will appear differently depending on the current color, line width, and line style settings. For the chess field you want the pattern named EARTH. Once you find the pattern to be used, click on the Pattern Button at the bottom. This will set the currently highlighted pattern as the active pattern to be assigned.



  5. Now you will actually assign the pattern to the chess field. Make sure Level 4 is active, Color: 0, Style: 0, Weight: 0.



    Pull the Patterns tool bar off from the main toolbar and click on Pattern Area. The name of the pattern you want to assign should show up under Pattern Cell, in this case: EARTH. Scale: 0.02, Row Spacing: 0, Column Spacing: 0, Angle: 0, Method: Element. You will be prompted to identify the element in the Command Window ("Identify Element"). Click on the outline of the element to fill (chess field rectangle), then inside. The chess field should fill with the pattern.

    To delete a pattern, press the delete pattern button (far right) in the Patterns tool bar and click on the pattern. The pattern will become highlighted (turn gray), then accept the delete pattern with another click of button #1 or the left mouse button. Do an Update View.


    For the lawn, first draw a fence rectangle (modify if necessary) around the area to be filled with grass. Click on the Pattern Area tool, Pattern Cell: GRASS, Scale: 0.03, Row Spacing: 0, Column Spacing: 0, Method: Fence, you are prompted to accept/reject fence contents, click somewhere on the screen to start the fill. Delete the fence by clicking on the fence tool again. If you have the background picture on, the fence outline turns black, turn picture off and do an Update View.

7. Level 5: Buildings

Change active level to 5.

The orthogonal polygon tool works well for most buildings. Using your first line as a base line it automatically gives you right angles. Digitize the outlines of the buildings, changing colors and fill types as necessary.

8. Level 6: Scale and North Arrow

Change active level to 6.

Using filled or empty circles and rectangles, and lines, draw the outlines of the scale and the north arrow.

9. Level 7: Labels

Change active level to 7.


Adding text

For The Sea , type your text into the text editor, check what it looks like as you move the cursor out of the box, without clicking, move cursor into the Place Text window, unlock the Padlock, set Height approximately to 0:7.0000, Width to 0:5.0000, Slant to 20, press Enter, move the cursor out. The text should have changed to the settings you specified. Place it somewhere in the sea for now.

Moving text (or an object in general): Click on the select arrow, clicking on the object or string of text and holding down the button, drag it to where you want it. Or, select the Move tool from the Manipulate tool menu in the Main tool bar. Click on a feature once to pick it up, and click again to place the text.

Rotating text (or any object):

Choose Rotate in the Manipulate tool menu, select the text, clicking again determines the pivot point, enter the rotational angle in the Rotate window (if Method is Active Angle), cursor turns into an X and the rotating text is "attached" to it. Rotate to desired position and click to place it. Choose another tool, e.g. arrow to "unattach" text from cursor. You may want to experiment with the different rotational Methods.

Place the text for the Mountains in the same manner.

Nobody's Pond is a text string placed along a curved line, the line is later deleted. Draw a curved line, copy it to get two parallel ones, or draw another, and place them in the pond. Type Nobody's in the Text Editor window. In the Place Text window, change settings to Method: Along Element, Line Spacing: 0:0.5000, and press Enter. You are prompted in the Command Window to "Identify Element, Text Location", so click on the upper line. Click in the middle of the line so that your text will not be truncated. You get two options for placing your text: above and below the line. Click on the text string above the line to accept this placement.

You can delete the two lines now. If you want to reposition the text inside the pond, you cannot just click and drag, as this placement method breaks apart the string of text into separate letters. Select all the features by either using the arrow tool and drawing a box around the text by holding down the left mouse button or by selecting manually while holding the Control key down. Once all the characters of a given string of text have been selected, group them by clicking on Edit|Group. This combines all selected characters into one group which can easily be moved. Once each of the two words in the pond have been grouped and arranged, you may want to group the two words together as well, so that both can be moved later, as one entire unit.

After you have put in all objects and text, it is a good idea to make sure that everything is in the right level. Under Settings|Levels|Display, turn off all levels but one, press Apply (you might have to do an Update View), check if all the visible objects actually belong in this level or if anything is missing. If any object has ended up in the wrong level (or has the wrong color or line style), Select It, Change the Settings with the Change Element Attributes tool in the Change Attributes tool bar, click to accept the changes. Element attributes can also be changed by clicking on Element|Information and then selecting the element. You might want to change the look of the page frame that came with village.dgn, too.

Level 10: Title, Source, Your Name, Date

Change active level to 8

Type in the required information, change size and type of font if necessary, and place the text above and below the map.

When you are ready to print, draw a fence around the area to print. Go to File|Print/Plot. In the Plot window click on Entity and select Fence. Next, click on Setup|Options and click off Plot Border. Also under Setup, you may need to set the printer driver; use either hp5xxc.plt or printer.plt. The former driver prints to the printer connected to the machine you are currently on. If the computer you are on does not have a printer attached to it, you cannot use this driver. The latter driver allows for printing to a networked printer. Check to make sure your Color Pallette has not changed, switching drivers. Lastly, under Setup click on Page and/or Layout to change networked printers and a variety of page settings and layout characteristics. Do a File|Preview to get a better idea what the printout will look like. If you need to make changes to your map, press File|Exit to close the Plot window and return to your map, otherwise press Plot to start printing.

Microstation automatically saves your file at set intervals while you are working. Before you leave do a File|Compress Design to "empty out the trashcan" (to permanently get rid of everything you have deleted before). You may want to File|Save Settings then press File|Exit. Microstation saves the most recent changes you made and closes the file. The screen looks as when you first opened Microstation.

11. What to turn in

For this exercise you will turn in an exact copy of the original map you traced from, printed on an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper.

Created by Dr. Kenneth E. Foote and Katrin Molch 15 November 1995.
Modified and updated by Lance Christian 3 May 1997.
Last revised 2000.4.1. LNC